10 of the best retro gaming books

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Christmas is coming! Not to freak you out, but it’s like, totally next weekend and stuff. So if you’re scrambling for a gift for the retro gamer in your life — or just fancy something to bung on your own wishlist for your tardy family members to purchase for you — here’s a list of 10 of the best retro gaming books that are still reasonably straightforward to acquire today.

Book? Yes, book. Sometimes it’s nice to get away from the screen for a while — and many of these books are a great way to learn a little more about our favourite systems and the stories behind them. So stop moaning, turn off the TV for an hour and go flip some pages.

Or not. You can do what you want. I’m not your Mum.

Anyway! In no particular order:

The Nostalgia Nerd’s Retro Tech

Retro gaming book: Nostalgia Nerd's Retro Tech

This book, composed by retro tech YouTuber Peter Leigh, better known as The Nostalgia Nerd, is an enjoyably comprehensive look at retro home computers and video game consoles. Since Leigh is a Brit, there’s a distinctly British bent to the systems covered in here — along with plenty of acknowledgements of the oft-forgotten fact that while the US was enduring the Great Video Game Crash, Europe was doing just fine thanks to the sterling work of people putting out games for computers such as the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64.

While the book has a few frustrating typos and misprints here and there, it’s overall a pleasingly high-quality volume that would make a great gift.

Nab a copy here.

The Games That Weren’t

Retro gaming book: The Games That Weren't

This fascinating retro gaming book by Bitmap Books celebrates the games that never made it to market, stretching right back to the Atari 2600 era all the way up to today’s PlayStation 4 games. Interestingly, some of these games — like Star Fox 2 — have actually made it to release in more recent years, but that doesn’t make the stories behind them any less fascinating.

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Bitmap Books are high-quality publications that are eminently suitable for display, and this one is no exception, featuring beautiful large screenshots and plenty of insight from the people behind these doomed interactive entertainment experiences.

Available here.

Bitmap Books’ Visual Compendiums

Retro gaming book: SNES: A Visual Compendium

Yes, it’s another Bitmap Books publication, but this time it’s a little different: the Visual Compendium titles are beautifully presented boxed retro gaming books that give games from a variety of different generations an amazing amount of reverence.

Featuring enormous images and plenty of text to read alongside the pretty pictures, they’re a great resource for those who want to know more about their favourite platforms — or just celebrate the beauty of retro games and their surrounding art.

There are a variety of these available; our favourite is the SNES one.

Ultra Massive Video Game Console Guide

Retro gaming book: Ultra Massive Video Game Console Guide

Back in the earlier days of the Internet and YouTube in particular, Mark Bussler was a big name in retro gaming enthusiast circles. As one of the founding members of The Game Room, a brand which Bussler subsequently built into Classic Game Room, Mark knew his stuff about retro gaming tech and had an enjoyably cheeky yet deadpan sense of humour to boot.

Sadly, Bussler left retro gaming behind some years ago after constant (and entirely understandable) frustration with 21st century online media — but he leaves behind not only a legacy of videos that remain enjoyable to this day, but also a series of excellent retro gaming books with some astonishingly beautiful photography. They can be a bit pricey to pick up today, but they still make great gifts.

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Check out volume 1 here.

Terrible Old Games You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Retro gaming book: Terrible old games you've probably never heard of

YouTuber Stuart Ashen has many strings to his bow. He’s an online entertainer, writer, comedian, movie star, tat collector and retro gaming enthusiast — and a lot of these skills helped him put this highly enjoyable book together. In contrast to The Games That Weren’t above, the games in this book very much Were — but perhaps shouldn’t have been.

If you enjoyed classic ’80s and ’90s video game magazines, you’ll definitely get a kick out of this retro gaming book (and its sequel), as the irreverent tone is very similar!

Take a look here.

Adventure: The Atari 2600 at the Dawn of Console Gaming

Retro gaming book: Adventure

If you’re interested in the early days of video gaming with a particular focus on Atari, Jamie Lendino’s series of retro gaming and computing books are a very worthwhile read. Beginning (almost) at the very beginning with the Atari 2600 and subsequently moving on to the Atari 8-bit and ST ranges in subsequent volumes, Lendino’s prose is both readable and informative, bringing a variety of fascinating stories to the fore.

By the time you’ve devoured these three volumes, you’ll have a firm understanding of how Atari ended up in such a colossal mess — and how remarkable it is that the brand still persists today in one form or another!

Start your adventure here.

Once Upon Atari: How I made history by killing an industry

Retro gaming book: Once Upon Atari

Howard Scott Warshaw’s memoirs make for a fascinating read — particularly as his creation E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial for Atari 2600 is commonly attributed as one of the main causes of the Great Video Game Crash of 1983.

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Naturally, the story isn’t at all that simple — and Warshaw’s first-hand insights on this tumultuous period in Atari history are thoroughly enjoyable. Definitely a worthwhile addition to any retro gaming book library.

Pick up a copy here.

Ask Iwata

Retro gaming book: Ask Iwata

This book, which consists of a series of articles and interviews penned by the dearly departed former Nintendo CEO, makes for a fascinating read — not just for its insight into how the games industry in Japan has developed over the years, but also for those looking for some motivational and helpful advice in pursuing their own goals.

Iwata always came across as a thoroughly charming individual whenever he appeared to the public, and his writing in this book is no exception to that rule. An essential read to honour a great man’s lasting legacy.

Ask for a copy here.


Retro gaming book: FF DOT

This thoroughly lovely retro gaming book focuses exclusively on the pixel art that appeared in the early installments of the Final Fantasy series.

Including huge-size sprites, full sprite sheets from the various games and an interview with the series’ pixel artist Kazuko Shibuya, this 300 page monster is a fine addition to any FF fan’s shelf.

Acquire one here.

Art of Atari Poster Collection

Best retro gaming books: Art of Atari

And to wrap things up, something a bit different: this publication isn’t so much a retro gaming book as it is a collection of beautiful prints, all taken from Atari’s classic box art throughout the late ’70s and early ’80s. These vibrant, intricately crafted images look absolutely wonderful framed on a wall — so if you’ve got a retro gaming fan looking to redecorate, this is a safe bet for a gift to grab for them!

Pick up a copy here.

Can’t get enough top 10 lists? Plenty more of ’em right here. Header image by Missmarettaphotography, CC BY-SA 4.0

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