Book review: Darren Hupke’s 32 Bit Library

Remember that games are fun? These books do.

In the vast-yet-somehow-cozily-packed expanse that is “retrogaming”, it often feels to me as though the PlayStation is slightly underserved. Yes, I know that may not instantly ring true, what with the enormous number of beloved classics packed onto the thing, but there are over 4000 games on the bastard and you only ever hear about, what, four of them? Crash Bandicoot, Final Fantasy VIII, Armored Core and Armored Core: Project Phantasma. So it’s nice that these three volumes have come along to get a little more thorough. Focusing on Capcom, Namco and Konami’s PlayStation output, respectively, what we have here are a series of very visual guides to each publisher’s entire western library on Sony’s iconic system. We really need a better word than “iconic”, don’t we?

With around 30-50 games per book, there’s a lot to cover, and it’s sensible that outside of making sure every release is represented, Hupke doesn’t aim for an exhausting word salad. Rather than getting bogged down in excess detail, each book acts as an overview of each publisher’s library, with breezy and non-judgmental personal opinions as well as enough interesting trivia to pique one’s interest and give enough of a grounding in each game. These are further contextualised by the inclusion of contemporary critical reactions and the games’ general receptions, creating something that’s very easy to dip into for inspiration if you’re looking for something new to play – or an old favourite to revisit.

Visually it’s a pleasing experience, too, with a focus on clear, well-chosen screenshots that actually communicate more information about each entry rather than simply show it – screenshots as illustrations, rather than just data. Images are captioned with further relevant views and trivia, pairing well in a manner that communicates enthusiasm for not only each game but also the whole PlayStation era in general. Each entry then showcases a larger screenshot, a two-page spread that manages to evoke the spirit of each game admirably – I particularly enjoyed the deliberately muddy Resident Evil shot in volume 1 – exactly the way I remember the game as a kid, alien and terrifying.

Dotted through each book are retrospectives and essays from supporters and other contributors, including Euronauts John Linneman and Audi Sorlie – and before you cry “corruption”, please bear in mind I didn’t actually know this before requesting review copies! There are also inclusions from social media which I’d normally find objectionable, but in this form they are inobtrusive and do help to add further personal context for the game they’re paired with.

If I can criticise anything here, I think it’d be something I suspect is out of the author’s hands – while the books are monickered The 32 Bit Library, they are entirely focused (for now) on the PlayStation, with Saturn versions getting the occasional nod when relevant. I suspect calling it The PlayStation Library would have been a bit of a non-starter, which makes this a non-criticism, but I wouldn’t say no to a Saturn-focused book or two. There are a handful of typos in the text, but I’m pretty sure my book, All Games Are Good, has a handful in there too. For example, it was supposed to be called “All Games Are Bad”. As a further note, I wouldn’t mind seeing coverage of each publisher’s Japan-only titles, but then we’d have books the size of Thesauruses. Thesauri.

This is a series I would recommend most highly to people who are less versed in the original PlayStation, though experts will still get a kick out of the visuals and the essays. I feel as though it is designed to ignite enthusiasm and despite being quite, hrrm hrrm, educated on the subject matter, I enjoyed my time with each volume and can see myself grabbing and flicking through them again to get a dose of some of my favourites, or gather inspo for a game to stream or otherwise play for fun. Indeed, the Capcom book reminded me that One Piece Mansion exists and that I have never given it a go. And yes, Darren, I always thought it was related to Eichiro Oda’s all-timer of a manga, too.

The 32 Bit Library is available here and on Amazon.

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