Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Worlds of Power

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

Since we’re talking about books this week, I figured I’d take some time to talk about these babies: The Worlds of Power Book Series

Before Shadowgate and Metal Gear.

Before Shadowgate and Metal Gear.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with these things, they’re essentially kids’ books based on NES games that were popular at the time. They try to expand the stories in the video games by fleshing out some of the details that might have been glossed over in the games or the manuals. And was apparently a response to kids of the day not reading books, but playing those pesky video games instead. So, it seems like it would be a worthy endeavor to get kids interested in reading. Especially if you were brought up with those games, and not the full-blown multimedia extravaganzas we have today.

But the books themselves are… unique. They state on the covers that they’re not endorsed by Nintendo, and they definitely only use the story (or lack of) in the games they’re based on as a jumping off point for whatever adventures they were going to talk about.

The Worlds of Power book that I remember getting the most out of was the Wizards and Warriors book, which involved some kid getting sucked into the Wizards and Warriors universe and he has to help Kuros go through the game and defeat Malkil.

Was it silly? Sure. But as a kid, I loved it. I loved pretty much anything that would give me more enjoyment out of the games I was playing. Especially because we didn’t have a whole lot of money when I was growing up, and a $3 book was way more affordable than a $40 – $50 game. Especially when I could get that book from my school library for nothing.

Thanks, education system!

The Pac-Man Riddle and Joke Book

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Finally we come to this. The Pac-Man Riddle and Joke Book. A book that captures what it was like to be a kid in the 80’s. America’s Riddle King serves up a whole book of illustrated riddles and puns all based on Pac-Man (more specifically, based on the words ‘dot’ and ‘pac’). It starts out promising enough, I mean, take a look at this cover.

Pac-Man Riddle and Joke Book Cover
But that’s as awesome as this book gets. We’re “treated” to page after page of bad Pac-Puns after another. Like, “What’s Pac-Man’s favorite city? Dot-troit, remember?”. I’m not actually sure why he says, “Remember?” there. It’s not like I learned that anywhere but in this book.

And it just goes on and on like this. And lots of people on the Internet will tell you how bad this book is. And, sure, it’s bad now to adults who are 30 years removed from the source material. But what about in the 80’s?

Well, I was around in the 80’s, during Pac-Man’s heyday, and when I got this book back then, I didn’t think it was all bad. Although, I didn’t get all of the jokes (how is a 7-year-old expected to get a Rhapsody in Blue reference?). But I didn’t think it was all that bad then. Heck, at that age, I didn’t think much was bad at all. Everything was new and amazing! Which kind of explains how I managed to keep myself entertained with a barely functional tape recorder for an entire summer (blank tapes were cheap entertainment, what can I say?).

And what about America’s Riddle King? Well, here’s his ‘self Pactrait’ (which is an extremely clumsy pun, I admit) and a mini-bio.

Pac-Man Riddle and Joke Book Interior

But he’s apparently the creator of Letterman, a cartoon that aired during the Electric Company, so that scores him some redemption points, I guess.


Compute!’s Guide to Nintendo Games

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Before I had ready, (practically) always-on connectivity to the sum of human knowledge, I spent a lot of time playing video games. And when I wasn’t playing video games, I was reading books about how to play video games. This is mostly due to the fact that we didn’t have a whole lot of money growing up and video games were (and in most cases still are) pretty expensive, while books are generally pretty cheap.

One of the books I spent a lot of time with was Compute!’s Guide to Nintendo Games. I mean, take a look at this thing:

Compute!'s Guide Front

Compute!'s Guide Back

How could anyone resist those bullet points?

  • Keys to Nintendo Mastery? I love mastering things!
  • Screen Shots for 45 games? They’re black and white, sure, but they’re better than nothing. I don’t have to imagine what the graphics are like
  • Special Super Secrets Chapter!? I’m so there

What I really like about this book is the conversational tone that it takes with the game reviews. They’re broken down into graphics, sound, and the bog-standard categories, but when I’m reading this, I get the feeling that it’s just Mr. Schwartz talking to me about some new game he’s played, and not some cut-and-dried analytical review. It’s a style I tried to work in to the mini-reviews posted over at

Also worked into the book is a section dedicated to controllers (most of which I’ve never even seen in person), a tongue-in-cheek review of the Nintendo Cereal System, Super Secrets, and a Parent’s Guide to Nintendo Games (which we’ll get to in a minute).

Each of the game reviews has a few hints, tips, and strategies, but the Super Secrets section has tips, tricks, and strategies that are so useful, so amazing, and so informative, that they’re almost like cheating. And to disguise these tips so that you couldn’t just idly flip back to them in a moment of weakness. The Super Secrets were printed in reverse, so that you were supposed to find a mirror to hold the book up to to be able to read them. I, of course, made myself learn how to read reversed text instead. I think I made the right call, that’s a life skill that’s proven invaluable.

But the one of the sections that kind of didn’t hold a lot of meaning for me until many years later is the Parent’s Guide to Nintendo. I’m not a parent, but there are a lot of issues Mr. Schwartz brings up that seem relevant today when he’s talking about how video games can have an impact on kids, and he advocates that parents take an active role in monitoring what their children play. Check out this section of the Parent’s Guide called ‘A Call for Better Games’

There’s little reason we can’t expect more imaginative plot lines; ones that don’t stress violence or a kill-or-be-killed attitude. It’s easy to create another violent game: kill a lot of things, reward the player with power and hit points as he does, and work up to the final confrontation with the evil lord of the monsters. It’s difficult, on the other hand, to come up with an imaginative, nonviolent adventure that rewards problem-solving skills and is still fun to play.

The portrayal of women in games could also stand some work. Other than the heroine Athena and the Princess in Super Mario Bros. 2, women are usually depicted as kidnap victims. The only nonvictims that come to mind are the whip-wielding Lindas (Double Dragon) and Pretty Amy (Lee Trevino’s Fighting Golf). It’s nice to see some females in NES games, but I don’t think it’s necessary to make them gang members or add Pretty as part of their names.

I’d also like to see a greater potential for early education and more games written specifically for young children. The Nintendo is a good tool for developing eye/hand coordination and problem-solving skills. To be really useful for young children, however, games have to be created that require only elementary reading abilities, and simpler rules and controls. The Sesame Street games from Hi Tech Expressions are a good start toward this goal. More cartridges of this type will undoubtedly appear as additional manufacturers move to fill this market gap.

Keep in mind that the above was written in 1989. We’ve certainly come a long way since then, but we still have a long way to go. Games with female protagonists are still very rare and sell poorly, and (as of this writing) GameStop has 22 educational games available for the Wii (arguably the most kid-friendly platform) as opposed to over 100 shooters. If that’s all the progress that we’ve made in 24 years, maybe we do still have some work to do.