Book Review: 101 Video Games to Play Before You Grow Up

Based on the title, you might be thinking that this book is just another compilation of some talking head’s best 100 (and one) games of all time, but it’s really not that at all. Targeted mainly at gamers 8-12 years old, 101 Video Games to Play Before You Grow Up is a sort of gaming bucket list guidebook crossed with an activity book and journal. Let me explain.

The first important distinction that needs to be made is that this book is not a list of 101 individual games. Entire series are highlighted under a single selection rather than being narrowed down to just one specific game from a franchise, which is nice because that way the book avoids getting bogged down in the usual best game list minutiae of someone trying to argue that, say, Final Fantasy IV is the best Final Fantasy and not Final Fantasy VII. Instead the Final Fantasy series as a whole is highlighted, because the Final Fantasy series in its totality is a classic. There’s no point in sinking into the toxicity of social media driven debate/outrage culture trying to argue one over the other when they’re all great!

As the book is primarily for the kiddie boppers, the selected games fall within the E, E10+, and T range of the ESRB rating scale, meaning M-rated powerhouses like The Last of Us, Resident Evil, Halo, Assassin’s Creed, Metal Gear, Call of Duty, Far Cry, God of War, Mortal Kombat, Dark Souls, Fallout, Grand Theft Auto, and countless others were rightly not considered.

More appropriate to its intended audience, the book recommends the usual Nintendo fare–Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda, Kirby, Smash Bros., Metroid, Pikmin, Animal Crossing, and so on–as well as other popular mascot franchises like Ratchet & Clank, Jak & Daxter, Sly Cooper, LittleBigPlanet, Banjo-Kazooie, Klonoa, Rayman, Mega Man, and Sonic the Hedgehog. The book hits the mark on contemporary darlings like Minecraft, Angry Birds, Skylanders, and Rocket League, and even surprises with nods to indie gems and other not quite as mainstream titles like Shovel Knight, Undertale, Okami, Journey, The Last Guardian, Guacamelee, OlliOlli, Ni no Kuni, BoxBoy, Katamari Damacy, Psychonauts, and Hatsune Miku. I could probably come up with a few choices that I would swap for others that were left out, but overall the book covers a well-rounded list of universally praised titles that gamers young and old alike should play. Meanwhile, parents can feel comfortable that the games being promoted to their children aren’t the ones soaked in buckets of gory pixels and polygons.

(FYI: Author Ben Bertoli wrote an interesting piece for Kotaku outlining the process that went into selecting the games that he did. It’s well worth clicking over to read once you’re done here.)

With each entry the author provides a quick primer on a game’s storyline, core gameplay mechanics, and maybe some light historical information for proper context. Games are numbered sequentially from 1 to 101–though the book is categorized by genre so I don’t believe the numbers are an indication of ranking compared to one another. Each game description is accompanied by a sidebar menu of general data, such as genre, relevant platforms, date of first appearance, ESRB rating, and by which company the game was created. A “Did You Know?” box at the bottom of each page contains random facts and trivia about the current game or series (or in some cases just a related topic). Certain titles get special treatment by spanning two whole pages, including a second sidebar containing extra data like similar games to play next, top series picks, and quippy “You’ll Like These Games If…” taglines.

Underneath the “Did You Know?” block on every page is a small text entry area, which is where the activity book and journal aspect comes into play. Inside this block, readers can check the “Played it!” box, score the game/series on a scale of one to five stars, jot down a favorite moment, and log in other personal notes of particular importance (perhaps a code or solution to an especially tricky puzzle). In this way the book serves as a checklist for gamers to keep track of the games they’ve played and use as a guide to seek out those that they haven’t.

101 Video Games to Play Before You Grow Up will absolutely charm your pants off. The author’s snappy summaries are aided by the adorable character artwork of artist Spencer Wilson, whose illustrations look like hand drawn stickers you’ll immediately wish you could peel out. That playful spirit is further accentuated by a bright color scheme that jumps off every page, as well as a vinyl flexibound cover that gives the book a sturdier structure than a traditional softcover, without being a rigid hardcover. Kids should easily be able to stuff it into a backpack and tote it around like a personal gaming journal to share and compare with their friends.

The book is written succinctly and in a welcoming tone that young readers should be able to easily understand, even going so far as to explain certain videogame phraseology that a child gamer may not yet know, such as the concepts of grinding and permadeath. What I also appreciate is the fact that the book doesn’t go out of its way to talk down to the reader. As an older person well above the intended age group, I never felt like I was reading a book only for kids. In fact, there was a certain nostalgia to flipping through the entries, reminiscing about the games I grew up on, and even being reminded of a few titles I’ve somehow managed to not play. And as a reviewer myself who’s constantly trying to come up with puns and one-liners to liven up my own writings, I have to give special kudos to Bertoli for ending nearly every entry with a witty play on words or one-liner. That’s not easy to do for 101 different games.

Buy From: 101 Video Games to Play Before You Grow Up comes out on October 1st and is available for pre-order at Amazon and other retailers linked at www.quartoknows.com.

Disclosure: A copy of 101 Video Games to Play Before You Grow Up was provided to VGBlogger.com for review purposes by Quarto Publishing.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles.

Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere.

Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn’t mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!