Book Review: 'Console Wars' an entertaining look at the gaming industry

Blake J. Harris' book "Console Wars" was released June 2, 2015 by HarperCollins (Courtesy/Harper Collins)

Blake Harris’ book, “Console Wars,” opens on a beach in Hawaii, yet most of this story is spent inside video game consoles, board rooms and, most importantly, living rooms. After the North American video games industry crash of 1983, the story of how video games were later revitalized is an entertaining and educational tale.

Unlike other books I’ve reviewed this semester, the protagonist of “Console Wars” is extremely likable and serves as an extremely entertaining and informative vessel for the story. Tom Kalinske is a married man with three children who left the video game industry after the spectacular failure of Mattel.

While relaxing on a Hawaiian beach, Kalinske is approached by a man named Hayao Nakayama. From there “Console Wars” chronicles the rise of Sega, known today as one of the largest video game companies in the world in constant competition with Microsoft and Nintendo.

In some ways, “Console Wars” is one of those stories that is stranger than fiction. It’s absolutely fascinating to take a look inside a startup that would go on to generate billions of dollars a year, but also to look at its competition. Harris is smart to include perspectives on what Nintendo was doing during the course of the book, lest they become giant corporate villains in the story.

The sheer challenge of building a company from scratch and building it up to rival titans is a fascinating premise, but the way that this story is told is what really makes this book entertaining. Harris provides a fascinating mix of history and drama, creating a story that is both educational and entertaining for readers.

Seeing products fail, knowing all the flaws that are present in a company that you have worked for years to build up and watching as your competitors succeed is the story for much of “Console Wars.” Midway through the book, Harris highlights the fact that, shortly before the holiday season, Sega’s only anticipated projects were a Tetris rip-off and a rip-off of “Madden” called “Joe Montana Football.”

My biggest complaint about this book has to be its length. This is not a story that needed to be 560 pages long, and I suspect that the imposing thickness of “Console Wars” will scare many consumers aware from bookstore shelves.

In addition, the book carries across the cringe-worthy cheesiness of the 80’s almost too well. There were times that I had to put this book down, face-palm and resist the urge to groan.

Finally, there are parts of this story that just aren’t worth telling if readers are expected to get through the entire book. So much history is packed into these pages, from Kalinske’s struggle to those of Nintendo to even the ad agencies hoping to get big name publishers as clients. It’s unnecessary and, although entertaining at times, was not needed for this story.

Overall, “Console Wars” is an entertaining story about a time period that strongly influenced video games and the entertainment industry today. Although let down somewhat by the length, which can ironically be attributed to the passion of the author, it is a story that is worth reading, just in small, easily digestible chunks.


Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.pankowski@uconn.edu.