For those lucky enough to have experienced its meteoric rise first-hand, the PC Engine remains an iconic console. The first system to truly challenge Nintendo's stranglehold on the Japanese market in the 1980s, it boasted some of the most impressive games of its time, including authentic arcade ports of titles such as R-Type, Splatterhouse and even Sega's OutRun – and its arrival in Japanese stores in 1987 heralded a new era of brilliance in the realm of domestic gaming.
Augmented throughout its impressive lifespan by a series of hardware add-ons (including the first CD-ROM drive for a home console), the PC Engine was still going strong by the time the Saturn and PlayStation arrived at the close of 1994, its power boosted by an 'Arcade Card' which allowed even more impressive ports of leading coin-ops, such as Fatal Fury Special and Art of Fighting.
While the PC Engine was notably less successful under its North American TurboGrafx-16 guise, the original Japanese model found fame amongst 'grey import' fanatics, gamers who thought nothing of paying high prices for the latest games from the Far East. In the UK and Europe, the console was embraced by a generation of players who were ready to upgrade from their ageing 8-bit home computers to something with a little more grunt, and, as a result, the market for Japanese games and hardware exploded almost overnight.
If you're reading these opening paragraphs and nodding your head sagely, then you're probably one of the many people who were part of this craze – and you're almost certainly going to be interested in Bitmap Books' latest tome. PC Engine: The Box Art Collection is devoted to the cover artwork of the PC Engine library, from HuCard all the way up to Arcade CD-ROM, and everything in between (including the ill-fated SuperGrafx).
Penned by Hardcore Gaming 101's Kurt Kalata, this 372-page book showcases a wide range of games, each accompanied by a professionally-shot photo of the cover artwork, a selection of screenshots and a piece of text which talks not only about the game itself, but the art in question.
While this is the bulk of the book, there's also an introduction which describes the PC Engine's often chaotic evolution as a piece of hardware, and an interview with Lee Thacker, whose PC Engine collection truly is the stuff that dreams are made of. Meanwhile, the foreword is the work of Paul Weller, founder of The PC Engine Software Bible – one of the world's longest-running websites devoted to the system – who does a great job of setting you up for the pages and pages of content ahead.
The copy of the book we're covering here is the Collector's Edition, which features an absolutely stunning slipcover design by Wil Overton, he of Super Play and Rare fame. Overton performed a similar role for the Game Boy: The Box Art Collection, but we'd argue his work here is even more appealing. The cover is designed to mimic a Japanese PC Engine HuCard case, complete with a fake sticker on the back.
As we've come to expect from Bitmap Books, the production values are through the roof; the paper stock is high quality, and sewn binding has been used, so it's easy to lay the book out flat, allowing you to fully appreciate those gorgeous photos. The Collector's Edition comes with a unique dust cover which replicates the slipcase artwork; once this is removed, it's the same as the standard edition (the Collector's Edition retails for £39.99 and is limited to 2,000 copies, and will never be reprinted).
The notion of getting to gaze longingly at some of the finest box art of its generation is hardly likely to be a hard sell for many retro enthusiasts, but this really is a fantastic book; Kalata's decades of knowledge and experience shine through the text, while the beautiful photos bring each cover to life. Then there's the impeccably clean and uncluttered design, which allows the photos and words to do the talking.
We've often said that Bitmap Books creates some of the finest video game-related coffee-table tomes money can buy, and PC Engine: The Box Art Collection is yet another example to add to that ever-growing list.
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