Vintage Game Consoles: The Greatest Gaming Platforms of All Time

Bill Loguidice & Matt Barton
Focal Press 2014
348 pp.

Vintage Game Consoles: The Greatest Gaming Platforms of All Time is a 2014 historical retrospective written by Bill Loguidice and Matt Barton. Loguidice is a well-known video game and technology author/historian with a myriad of books under his belt, and Barton is a professor of English and fellow video game historian who hosts and produces a weekly YouTube show on the subject. The two previously worked together on 2009’s Vintage Games: An Insider Look at the History of Grand Theft Auto, Super Mario, and the Most Influential Games of All Time, also published by Focal Press.

Vintage Game Consoles is laid out much like a college textbook (and easily contains enough information to be used as one) while maintaining an ease of readability by avoiding deluging the reader with minutiae and never taking itself too seriously. Written in a casual narrative style, Loguidice and Barton nevertheless maintain an intelligent voice that doesn’t simply pander to the lowest common denominator, while at the same time peppering the book with enough light-hearted humor and personal anecdotes to keep it both interesting and relatable.

The book is, as it sounds, a look at what the authors believe to be the most important gaming platforms of all time, with each chapter of the book dedicated to a single console or computer. The systems are presented in chronological order and are organized into three generations. The first covers the years 1971-1984 and includes arcade machines, early home computing platforms, and pre-NES consoles. The second includes 8- and 16-bit consoles plus the Amiga home computer and Nintendo Game Boy, and the third generation begins with Windows computer gaming and continues with video game consoles released between 1995 and 2001. Each chapter touches on the history of the platform itself along with the company that created it, how it related to then-current events in gaming, technical specifications, noteworthy games and accessories, recommendations for the current-day collector, emulation options, and current fan support in the form of user groups, fan sites, and homebrew (where applicable).

As a child of the 80’s I have less of a connection with and, as a consequence, less interest in consoles and computing platforms that came out “before my time.” I was therefore not as excited to read chapters on systems like the Intellivision, Colecovision, and Atari home computers, whose heyday occurred when I was too young to appreciate them. But not only did I enjoy these chapters, they also increased my interest in platforms that I was previously content to leave out of my collection. At the same time, I couldn’t wait to get to the chapters on DOS gaming, the NES, and the Sega Genesis, all gaming staples for me during my formative years. On top of taking a nostalgic trip down memory lane, I even learned a few things. How is it that I never knew that Gunpei Yokoi started out as a janitor at Nintendo?!?

Vintage Game Consoles also features tons of photos of systems, peripherals, game packaging, and screen shots, which is something sorely and inexplicably lacking in many other books on the subject. Noteworthy games for each platform appear as isolated text boxes complete with screen shots throughout each chapter and help to break up the wall of text. This style is much preferred to simply listing off such games in a separate section at the end of each chapter.

I do have a few small issues with the book – the Sega Master System, the NEC TurboGrafx-16, the SNK Neo-Geo, and the Sega Saturn all failed to make the cut. Some would argue that the book’s subtitle, “The Greatest Video Game Consoles of All Time” not only allows, but necessitates that these three consoles be left out, as none sold well in North America. However, these consoles have a rich legacy and a strong following among classic gaming enthusiasts, and most sold well in their day outside of North America. Their omission makes the book feel incomplete in that their inclusion would create a more complete history of major video game platforms (although even that verbiage would cause debate among gaming forum denizens, because where does one draw the line between “major” and “minor”?). For example, the TurboGrafx-16 may not have been a major player at the peak of the 16-bit console wars, but it still sold 2.5 million units in the United States and provided the only “next generation” competition for the Sega Genesis for the first 2 years of its life cycle. It was also wildly successful in Japan where it is known as the “PC Engine.” Additionally, SNK’s Neo-Geo platform is not mentioned at all, and both the interchangeable cartridge system used in the arcade and the arcade-perfect home system would seem to at least earn it a blurb in the “Arcade” chapter. Ultimately these omissions are nothing more than personal disappointments, and not what I would consider to be universal shortcomings. If 10 people read this book, they would all come up with different lists of what they felt was left out, and much like someone’s “top 10” list of video games, every one else is going to have a different opinion.

That criticism aside, I have no problem throwing around the term “must-own” when talking about this book. Simply put, if you’re into classic gaming or gaming history (and if you’re reading this you probably are) then Vintage Game Consoles belongs on your shelf. I could go on in more detail about the book’s contents, but its better left to be discovered by reading the book itself rather than a review of it. If you’re new to the classic gaming scene, this book is the perfect primer to get you up to speed and allow you to speak intelligently on the subject. If you’re a grizzled veteran like me, there’s still plenty to learn, especially about platforms with which you had limited experience when they were current-gen. The book also makes for great reference material after the initial read-through. I’ve read more than my share of these retrospective gaming books, and this one is by far the most well-rounded.

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