Review: 100 Classic Books (Nintendo DS)

100 Classic Books
Publisher: Nintendo of America
Developer: Genius Sonority Inc./HarperCollins
Genre: E-Book Collection
Release Date: 06/14/2010

For the two years I’ve been debating whether or not to get the Kindle from Amazon. I love to read and I have a ton of books. Buying a Kindle seemed like a good way to keep my home from being cluttered with books. However I still haven’t pulled the trigger on purchasing one. Likewise, when 100 Classic Books was released in Europe a year and a half ago, I considered buying it to compare it to the Kindle, but I ended up importing other games like Agarest: Generations of War, Demon’s Souls, Cross Edge and Shining Force Feather. Now that 100 Classic Books has finally been released in North America, I was able to get an advance copy from Nintendo and their PR firm, Golin Harris and have spent some time with it, re-reading classic stories like The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. I even finished a book I’d never read (nor heard of) before in The Woman in White by William Collins.

This review won’t be about if the collection here consists of the greatest works of English literature or what should have been left out and what should have been put in. You, the reader, are more than welcome to leave your suggestions in the comment section though. I suspect Falkner fans will bemoan the lack of The Sound and the Fury though.

So for $19.99, you’re getting 100 books and ten extra downloadable ones, but how does the overall package come out? Is the writing akin to the Kindle’s E-ink? How is the formatting? Is it easy to page through the books in question? These questions and more will be answered below.

Let’s Review

1. Modes

There are several modes to speak of in 100 Classic Books. Of course, the first is your bookshelf, where you can go down each of the one hundred books alphabetically by the author’s last name. You can choose to sort them in a different fashion, such as title or genre though. There is also a search function which lets you whittle the books down by specific criteria such as reading difficulty, length, genre, and more. After you choose a book, you can read a little summary detailing what the book is about or even a short biography on the author, complete with a picture of them. If you are curious about what books are contained on the DS cart, click here for a full list.

The next option is the Book Guide. In this selection you can take a quiz where a helpful owl will hand you the book it feels best suits you based on what answers you gave. The first time I took the quiz, I got The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and after that it recommended to me The Turn of the Screw as it saw I had read and enjoyed Dracula. You can also view the overall rankings of each book based on everyone who owns the game. As of this writing The Man in the Iron Mask is the #1 rated book, which rather surprised me. As long as it isn’t Emma.

Finally, there is the ability to download new books and transmit your ratings. As of right now there are only ten books that you can download, but as a freebie, that’s pretty nice. A full list of the downloadable books can be found here. The service is pretty quick compared to other DS downloads. The Secret Agent for example is 73KB and it took only twenty seconds to download. A larger book like The Three Musketeers at 173KB took thirty-eight seconds. Nice!

Overall this is a great deal, especially when you consider that many of these would cost 99 cents on a Kindle, and so you’re getting a hundred (or 110 if you download) books for a fraction of that price. This is a tremendous deal no matter how you look at it.

Modes Rating: Great

2. Graphics

The visuals such as the bookshelf and your owl guide really don’t matter in the scheme of things here. The only visual we need to be concerned with is how the written word looks on your DS. Now, you only have two font sizes to choose from, but both work quite well. It’s not quite E-Ink ala the Kindle, but I would put the quality on par with the Nook or Sony’s E-Reader.

You’ll probably want to read this on either the original DS or the DSi XL. The screens on the DSi and DS lite are too small in my opinion for a solid reading experience, as you’ll have to turn pages far more than you will with either a real book or the larger model DS’. For example, The Man Who Was Thursday is nearly 1200 pages long in regular font and over 1800 in on large. Meanwhile the real book version clocks in at about 114-300 pages depending on the size of the book’s pages. That’s a lot of flipping.

Overall, the visuals do what they need to. The writing is large enough that anyone can read it and I never developed eye strain from looking at a screen while reading an entire book. That’s about all you can ask for. I don’t really care for the specific font and I would have liked a few more size/style options, but for a budget game, this is pretty nice.

