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|Title:||The Sega Master System Encyclopedia Vol. 1|
|Rating:||2.5 out of 5|
This review is based on the Amazon Kindle edition. Screenshots presented on this website are not representative of those found in native formats. Those seen here are low-res to conserve space.
When Derek Slaton approached me about doing a review of his book, The Sega Master System Encyclopedia Vol. 1, I was pretty excited because most retro gaming conversations about Sega tend to revolve around the Genesis consoles. The idea of an encyclopedia about the Master System, which pre-dates the Genesis, sounded very promising.
The term "encyclopedia" brings back memories of toiling over the Encyclopedia Britannica, at my local library, with the intent of adding some factual information to my school report on American Presidents. At the same time this term invokes a sense of informative detail, impartial content and factual detail.
I love video game history and the deep depths it can explore in book-format as opposed to magazine articles. In evaluating such a tomb (an encyclopedia or history book), prior to purchase, the first areas I look at are the table of contents, index and appendices/citations. The TOC will give me an idea of the content and how it is arranged. Glossing over an index will give me an idea of it's value as a reference and how "searchable" the book may be. Finally, I like to look at any appendices to see if there is a citations section. Citations will let me see some of the resources used in the book's creation. After all, where did all this info come from? A book such as this could be created from the author's personal experience, from documented resources or both.
The table off contents, of The The Sega Master System Encyclopedia Vol. 1, reveals each chapter is dedicated to a specific game title. As this is Volume 1, the 29 chapters are laid out from ACTION FIGHTER through F-16 FIGHTING FALCON. Absent are both an index and appendices/citations.
The plainness of the book's cover gives it an encyclopedia-feel (if there is such a thing). One can envision a half-dozen of these volumes resting on a shelf as a reference to Sega's Master System. When those retro gaming arguments arise, one can imagine pulling out a volume in order to resolve whether a 2-player game actually featured co-op play or not :)
Each chapter is dedicated to a single game title and offers a personal review of the title along with several screen shots. Each game is given about 4 - 5 pages comprising the chapter. The intro for each chapter provides the game's release date, developer, publisher, genre and number of players. The initial image is predominantly the game's start-up screen followed by screen shots from various areas of the game, mingled with the accompanying text.
I'd like to have seen more extras included. Many of the chapters display the game's box cover, but I'd like to have seen the back of the packaging. I'm sure there was some advertising and promotional extras that would have added another dimension to the imagery.
Various tidbits are revealed - for example, which peripheral accessories (like 3D glasses) can be used. Slaton also likens many titles to similar games as a reference point. For example Blade Eagle 3-D would have been more enjoyable if it were designed like Zaxxon as opposed to being an overhead shooter. Similarly, he likens Action Fighter to the more familiar arcade game, Spy Hunter.
One notable omission (that may be forthcoming in a future volume) is the console itself. The hardware on which Master System games were originally played seems like an important element. This being an Encyclopedia there would be reasonable expectation that the Master System console would make an appearance. As a gamer, I'm curious to know more about the Master System hardware, it's controllers and perhaps a bit about how this console may have influenced the Genesis and Sega's future console direction.
I wish Slaton had gone into more detail in his intro to the book. More information about his background and his overall experiences with video gaming and the industry that has evolved around it. As the author of an encyclopedia, his background is an important element to such a book.
Slaton states in his intro that his style is equal parts informative and entertaining. He uses the term "Reviews" in reference to the games making up the chapter list. However, he refrains from assigning a score or rating as these are often biased by the reviewer's personal tastes. This is a good thing, since Encyclopedias, by nature, are supposed to be impartially written.
Slaton's writing style is playful and often quite casual. I enjoyed his writing, but question the appropriateness of this style in a book touting itself as an "Encyclopedia". He displays a good sense of humor toward negative aspects of some of the games. But for some, this may detract from the overall encyclopedic feel of the book. However, this shouldn't negate the fact that Slaton's information is both valuable and well written.
I almost feel as though this volume may have been better served if it were promoted as a history book rather than an encyclopedia. The content and screen shots are great, but the expectations of an encyclopedia are different from the leniency of a history book.
For those who say "Print is dead," I'm not ready to agree with that, but I see the obvious advantages of digital publishing. In addition to a print version, The Sega Master System Encyclopedia Vol. 1 is also available for Amazon's Kindle and the Apple iPad, via the iTunes Store.
I'm not terribly familiar with Amazon's Kindle, but the ability to easily navigate by chapter and do word searches makes it a very appealing option. Searchability was particularly important to me in the absence of an index.
I understand that the iPad version incorporates video samples of all the games. On a digital platform, that adds a lot of value that the print world simply can't offer. The ease of distribution and the pricing offered to consumers, makes any of the digital variants very appealing.
I like that this book is the first volume of many more (I hope) geared toward an all inclusive look at the games for the Sega Master System. The Sega Master System rarely get the attention it deserves in both video gaming and Sega as a big player. However, I urge you to ignore the notion and expectations of an encyclopedia and view it as a personal introspection of Sega Master System games. This book does not meet my criteria for an encyclopedia. It is all inclusive regarding the games, well written, informative and it's humor makes it a fun book that can also be used as a reference to a certain extent.
This is a good book for those interested in the game library of the Sega Master System as it will eventually cover all the game releases. As more volumes appear, the value of the series should increase as well. As it seems geared for digital release, rather than print, I'm hoping Vol. 1 will be edited to be more factual than personal opinion.