A Gorgeous, Generous Slice of Nostalgia: A Review of The Unofficial NES/Famicon: A Visual Compendium

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[The following is not a paid endorsement nor is it something written for or at the behest of the company that sells this product. I recently purchased this book as an enthusiast and merely wanted to share my response to an exceptional product.]

For those of us who grew up during the heyday of Nintendo’s popularity, specifically the advent and widespread success of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), there is an almost immediate, emotional response to the images of classic, 8-bit videogames. These pictures conjure and evoke a warm cascade of emotions, harkening back to adolescence and transporting us to another place and time, when gaming was a young and simpler medium.

Personally, when I come across such imagery, I immediately think of blowing air into grey cartridges to remove dust, bombastic, often bizarre cover art, and pixelated visuals that were – almost miraculously – able to convey a bevy of actions, stories and characters using only a simple, plain and artful aesthetic.

In the decades since the NES debuted, the graphical fidelity of videogames has progressed rapidly, giving us playable experiences that rival the best CG-animation while gradually moving us towards genuine photorealism. And while such technology is exciting, the 8-bit aesthetic, instead of evaporating into irrelevancy, has emerged as something of a counterculture; a direct resistance to the cinematic and visually complex composition of modern software. In that sense, there is something very fitting about Bitmap Book’s wonderful NES/Famicon: A Visual Compendium, an endeavor that requires the reader to flip through its pages at a slow, deliberate pace and appreciate images that were initially designed to dart across the eyes at dozens of frames per second.

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Bitmap Books is a small, independent UK publisher that is largely funded by Kickstarter but don’t let that fact dissuade you from checking out their website and ordering a book (or two) as their products are of the highest quality and caliber, evidenced by the NES Compendium (the first of many books I plan to buy from them) which is a slick, softback volume encased in a hardback sleeve and embossed with a holographic replication of the cover art. At over 500 pages, this is a hefty volume but what surprised me the most about the book was its paper quality and binding, especially given the relatively modest price tag of £24.99 GBP. (31.70 US)

The book is a sumptuous visual treat, containing a robust smattering of classic NES games ranging from Nintendo-made exclusives to third party offerings, each with a brief but interesting bit of unobtrusively placed expository text detailing each game. With nearly 200 titles mentioned, this compendium doesn’t include every NES game within the console’s massive catalog but does highlight the majority of essential software with a few notable exceptions. Each game enjoys an attractive, two-page spread that displays – with a motionless clarity – the pixelated art and effectively makes each of these selected images worthy of being individually framed. A handful of games enjoy a larger, four-page fold-out display and while the titles that receive this extra-special treatment seem arbitrarily chosen, they are a welcome addition nevertheless.

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Impressively, despite being touted as a visual resource, this book also contains a bevy of interesting, well-written information, including a preface that gives a detailed account on the history of the NES/Famicon and several key interviews with designers, programmers, and artists in regards to their experiences working on games for the console. It also includes a segment where numerous, brief testimonials from every day people share their passion for the NES and its software. Additional segments include fan artwork, a sampling of various box art, and an addendum that contains images from unreleased games, many of which I didn’t know existed. (The Superman game looked exceptionally cool)

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Ultimately, it reads like a slick combination of a coffee table book and an encyclopedia and I’d say that no genre enthusiast – especially those who love this particular era of gaming – should be without it. The Unofficial NES/Famicon: A Visual Compendium is a well-crafted, hearty bit of nostalgic fun and a comforting reminder that while you can’t go home again, you can certainly visit.

My kudos to Bitmap Books and all the people involved in the construction of this excellent and enjoyable resource. You can order this and other similar books at their website: https://www.bitmapbooks.co.uk/

  • Bill R. Boggess

One thought on “A Gorgeous, Generous Slice of Nostalgia: A Review of The Unofficial NES/Famicon: A Visual Compendium

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