Graphics Rating: Enjoyable

3. Sound

Surprisingly there are quite a few sound options for you in the game. As you go through the various menus, there is light but somewhat loud melody playing in the background. It’s not offensive, but it could easily grate on a reader’s nerves without a volume button. When actually reading a book though, there are over a dozen tracks you can choose for ambience. Most of these are not musical tracks however, but rather background noises. My two favorites were “Stream,” which was the sound of a bubbling brook, and “Living Room” which was the sound of a crackling fire. It’s too bad “beach” had a damn noisy gull in it. That was way too distracting. I was actually pretty impressed by all the different background tracks you could play although several are very cheesy, they were all outside the box and a lot of fun.

Sound Rating: Enjoyable

4. Control and Gameplay

Perhaps my least favorite thing about this “game” is “playing” it. As I said previously, you’ll be turning pages far more than you would with a real book and you’ll be doing this with the stylus, which I personally hate doing. To go forward you tap the right side of the touch screen (held vertically) and to go back a page you tap the left side. You can also slide the stylus in those directions to trigger the same effect. You can make some changes in the settings so that the shoulder buttons can have the same function, but this is even more awkward and you will end up hitting the one on the bottom regularly.

There is also an option to make the D-pad turn pages and this feel more natural, but only if you orient your DS so that the D-pad is at the bottom when you are reading, rather than the top. I ended up using this 99% of the time as using the stylus just took me out of the escapism of reading a book repeatedly.

Touching the top of the screen brings up a menu that includes items like placing a bookmark on a page so you can go back to it, close the book, changing settings on the fly and more.

That’s really all there is to the controls for reading. Everything else is stylus controlled and you just tap on what you want or slide in order to peruse your bookcase (which sometimes the DS reads as tapping and so instead of sliding you’ll be reading Treasure Island or something by accident).

I should close this section by pointing out that when you choose to read a play (such as those by The Immortal Bard), you’ll find the formatting of plays is horribly off and nowhere like what one finds when you actually read a script. These are actually very hard to read due to how bunched up everything is on the screen and the character’s name is on the same line as their words, which will both annoy and stymie people who have read a lot of Shakespeare in their day. I suppose this was done to keep you from clicking on even MORE pages, but it is very awkward and hard to read. If you’re going to read one of these, I strongly suggest you do so with “small font.”

Overall, I found navigating through the books to be annoying at times, but that’s more the fault of the DS’ small screens (even the large ones) than the actual design of the cart. It’s a nice cheap alternative to an e-book reader, but the plays really needed to be formatted differently/properly.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Decent

5. Replayability

With 100 novels and ten extra downloadable ones, there’s not much more to say here than you will probably never read all 100 books, even if you sit down and try to. Still, the sheer amount of content and the quality of the books means you can come back to this for years, or even decades to come, and still have something to enjoy.

Replayability Rating: Unparalleled

6. Balance

Usually in this section we discuss how easy/hard a game is, along with the A.I. of the game. Here, it’s going to be the variety of books, which is actually very impressive. The “game” breaks down the books into ten categories such as romantic, exciting, funny, scary and more. You can tell both the developer and publisher tried to balance things out, but when you look at each category, things break down. Hamlet, considered Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy is listed as “scary.” Same too for MacBeth. Odd. I’m also not sure why they have happy and funny as two different categories.

There is also a type option, but this too has some issues. There are a few categories that could have used some more padding. Non-fiction, for example, only contains two works – Rights of Man and The Prince. There is also only a single essay which is Thoreau’s “Walden” collection. There is only one choice for poetry and that is Homer’s The Odyssey.

The genre option bears looking at too. Detective and Mysteries are listed as two separate genres, although there is a lot of overlap. Yet we are missing a horror option even though the cart contains Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde amongst others. That’s a bit odd.

Although the collection in 100 Classic Books is rather nice and there is definitely something for literally everyone to read, certain classifications are missing while others are just plain odd. Most of all, 100 Classic Books could have used a bit of balancing with authors and types. What’s here is good and certainly worth the purchase price, but English majors will no doubt kvetch about these things in the same way I have.

