Video game historian Leonard Herman takes on the unthinkable task of cataloguing every Atari 2600 game known to exist at the time of publication, offering brief directions, notes, and – in most cases – a screen snapshot of the games discussed. Rather than an alphabetical list, games are organized by broad genres.
It should be virtually no secret to anyone who can actually read that I’m a video game collector. Now, compared to some of the guys out there in the hobby who drop hundreds and hundreds on a single game, I’m pretty lightweight, because my deal is that I like to have plenty of games available to play. But when you’ve got drawers and drawers full of cartridges that, at least on the label end, all look more or less alike, and even worse, if you’ve got an emulator directory full of names that tell you next to nothing, there’s an overriding question that curses anyone with such a collection: what do I want to play?
When I first opened the cover of “ABC To The VCS”, flipped through it and saw how it was organized, I’ll admit that my first thought was that it was incredibly silly to do it that way. Now that I’ve had the book for a couple of weeks, I’ve reassessed that view. “ABC” divides the Atari 2600 library – which is already hundreds of titles deep, and replete with titles that tell you absolutely zip about the game itself – into more manageable chunks of dozens. Space games (specifically, those based more or less on the basic mechanics of Space Invaders, sports games (subdivided by sport), puzzle games, maze games, military/war games, games involving animals…broad categories, sure. However, I’ve found myself turning to “ABC” with almost alarming frequency because, within that organizational structure, I can come closer to answering that daunting question, What do I want to play?
The author’s dispassionate, concise take on each game is commendable: he’s not here to “sell” any of these games to you. He describes the game play (including briefly covering variations and settings), and may briefly mention any major innovations that the game is known for. No ratings are given for quality or rarity, and there’s not even the hint of a whiff of “ABC” being a price guide. (One thing I really would have liked would have been an end-of-book checklist of all known titles, something which “ABC” just can’t do within its body copy due to its unique structure, but again, that might’ve brought it closer to being a book about collecting rather than a book about games.)
Recently discovered unreleased prototypes and amateur-programmed homebrews are also included, and they’re given no more and no less coverage than any major commercially released games. This book covers the Atari 2600 library even-handedly, and that’s it. I could count off points for the lack of coverage of hardware items such as third-party controllers and the like, but that again is more up the collector’s alley. Almost every game is illustrated with a screen shot.
It’s hard to stare at a stack of recently-acquired cartridges and decide where to start, but “ABC To The VCS” makes it easier. It doesn’t quite answer what game do I want to play?, but it certainly helps me cut back on second-guessing and spend more time playing. That alone makes this book worth its price tag.
Author: Leonard Herman
Publisher: Rolenta Press / Good Deal Games