1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die Review: The Ultimate Top 10 List

Think about this for a minute: everyone likes top 10 lists. There are plenty of people out there who like video games, and many of them have at least one favorite. Now, imagine adding these two things together in a mixing bowl along with full-color screenshots, all-encompassing write-ups, and an organized timeline of these games’ release dates. What do you get? Naturally, you get Tony Mott’s book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die.

Author: Tony Mott (Editor)
Publisher: Universe
Release Date: October 26, 2010

Before I talk about the book, I just want to ensure one thing for anyone reading this article – in your entire lifetime, you will likely not have the time to play all 1001 of these games, especially not to completion. The obvious intention of this astonishing collection is to simply and accurately inform its readers of video game history while chronicling the chronological progression of video game development and pointing out titles that truly deserve recognition. Not only does the book fulfill its intention, it creates a definitive encyclopedia for gamers everywhere, and lists each one chronologically, divided up by decade and broken down further within each chapter. If you’re as big a junkie as I am, it’s likely you’ll be able to figure out where to find each game. This important organization makes it that much easier to find the entry and brag to your friends when proving a point about Zombie Ate My Neighbors…assuming that’s something you would want to brag about. If you own this book, or are looking to own this book, chances are you understand exactly what I’m saying.

1001 Video Games begins with a heartfelt and empowering foreword by Peter Molyneux, who notes that the book is not only a document of games to play before dying, but also “an illustration of social and cultural change in our world.” He has a point. With the wide selection and appeal of video games today, there’s a title for everyone. Part of the social change illustrated by Molyneux is depicted by the array of game types and genres nowadays. Before Facebook, the most “social” games were either Mario Party titles, or a real live board game with living, breathing friends playing next to you. Part of the proof that gaming has evolved is plainly presented by the past four years’ frantic clicking on crops in FarmVille, and how this now comprises the majority of “social gaming.” Technology has helped to shift consumer appeal and demographic as well. The recent use of consoles’ motion controllers allow people who were previously “dexterity-challenged” to enjoy games simply by flailing around like an idiot. Because of changes like these, video games are extremely accessible and cater to all walks of life throughout most of the world. They have evolved immensely from a casual time-waster to a new central media outlet. This book is physical proof!

The book’s first and shortest section covers the 1970’s. The images aren’t pretty to look at by today’s standards, but let’s face it: if it wasn’t for the Atari, the Tandy, or the old Macintosh floppy disks, you wouldn’t be getting Bulltrues on Halo 3’s online multiplayer with your buddies. A lot of notorious games are covered here, and I was impressed with the author’s acknowledgement of the earliest text-based RPG games like NetHack and Rogue.

Next, the book turns to the 1980’s, where gaming really got its feet on the ground. Rather than presenting the reader with the same redundantly acknowledged games, it praises the games that were truly worthy of their impact on future video game development. Super Mario Bros. is given half of a page, the same amount of coverage as games like the aptly-named MUD (Multi-User Dungeon); the game was among the first of other MUDs that eventually evolved into what World of Warcraft presents us with today. Many games in this section, including Little Computer People, can be seen as having influences on modern games. Even at first glance, the average gamer would recognize the game as an 8-bit version of The Sims, though the book notices and acknowledges the differences between the two.

As you read further into the book, the sections each become lengthier as video games increased in popularity. 1994 ushered in Bullfrog Productions’ management sim Theme Park – a personal favorite of mine – which was an early role model of the ever-popular Roller Coaster Tycoon series. Theme Park pushed the genre further, even to the extent where the player could control how many ice cubes customers received in their soft drinks – I liked to load them up! The 1990’s also brought us the best of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, and introduced the first diversion from 2D visuals on TV screens everywhere. This is where the major visual transitions begin to happen, and it’s very interesting to witness their transformation over 30 years simply by flipping further through the book.

Unsurprisingly, the 2000’s section encompasses the largest number of games. Coverage of this decade ranges from Final Fantasy X to Heavy Rain, clearly displaying the transition from “video game” to “interactive movie.” I am always confused regarding the argument about “standard” turn-based RPG games. Ten years ago, they were popular, as shown by FFX’s commercial success. Today, they are harshly criticized for not being innovative enough, which usually implements a newer, wonkier battle system. I guess time makes fools of us all. The prevalence of first-person shooters was rampant in this decade as well, with the obvious success of games like Perfect Dark, Doom 3, and the horrifying F.E.A.R.

By no means is 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die an alluring, gripping read. As you can guess, there’s no story here other than the story of progression in the gaming culture and technology throughout the past 40 years. However, it is an in-depth, well-educated effort in capturing essential titles, whether you’re going to play them or simply rediscover the years gone by.

Review Disclosure: A review copy of 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die was provided by Universe for the purposes of this review.

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