With a book with a title like The SNES Encyclopedia, you basically know what you’re getting into. Author Chris Scullion (also author of The NES Encyclopedia) has taken it upon himself to compile an unofficial guide to every video game ever released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in North America, Europe, and Australia during the era of the console. That works out to 779 games in this case — but Scullion doesn’t even stop there. As a bonus, he also covers all 22 Virtual Boy games ever released. So in total, you have a tome that covers over 800 games, and if you’re a nerd like me, it just might be the ultimate coffee table book.
Clocking in at 264 pages, The SNES Encyclopedia does not have a lot of real estate to dedicate to every game. Most games receive just a quarter of a page of space. Every entry includes game name, (An index will help you find the game you’re looking for if it had a different title in your release region.) release year, publisher, developer, a (quite small) screenshot, a roughly 130-word blurb explaining the game, and a completely random fun fact about or surrounding the game.
Noteworthy games like Earthworm Jim 2 or NBA Jam, or sometimes a more random selection like Dinocity, will receive half a page of space, which means a little more text and a larger screenshot. And most of the really major and historically significant releases, like Final Fantasy II, Chrono Trigger, Donkey Kong Country, Mega Man X, Street Fighter II, Super Mario World, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time, receive a full page, which allows for even more text and a large image of the box art.
You wouldn’t expect the quarter-page entries in The SNES Encyclopedia to be able to paint much of a picture about the games in question, but Scullion rises to the occasion admirably. The truth is most of the sports games, for instance, don’t require much description in the first place, so he can just point out what’s unique from one iteration to the next. The same is largely true of the myriad games in well-worn genres like platformers, fighting games, and beat ‘em ups. Plus, Scullion’s writing style is just breezy and jovial, soliciting chuckles when you let your guard down.
However, the random fun fact always stands a good chance of being the most interesting part of the entry. While SNES is my favorite console, I’ve never claimed to be the ultimate expert, and I’ve learned lots of fun things like how Goof Troop was designed by Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami and that the original Lufia had a canceled Sega Genesis port. (Somebody is surely scoffing and thinking, “I knew that!” right now.) The fun fact in each entry is always a wild card that keeps The SNES Encyclopedia from ever feeling stiff.
Funnily enough, the segment on Virtual Boy might end up stealing the show though. For a lot of Nintendo fans, Virtual Boy is “the one that got away” (and landed on eBay), and reading all about its small library is like researching a lost civilization. It’s just a ton of fun seeing what surprisingly good or unsurprisingly bad ideas were cooked up.
In terms of print quality, The SNES Encyclopedia is hardbound and feels substantial but not massive in your hands. My particular copy does have a few minor print errors, like a couple pages that look “double” printed, as if I should be wearing 3D glasses to read them. Still, 99% of the book is perfectly readable, though some will surely wish the game screenshots were larger.
Ultimately, the bite-sized nature of The SNES Encyclopedia makes it perfect for picking up and reading for a few minutes at a time. It’s already become my morning ritual to flip open to a random page and start reading while I eat breakfast, and I love it. This book’s only real competition is Brett Weiss’ The SNES Omnibus, which grants at least a page to every game and is so massive that it comes in two volumes. In a perfect world, I would recommend you buy all three, but if you’re looking for the most economical and succinct option, you can’t go wrong with The SNES Encyclopedia.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.