Our Video Game Book Holiday Gift Guide 2016


Many on sale for a Cyber Monday

Print media about video games is on the rise again, so we had a lot of options to work with this year for a book-specific gift guide. No need to focus on just one publisher anymore. In fact, it’s arguable that we have too much material to work with this year. That’s also why books that we’ve previously covered, like AProfound Waste of Time, Super MarioAdventures, and Diablo III: Book of Tyrael/Diablo III: Book of Cain, won’t be explicitly included in the list below. This darn thing is already big enough as it is!

We have quite a few entries here that are on sale through Monday, Nov. 28th though, so best give it a browse now before you miss out on some glorious psuedo-holiday savings.

And away we go!

Legends of Localization Book 2: EarthBound

Fangamer has a ton of amazing new books on their storefront, so it’s hard to pick just one for this list. The Indie G Zine (featuring a Forward by yours truly), the hand drawn Stardew Valley Guidebook by Kari Fry, and the Undertale Art Bookare all must-haves for fans of their respective intellectual properties.

But since we’re already cramped for time and space here, we decided to put Legends of Localization Book 2: EarthBound out in front. Written by MOTHER 3 translation patch project lead Clyde ‘Tomato’ Mandelin, and clocking in at 432 pages, this hefty tome exceeds all expectations. Not only does it uncover the many differences between MOTHER 2 and EarthBound in intricate detail, but it also explains nearly every cultural reference and underlying meaning embedded in both games, examines both MOTHER and EarthBound‘s marketing and related media, and includes copious examples of other localization efforts for context.

The life and career of MOTHER/Earthbound creator Shigesato Itoi, the other staff on the project, fans of the series, and the MOTHER/Earthbound’sconnection with other media are also given plenty of space here. Just when you think Clyde and his team have dug as far as one could go into one aspect of the EarthBound phenomenon, you get two or more pages of extrapolation on whatever point they were making. On top of that, they’re still updating the Legends of Localization website as we speak, and plan to “patch” the book with free content as they go.

So much has already been written about this legendary, influential RPG, but after reading this book, I realize that we’d only just scratched the surface of the full story behind Mother/Earthbound. Clyde Mandelin and his team have set the new standard for game historians and journalists to live up to. Thanks a lot, ya jerks!

Art of Atari

Look back on the original Mega Man box art, and you may find it hard to imagine what the team at Capcom USA was possibly thinking. The bowlegged, off-brand blunder displayed on their box has been a laughing stock for over 20 years. That said, their choice to create an overly complicated take on a simple character makes more sense when looked at in the larger context of video game box art history. The Atari 2600; the defining game console of the early 1980s, was populated with games that looked almost nothing like their boxes.

Back then, video games could only display a few colors on screen at a time. They were completely incapable of generating, even the most basic of cartoon characters, let alone something as complicated as Norman Reedus hugging a troubling fetus. You may think these limitations held the medium back, but it didn’t feel that way at time. As someone who lived through that era of games as it happened, I can tell you first hand that the excitement people had for the medium was just as intense then as it is now. The synergy between the vivid, detailed worlds shown to us in the promotional art, and the simple, iconographic visuals found in the actual games, created a dreamlike world in our heads that was beyond anything I’ve experienced in gaming since.

Art of Atari by Tim Lapetinopays full tribute to that process, profiling the art and artists (including Star Wars legend Ralph McQuarrie)that brought gaming in the 80s to life. The 351 pages book is filled with huge, beautiful reproductions of the original artwork, concept art for unreleased games, promotional fliers, behind the scenes memos and documents, and a lot more. They even found the space to get into some of the less known Atari Jaguar developments, like the ill fated Atari Jaguar VR. The writing here remains positive throughout, which is fitting for a tribute, but not for criticism. The upbeat style may be a turn off for those of you looking for some snark to go with your nostalgia, but it’s hard to imagine that many of you who long for the old days will complain about the book’s lack of bite.

Shovel Knight 2-Disc Vinyl Soundtrack

This one is a bit of a cheat, but since this limited edition record album technically opens up like a book, and it comes complete with a special edition booklet containing an interview with Mega Man and Shovel Knight co-composer Manami Matsumae,I felt like I could get away with it. The custom interior and exterior artwork by Mega Man Megamix creator Hitoshi Ariga is arguably worth the price of entry on its own.

Shovel Knight‘s soundtrack speaks for itself, so you don’t need to hear from me how amazing it is. Getting those tunes on wax is worth passing down to your kids after you’re too old to listen to records or play video games.

Boss Fight Books: Spelunky

It’s rare to get a novel-length post mortem on a specific game, written by the creator of the game in question, but that’s exactly what we have with Derek Yu’s Spelunky. Derek is one of the most frustratingly talented artists in games today, skilled at both coding, game design, level design, game art, and illustration. Just look at his sketches from last Inktober! It’s downright unfair to see all that talent welled up in one human mind.

Yet you’d never know it from reading Derek’s breakdown of designing and contemplating Spelunky. Well written and humble throughout, the book humanizes a game that many developers and fans see as an unreachable pinnacle of minimalist design brilliance.

Fire Emblem Awakenings Art Book

(Note: Enter codeHOLIDAYBOOK for a discount on the Amazon link above. Expires Tuesday, Nov 19th 2016.)

Nintendo of America used to distance itself from the Fire Emblem series, presumably because they didn’t want the games to tarnish their “kid friendly” image. Since the “smashing” success of Fire Emblem Awakenings, the company has done an about face on that attitude, pushing the Fire Emblem brand to the forefront in multiple ways.

