A Series of Good Boss Fight Books Reviews

All of these ones are very good, which is a complete coincidence of the order my phone sorted in.

Super Mario Bros 3 (Alyse Knorr, BFB #13) (A-tier)

The SMB3 book often takes breaks to look at the development of SMB3, but it's mostly about the cultural phenomenon it became to a certain generation of American kids and the author's life experience with the game. The development parts of it are mildly interesting for some anecdotes and a look at exactly why SMB3 was able to be so much more advanced than the first two games, but there's not going to be anything all that surprising if you've read anything about Nintendo in the '80s before.

It's much better when it's taking a more personal approach. As someone who wasn't even born when this game was released, it was cool to read about how much it took over the lives of kids of the right age for a while on either side of its debut. It's also refreshing to see someone be so honest about exactly the influence a game has had on her life: she talks at length about how SMB3 is one of her strongest connections to her dad, how it continued to build her friendships as an adult, and how she interpreted the Mario/Peach/Bowser relationship as a young girl beginning to realize she was interested in other girls.

All I can really criticize about it is that she sometimes seems unaware that by now there are millions of adults who didn't grow up with SMB3, and many of them are probably reading this book. There's a bizarre sequence where she tries to find a friend who doesn't have nostalgia for the game and treats it like a museum-worthy discovery when one guy turns out to have been a SEGA kid. But that's a brief interlude that's still well written, and it doesn't take anything away from the rest of the book.

World of Warcraft (Daniel Lisi, BFB #12) (A-tier)

This book is about the game, but it's really about the author's struggles with Internet Gaming Disorder as a teenager. You get a mechanical overview of WoW and a look at how its community-created rules and etiquettes played out, but it's all in service of telling how WoW went from being a healthy connection between Lisi and his stepdad to an obsession that took over his life. It often reads like the journal of a recovered meth addict, complete with increasingly reckless attempts to sneak WoW into places it wasn't allowed, losing almost all his connection outside WoW, and even constructing an elaborate fake camping story in order to go on a cross-country trip to a guild meetup.

This book is very focused on the story that it wants to tell, so if you're looking for anything about WoW that isn't closely related to the early culture of elite raiding guilds, you're probably not going to get it here. But if you want a very personal story of going to far with a game, of how that game's design and player's made it so easy to go that far, and of the (limited) changes made to it in the years since, you can't go wrong with it.

Spelunky (Derek Yu, BFB #11) (A-tier)

This is, as far as I'm aware, the only BFB book to be written by the developer of the game it's about. Given that, it's obviously able to dive much deeper into the story of Spelunky's development and the design ideas behind it. Yu sometimes comes off as if he thinks there's only one good way to make a game, but considering how humble he is about everything else, I don't think all those passages were meant to communicate what he values in game's without passing judgment about anyone else's design.

I'd go as far as to call this an essential read for anyone who is considering making an indie game, because Yu is so honest about the struggles involved and has a great section about all the lessons he's learned on how to reliably get from idea to game. It's particularly valuable for sections on letting go of perfectionism, recognizing when a development team isn't working together, and setting realistic deadlines.

Although it's largely a project development manual, there are also great passages on the origin of hugely influential ideas like daily seeds and on dealing with feedback constructively. It's the longest BFB I've read by a large margin, but it's absolutely worth the time.

Metal Gear Solid (Ashly and Anthony Burch, BFB #9) (B-tier)

A critical look back at a game that two siblings grew up with. Unlike most BFBs that are long sequences of praise for every aspect of a game with only occasional stops for criticism, this book is almost entirely about pointing out the absurdities and tropes of MGS. It's carried by the great team charisma that the Burches have, which keeps the book entertaining even if you don't necessarily agree with everything they're saying. It does suffer from Anthony having a somewhat inflated sense of his own writing skill - there are a lot of passages that basically amount to "Kojima did this bad or problematic thing when writing MGS, but I did it this way when writing Borderlands 2". I don't think it's controversial now to say that Borderlands 2's writing is a house constructed entirely of glass and 2013 memes, so he should probably be a bit more careful about throwing stones.

Also unlike most BFB's, I'm not sure that you'd get anything out of it unless you're already familiar with the plot of MGS. The plot analysis often assumes you've already seen the scenes they're talking about and while there are accompanying descriptions, I doubt it's enough to hold the attention of someone who is wondering when Gaseous Snake shows up.

Bible Adventures (Gabe Durham, BFB #7) (B-tier)

This is the second most unique book in the series after Spelunky. Not because Durham personally had anything to do with BA's development, but because it's a game that no one actually likes. There's no risk of long sections of blind praise for its design because you'd be hard pressed to find much of anything to praise about it for even a short section.

Instead, it's a look at how one development studio accidentally ended up in the business of making knockoff bootleg NES games to sell to Christian stores. This is the comedy heist story of the BFB series, as a bunch of guys who shouldn't have anything to do with Christian NES games slowly realize that a certain subset of parents will buy anything with Jesus on it and their studio suddenly transforms into the house of biblical Mario. Eventually it all falls apart as Nintendo makes it harder to sell bootleg games and the Christian market moves on, but it's a heck of a ride to get to that point.

I'm giving this one a B only because it doesn't have that personal connection that elevates the A books. But even without that, it's easily the best of the B books and one I'd recommend to almost anyone.


And that's all the ones I've read so far. This series will now go into cold sleep until I've got another 5 saved up, which will take an extremely unpredictable amount of time ranging from weeks to years based on the rate I've been going so far.

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