INTRO: In order to give you a clearer picture of Nintendo’s chances in the superconsole wars — their upcoming Gamecube will be going head-to-head against the Xbox, PS2 and Dreamcast — it may be helpful to look to their past business practices. And a great place to do that is by checking out (or, for some of you, *re-checking out*) "Game Over: Press Start to Continue", by David Sheff (with Andy Eddy). The original hardback edition, "Game Over: How Nintendo Zapped an American Industry, Captured Your Dollars, & Enslaved Your Children", was published in 1993 and written by Sheff. An updated January 1999 paperback edition, the one we’re reviewing here, contains extra chapters by Eddy, as well as a "picture history of Nintendo". And now, Kyle Orland’s assessment of the book.

Did you know that Hiroshi Yamauchi is a fifth-level Go master? Or that Nintendo once owned a Chuck-E-Cheese franchise? Or that Alexey Pajitnov had the build of a medium sized bear? You’ll learn all this and more useless trivia (useless but interesting, that is) after reading "Game Over: Press Start to Continue". Not only that, but you’ll also get a detailed history of Nintendo, plus a look at the people behind the games, all in one handy book! Operators are standing by…

"Game Over" encompasses more than a hundred years of Nintendo history in its 400-plus pages. From its start as a playing card manufacturer to its current role as an electronics giant on the verge of world takeover, Sheff takes the reader along for all the ups and downs that the growing company faces. Instead of a standard step-by step history, however, Sheff focuses on a few key points in Nintendo history and uses them as anchors for the rest of the story.

The style takes some getting used to, but it doesn’t really hamper the narrative, which becomes as tense as a good spy novel at points. (The chapters detailing the fight over the rights to Tetris could have made Tom Clancy millions.) Indeed, it’s this narrative that makes "Game Over" so damn special. You not only read about how Minoru Arakawa was appointed as head of Nintendo of America, you find out how it almost drove him and his wife Yoko apart. You not only get a detailed account of Shigeru Miyamato’s conversion from artist to game designer, but also of how his experiences in the vast hillsides of Kyoto inspired the environments in his "Legend of Zelda" series.

The stories behind the story draw the reader into the world of Nintendo, and make this highly entertaining/informative book instantly accessible to gamers and non-gamers alike. For example, even if you’d never heard of Nintendo, you’d be hard pressed not to find the hard fought courtroom battle that went on with Atari back in the day to be intriguing (we won’t give away any specific plot details, or the ending).

For gamers, the appeal of "Game Over" is different. While most who have read this book are at least vaguely familiar with the situations it contains, just as many probably don’t know the details that shaped the events. If there’s one thing that "Game Over" is full of, it’s details, details and more details. From the aforementioned meaningless trivia to loads of accurate statistics to quotes from virtually everybody alive in the game industry at the time, everything in the book is excruciatingly detailed — one gets the sense that Sheff really did his homework here.

While Sheff has succeeded in creating a kick-ass reference book for Nintendo fans and observers, this isn’t to say "Game Over" isn’t without its faults. The main portion was written in ‘92 (the original book came out in ‘93), and it does show its age in places — most notably in its extended coverage of the Nintendo Network (which never, in fact, launched in the U.S.). The book also portrays Nintendo as an invincible 800-pound gorilla, a concept that a modern reader might find hard to swallow given Nintendo’s current subservient market position. The new chapters by Andy Eddy in this ‘99 paperback edition don’t do much to solve these problems; in fact, they amount to little more than a short retelling of Sheff’s chapters with some "Mortal Kombat" thrown in.

Also, in the last few chapters especially, Sheff paints a picture of a world where a true multimedia videogame system sits on every TV, transforming what was once a plaything into a true communications and information hub for the home. While it’s a nice vision, it’s also perhaps a tad utopian — one feels that Sheff got too caught up in the hype behind 3DO and other multimedia boxes that promised to change the world. These faults are easily forgivable when you look at them as part of the interesting and well-researched whole.

"Game Over" is one of those rare books about games which gamers and non-gamers alike will find difficult to put down. One can only hope that a true sequel covering the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 years in as much loving detail will follow.