While the series does many things to set itself apart from Nintendo’s expansive stock of reliable franchises, its focus on a huge cast of interrelated, painfully attractive characters is probably the ingredient that resonates most deeply for fans. Knowing that any one of Fire Emblem‘s lovable warriors could suffer a permanent death only serves to intensify our attachment to these intricately accessorized, bloodthirsty scamps. The Fire Emblem AwakeningsArt Book does a great job of keeping all your favorites alive on the printed page, allowing you to soak in their darling styles at your leisure.

120 Years of Vlambeer & Friends

Speaking of darlings, here we have Vlambeer, one of the most successful game developers today. Mixing accessibility with absurd humor and painfully well crafted mechanics have helped games likeNuclear Throne, Ridiculous Fishing, and Super Crate Boxto be widely regarded as modern classics. Thing is, it doesn’t matter how great your games are if no one tries playing them in the first place. Through honest, audience-facing marketing efforts and inviting, exciting promotional work, Vlambeer managed to both obtain and maintain millions of fans so far, and they show no signs of slowing.

120 Years of Vlambeer & Friends details the exact path that the developer took to became the humble powerhouse that they are today. This special edition book is limited to just 1000 copies, so make sure to snatch one up while you can.

Good Nintentions 1985

Could Vlambeer become the next Nintendo? It may seem impossible, but when you look back on the humble line up of 16 launch games that hit stores along the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985, it’s easier to imagine what could be. Jeremy Parish, one of the game industry’s greatest analysts, has gone back in time to examine those 16 games, as well as the 9 games that launched with the Famicom in Japan. He calls this examination Good Nintentions 1985.

You may guess that digging into relatively small games like Gyromite and Kung-Fu wouldn’t take much space, but Parish’s in-depth autopsy on the NES’s initial line up required 182 pages to get through. If you’re struggling to track down the NES Classic Edition and feel like you’ll never be able to relive Nintendo’s baby days without one, this book will cost you half of what Nintendo’s plug-and-play console is going for, and offers a lot more understanding of what the NES experience was all about.

Hardcore Gaming 101 Presents: Data East Arcade Classics

Hardcore Gaming 101 is a collective who focuses on forlorn or forgotten games gone by that were, at one time, as big of a deal as Watch Dogs or Infamous are today. Their website and backlog of print publications provide a wealth of insight and information, but their recent book on Data East is particularly dear to my heart.

While they’re considered relatively obscure now, games like Bad Dudes, Burger Time, Karnov, and Robocop were once fixtures in arcades around the world. Riding off the success of those tent pole titles allowed Data East to take interesting risks, like the genuinely unhinged Trio The Punch and the similarly nonsensicalNight Slashers. Now the company, and all its storied intellectual properties, are effectively dead, proving that no one is truly safe in the world of game publishing. Thankfully, this book also proves that if you truly put yourself out there, your work can live forever, in the hearts of fans that will never forget you.

Unseen64: Video Games You Will Never Play

Dig even deeper into gaming’s past, beyond the often forgotten publishers that Hardcore Gaming 1010 covers, and you’ll find the work of Unseen64, a group that works to uncover and understand games that were so unappreciated that they were never released to the general public in the first place. Thanks to them, we know a lot more about Mario’s premature retirement from Volleyball-Wrestling, Clint Eastwood’s dashed plans for a Dirty Harry game on the DS, poor old Project H.A.M.M.E.R.and countless other missed opportunities and incomplete concepts.

The smarter you are, the more you know that there is a lot that you don’t know, and when it comes to known unknowns in the gaming world, no one knows more than Unseen64.

EarthBound Handbook

Well what do you know! It looks like Fangamer ended up getting two books in this guide after all. It may seem like favoritism, but I couldn’t help myself. TheEarthBound Handbook is unlike anything I’ve ever seen from this publisher, or any other games media publisher for that matter, and I can’t help but gush about it. Even the Mother 3Handbook (which I adore) doesn’t quite measure up to this one.

Let’s say thatLegends of Localization Book 2 is like getting behind the scenes instructions from the adorable illusionist David Blaine on how the greatest magic tricks are performed. If that’s the case, then the EarthBound Handbook is like if David Blaine suddenly transformed into a talking blue cat, yelled “CURIOUS ABOUT MY POWERS?” and disappeared into the sky on a cloud of neon butterflies. The former helps you to feel close to EarthBound from the inside out. The latter reinvigorates the mystery and majesty of the game by adapting its soul to a whole new medium.

EarthBound‘s enigmatic appeal is just one side of what makes it special. For many, playing the game feels like spending time with a beloved friend. That means going beyond being just entertaining. Being “fun” is the primary trait of someone you go out with to pass the time, but don’t really care about. In contrast, a true friend will make you feel happy, sad, worried, relaxed, annoyed, proud, confused, and many other feelings, all in ways that ultimately bring you closer together. EarthBound does this too, using a variety of techniques, making for something larger than the sum of its parts.

The EarthBound Handbook follows the same structure. Made from fake newspaper articles (sometimes written by zombies), audio log transcripts, magazine ads, first-hand interviews, real photographs of in-game characters, hand-crafted sculptures, virtual trading cards, and a variety of other media, this physical scrapbook chronicles a virtual road trip that, until now, had only existed in the minds ofEarthBound fans. It even comes with a scratch and sniff card that allows you to smell the adventure!

The only way this book could have been more multifaceted is if it came with a cassette tape soundtrack to listen along to as you read. Knowing Fangamer, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re already working on that.