Video game technology grows and expands every year in mind-boggling ways. Fifteen years ago, we were blown away by the depth and gorgeous visuals of home console games like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Today, we’re holding games of that scale in the palm of our hands with the Nintendo Switch. Around 30 years ago, Capcom changed the landscape of gaming forever with the American release of Mega Man 2. Today, you can load that game on your phone or a web browser in half a second and play five minutes of it before moving on to something else. As the scope and majesty of video games continue to get bigger and grander, it’s easy to forget the roots of this industry. Even if you’re too young to tell an Earthbound from a Chrono Trigger, knowing where video games started and which companies are responsible for pioneering the genres and gameplay ideas we still follow today can give you incredible new insight and appreciation for the art form of video games. The best way to gain that kind of respect for such a visual art form is through a visual-heavy book, which is where the gorgeous SNES Pixel Book from Bitmap Books comes into play.
Enclosed in a hard-shell and spot-varnished protective slipcase, The SNES Pixel Book is a sleek, 300-page coffee table tome that contains hundreds of gorgeous images lifted directly from all of the most iconic games of the SNES era. You’ve got sprites from Street Fighter and screenshots from Super Mario World, sure, but there are also beautiful visuals and nuggets of information from more obscure games that might not be familiar to everyone. If you’ve never heard of Pop’n TwinBee or Secret of Evermore, the sprites and cutscene images of games like these will help expand your knowledge of the wide and wild world of SNES games.
As beautiful as all of these images are, I wish there had been a little more consistency with the type of visuals provided for each game. You get raw character sprites from Chrono Trigger and an overworld map from Lufia & the Fortress of Doom but no sprites from Donkey Kong Country or dungeon maps from Secret of Mana.
Of course, the book isn’t just pretty pictures and gorgeous sprite work. There’s a wealth of well-written text accompanying almost every page of crisp screenshots and sprite rips that dive into the history of these games in various ways. The SNES Pixel Book is organized by broad categories like “Platform Games” and “Action Games,” but within those sections, you’ll dive into the design elements of the most iconic games in those genres and how those elements came to inspire or influence other games and even different genres entirely. A lot of it might be common knowledge to people well-versed in the world of game design, but for the less informed gamer, learning about exactly why The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past became the blueprint for gaming as we know it today is an eye-opening experience that this book provides exquisitely.
The SNES Pixel Book offers an incredible window into the past of gaming, providing a brisk and attention-grabbing way to either re-experience the memories of your gaming youth or discover unknown bits of wisdom from before your time. Not every game in the compendium gets equal share of the space or the same kind of focus, but with how many different games this book covers, it’s hardly a surprise that they couldn’t fit in a map and a sprite sheet from each one. This is still a wonderful art history book from Bitmap Books that any hardcore gaming fan or ambitious game designer deserves to pick up as soon as possible.
Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.