Being that I am a huge fan of the 16-bit era, it is only natural that I gravitate to a book called Console Wars, one that would seem to focus exclusively on the battle between Nintendo and Sega. Oh, what a time that was. It was great to be a gamer during this period, witnessing a constant battle of one-upmanship. I was a big Nintendo fan, but it was Sega’s Genesis and their cool attitude and persona that swayed me over to embrace everything Sonic. I was such a huge Sega fan that not only did I pick up a Sega Saturn and Sega Dreamcast (which is the only console I have ever waited in line for and bought at Midnight to date), but I also sunk money into a Sega CD and a Sega 32X, the latter being rated as one of the worst consoles (or console add-on) in history.
So with that backstory in mind, I was beyond thrilled to find out a book was going to come out and document it all. Console Wars by Blake J. Harris (HarperCollins Publishers, $28.99), released in mid-May of last year and now available in paperback, does just that and then some. The book is over 500 pages so it is not meant to be a light read by any means, but I couldn’t put it down once I started. The book is already being made into a movie with Seth Rogan attached to write and produce for Sony Pictures, which is another interesting side story of it all, given Sony’s prominent role with Nintendo during that time.
Going into reading, I was almost challenging the book, daring it to teach me something that I didn’t already know about the console wars. I was excited about the book, yes, but I also felt like a know-it-all nerd. Being a huge fan of video game history, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the golden 16-bit era. If I had a third arm, I would have even opened the book with my arms folded in defiance.
It didn’t take long before I realized a few things. One, I didn’t know even half of what was going on during the war. Two, this book wasn’t going to be what I thought it was, and that turned out to be a very good thing.
Early on, without giving away spoilers, I got the sense that the focus of the book wasn’t going to be so much on the Nintendo / Sega rivalry, but about Sega’s internal struggles with itself and an ongoing battle of power between Sega of America and Sega of Japan. Talk about a plot twist. I knew that Sega had a few of these problems, but I never knew the depth of them and how some decisions, both good and bad, forced peoples’ hands and ultimately decided who would win the console war. There is beyond a wealth of new interviews and insights here that will make a gamer’s head spin.
The book reads as a novel rather than a historical biography of the period. To me, that made the book even more enjoyable to read. It felt like I was reading private and candid interviews and trade secrets rather than a dry fact sheet by talking heads. With this kind of narrative, though, there are a few liberties taken here that could be questionable on how accurate it is, but the book was given the stamp of approval by Nintendo’s Howard Lincoln and Sega’s Tom Kalinske, the two presidents of Nintendo and Sega at the time, so I take that as what is said here is pretty much what went on.
Console Wars definitely takes a more sympathetic side to Sega, although it doesn’t demonize Nintendo in the process. It was very fair to all parties involved, but the book really gets juicy about halfway through when it begins to document the Nintendo / Sony SNES CD fiasco, and Sega’s ill-fated 32X and decisions behind the bungled surprise E3 1995 launch of the Sega Saturn. From then on—not that the first half of the book was a snoozer—it really picks up steam and I literally couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. Maybe I did need that third arm after all.
Console Wars may not be the book for everyone as its narrative and focal points may rub some the wrong way, but this book for me was the very definition of a page turner, and I am on my third reading of it as of this writing. I feel it is a book that anyone who is a classic gamer will enjoy, even at its length. I, for one, didn’t want it to end.