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The Worlds of Power book series

posted on April 9th, 2007 by chris

Strange as it may seem, video games and reading have always been closely related in my mind. When I was four years old, I would watch my older brother play RPGs and other text-heavy games. After a year or so of observation, I could more or less understand what was going on. Eventually, I figured out that letters written on paper were the same as those shown in Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy, and thus I “learned” to read all at once (naturally, my kindergarten teacher took the credit).

Astonishingly, terrible game cover art is also terrible book cover art.

Back in the NES era, there were a lot of random game-related paraphernalia. Nintendo had merchandising on its side, and Super Mario towels, sheets, lunchboxes, etc. abounded. All well and good, but a more interesting event during this time was the publishing of the Worlds of Power series of short novels.

Again, this was during the time of the NES. Action and even adventure games didn’t have much memory space for plot, and even the instruction manuals were too short to have more than a brief blurb about why you’re liberating an island nation or killing a vampire. There was simply nothing to the stories in most games, which left them open to interpretation.

Enter the Worlds of Power series. Each one was based around an NES game, including many of the best classics: Blaster Master, Ninja Gaiden, Bionic Commando, Castlevania 2 and Metal Gear. You may have noticed none of the games in the series were made by Nintendo; this could’ve been because they didn’t want some random novelist making stuff up for their own games. In any case, for being based on video games some of the books weren’t too bad. Many varied in style, but all claimed to be written by one “F.X. Nine”. They added various plot elements to make the story more interesting, but sometimes took excessive liberties with the source material.

My favorite of the series was Blaster Master, as it was probably the best-written. It mixed in sci-fi with the main elements of the game’s plot. If you ever tried the PSX game (Blasting Again), and managed to stand playing enough to get to any of the plot, you might notice the character Eve. She was entirely made up in the Worlds of Power novelization, which for some reason was used for the game’s story. The Blaster Master novel was actually the only reason I remember the game years later.

The other books range from decent to pretty bad. Castlevania 2 was my least favorite because it had the kid-brought-to-game-world element in it. In its defense, though, it also had the darkest plot of any book I read for years (and somehow a lot of stupid puns at the same time). Ninja Gaiden, Metal Gear, Bionic Commando and Infiltrator are all similarly action-ish, but much of the action is non-lethal fighting (the books were published by Scholastic, which may be to blame). I didn’t even notice this the first time I read the books; all I knew is that they were a heck of a lot more fun to read than the rest of the stuff elementary school students are expected to read.

This artist obviously refused to be shown up by the Mega Man artist.

Beyond Shadowgate was a kind of cheesy fantasy novel; it wasn’t quite entirely a rip-off of Lord of the Rings, but it wasn’t far off either. I found this move in particular quite strange, but then the original game didn’t seem to have a backstory to speak of, so it gave the author some room to work with.

The series as a whole is okay. Each book is easily short enough to be read in one sitting, and they are all quite uncomplicated (being written for the younger set); something along the lines of Harry Potter, but not quite as deep. This was all well and good back when I read the books 15 years ago, but the plots certainly could’ve dealt with more mature themes (again, Scholastic is likely to blame for part of that).

I’m not certain whether or not the Worlds of Power books were the first game novelizations, but they were probably the most widespread until recently. There are now novelizations for several very popular games (Halo and Diablo 2, for example) and even some lesser-known games are getting book-related loving (Suikoden III’s translated manga). If such novelizations are of higher quality than the Worlds of Power books, we could be seeing the emergence of a popular new book genre.

3 Comments

  1. Matt said on April 9, 2007:

    I’ve never heard of these books before, but they sound awesome. I get gitty when my favorite medium tries to branch out like this. I’ve read all the Halo books (save for the newest one) and I try to look into all of the comics that they have out. This series of books sounds right up my alley, but I probably will get disappointed when I find that they are for kids. The Metal gear book would be awesome though.

  2. christian said on April 10, 2007:

    I read Castlevania and Metal Gear as a child.  Despite terrible writing and complete retconning of what went on in the games, they were fun as hell, and if  I could get my paws on some right now I’d read them in an hour. 

  3. dave said on April 14, 2007:

    I’ve got a book based on the text adventure series ‘Zork’ published in ’91. Of course I only bought it to boost my Nerd Cred. I also got a Super Monaco GP novelisation which came with a Sega Power magazine in ’92. In the cold grey pre internet times seeing anything game related in the wider media, be it cartoons or books was a novelty, so quality really wasn’t too big a deal.

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