Balance Rating: Good

7. Originality

I can honestly say there is nothing like this for the DS and properly won’t ever be again until they make a “sequel.” This is a wonderful idea and the DS is half the cost of a Kindle and this collection of 100 books is far less than it would be on Amazon’s e-reader to beat. Sure it’s not as user friendly, but in a pinch this is definitely something to take on a trip (especially an international one) instead of filling your carry one with books. I even take this and sit by my pool before and after swimming laps. This is a wonderful and innovative idea along the same lines as the three different DS cookbooks I have or the My Coach language programs.

Originality Rating: Unparalleled

8. Addictiveness

Although I enjoyed flipping through a few books via this cartridge, the novelty quickly wore off for me. Reading plays was a nightmare and I just didn’t find this as comfortable as using an e-book reader or a real book. That being said, this will still be great on trips, eating out by oneself or various others times, but I can’t see myself sitting down with this in bed before going to sleep over a real book. At the end of the day, the screen is just too small for my liking and I get annoyed with all the extra flipping. That being said, if I ever get the urge to re-read say, Just So Stories or Jane Eyre, I’ll definitely do this over buying a kindle or paper version.

Addictiveness Rating: Poor

9. Appeal Factor

This is a bit tricky. If you don’t own an e-reader already, I’d strongly suggest this as a starter since it’s much cheaper, contains a lot of great books and is a wonderful addition to the educational options out there for the DS. In fact, I primarily use my DS for these sorts of titles rather than gaming. Out of the twenty titles I have kept for the DS as my permanent collection, three are cookbooks, three are language learning programs and now I have a collection of books. Of course I realize I am in the extreme minority in terms of using my DS in this way and that most people will probably overlook this wonderful idea in favour of the latest Mario game or the plentiful amounts of shovelware available for the DS. It’s a pity, but it’s also the reality of situation. I really hope Nintendo pushes this as it’s a nice (but not great) alternative to an e-book reader, will save you enormous amounts of room in your home and is just the thing for more casual or intellectual DS owners. I don’t see 100 Classic Books being a chart topper, but like nearly all of the Touch Generation brand of games for the Nintendo DS, I love the idea, if not the final execution.

Appeal Factor: Mediocre

10. Miscellaneous

$19.99 for 100 of the greatest books ever written in (translated into) the English language is an insane deal that most people should pounce on immediately. Then when you factor in another ten downloadable books, and the promise or perhaps more to come (as this set is VERY different from the UK version) and you have arguably the best deal in the history of the DS’ lifespan. It’s also a much cheaper alternative to the Kindle or Nook, and although it’s nowhere as good and the small screen size can be a hindrance, this is just such a wonderful idea and a perfect reminder of how Nintendo has become the leader in terms of innovation and risk taking out of the three hardware companies these days. You can even send a sample book to a friend’s DS to let them test the quality of the cart. Kudos to Nintendo, Genius Sonority and HaperCollins.

Miscellaneous Rating: Unparalleled

The Scores
Modes: Great
Graphics: Enjoyable
Sound: Enjoyable
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Unparalleled
Balance: Good
Originality: Unparalleled
Addictiveness: Poor
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Unparalleled

Short Attention Span Summary
100 Classic Books is one of the best ideas Nintendo has had in a while. While it is no Kindle killer, this cart is a great alternative to the more expensive e-readers out there, collecting some of the most famous works in the English language for a fraction of the price you would normally pay for their electronic or paper equivalents. Due to the small size of even the largest DS models, you’ll be flipping “pages” over ten times more than you would with a real book and plays are horribly formatted, but everything else is literary gold. Factor in an additional ten books available by DLC and you not only have an unbeatable deal, but an entire library that English professors would kill for that fits in the palm of your hand as well.



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5 responses to “Review: 100 Classic Books (Nintendo DS)”

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  4. […] not a lot and the ideas don’t always work as well as they do in theory. Take 2010′s 100 Classic Books. This was a wonderful idea, there was free DLC for it and the books included ensured everyone would […]

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