The SNES has a huge catalogue of titles that run through a gamut of genres and play styles. It would take ages to go through each one, but The SNES Omninbus: The Super Nintendo and Its Games, Vol 1 (A-M) aims to do just that, capturing a hint of what it was like to play through the hundreds of varied titles for the system in a lovely coffee table book for those with fond memories of the system.
What does Dino City play like? What are some fond memories games writers have had about Home Alone? What was it like to win while playing the Donkey Kong County Competition Cartridge during the Blockbuster World Video Game Championship II? The SNES Omnibus takes an exhaustive look at every single US title released for the system, doing so through a series of screenshots, play style descriptions, review snippets from the release period, and modern takes from game journalists, YouTubers, game shop owners, programmers, and more, aiming to give the reader an idea of what each title is like.
The writing styles offering multiple looks into what the game plays like. The author, Brett Weiss, often gives straightforward descriptors on what the play is like, capturing the game in a no-nonsense style that tells players exactly how the game works. While these descriptors do make the game’s play styles clear, they border on being like instruction manuals for the games in a way, which can be a little dull when reading about so many titles across the entire huge tome.
Further reading on each game, which includes reviews from the release period and opinions from modern writers, give each title a more personal touch in The SNES Omnibus. Whether it be positive memories of Donkey Kong Country-playing couples or finding the fun in virtual farming with Harvest Moon, these side sections, which are often given as much space or more as the instructional writing, offering a charming, nostalgic look at many familiar and unfamiliar games, creating a curiosity in the reader to see why these titles were so captivating (or unappealing) to the people who grew up with them or who played them recently.
The review snippets also provide an interesting context on how these games were received in their times, helping to show just how these games were looked at by journalists in the 90’s. They also provide a sense of what the coverage was like for many outlets at the time, creating a small time capsule of what games reviewers focused on during the period. The modern reviews are also given a moment to shine in many of the entries, although for many conventionally ‘bad’ games, there is a tendency for snark that seems almost out of place among so many good memories and positive experiences players had with the library.
These varied writing styles, from reviews to instructions to personal anecdotes, flesh out a full picture of what the game is like, how successful it is at what it strives to do, and the memories it imprinted and the meanings it carried for its players, creating a rich vision of what the game is like. Not every title has all of these in it, with many smaller, unknown titles being given shorter descriptions with few side stories, but those that do give a nice sense of the game in a short period.
This is necessary, as Weiss has set out to do a titanic task with The SNES Omnibus. Giving the hundreds of titles in the first volume more than a single page is nearly impossible, forcing the writer to cover several different looks at the game in very few words. It’s impressive to capture such a full sense of each title and its importance to its players in a single page, but Weiss has done so with skill here.
All of these words come at one sad expense, though, as many of the pictures that go along with the game are on the small side. Weiss has put in many different screenshots with each game, including shots of the cartridge art as well as ads for many different games, but few of them are big enough to really appreciate the detail and sprite work in them. This comes from the sheer size of the task, as covering the SNES’ entire library, describing it in several ways, and then providing screenshots only allows for so much space without creating an absurdly large book.
That’s not to say that the images aren’t delightful in their own way, again hinting at the attitudes in visuals styles and game advertising of the period. From the absurd way Kirby’s Avalanche was (very aggressively) advertised to many, many more instances of 90’s ‘attitude’, it lets readers get a sense of the sheer mess that selling games was during the time. It also captures the colourful looks and varied art styles the system encompassed, letting the reader really take in the scope of what the system had to offer. It just would have been nice to be able to appreciate the detail on these images a bit more, but again, the scope of the task really likely wouldn’t allow for that.
As a book to idly leaf through, The SNES Omnibus offers a wonderfully nostalgic, informative experience. Seeing so many varied experiences, pleasant memories, personal gripes, vivid screenshots, silly advertising campaigns, and instructional looks on how strange games play, it’s a book that consistently surprises and delights. It’s fun to simply look for titles you may not have heard of, or to just read someone’s fuzzy memories of something you also enjoyed playing. It’s a delightful work of discovery and curiosity and will offer endless rabbit holes for curious players to go down in search of intriguing new titles to play.