5 out of 5
I realize it’s sort of cheap to adjust my rating standards on these Boss Fight Books after… 13 entries, but it’s somewhat inevitable when going through a series: your initial impressions are just that, with the immediate sequels garnering opinions that bounce off of that first impression, and then the reviews following are when relatives “rules” are established for what is a good or bad entry in that series. And now, 14 books in, with Salvatore Pane’s Mega Man 3, I’m rating on somewhat of a sliding scale; that is, this isn’t necessarily a perfect book that I’d stack alongside those books that’ve had life-changing, five-star-ish relevance in my life, but it is an ideal entry in the Boss Fight series, with Pane bringing a mature and informative tone to his text, while also accomplishing everything I feel he – and the series in general – have set out to accomplish.
The structure is much the same as most of these books: a light walkthrough of the featured game is interspersed with facts on its creation and the author’s personal experiences with the game. The mix-and-match of how our writers have approach this formula is generally in regard to their “voice,” and how effectively they blend those elements. A lot of early BFBs came across too snarkily cool; hipsters offhandedly chirping about games they used to play. This transitioned to something less cloying along the way, but writers still struggled with juggling factoids with emotionality – I can look up the same game history you can on the helpful ol’ internets, so give me some extra oomph in the writing that tells me why that history is important.
The releases leading up to MM3 finally embrace their obsessions: there’s not any distancing between the writer as a writer and the writer as a gamer; they are one and the same. Pane has been able to take this a step further, actually teaching about video games at a point, and he introduces this tone at the outset: making it clear that his appreciation for the bleep-bloop medium has been a constant, and not one that’s necessarily been in contrast with his academic pursuits. But his vocation aside, it’s the strong throughline Pane creates between this sensibility, his to-the-point descriptions of Mega Man’s various encounters, and the history before and after the game – how MM and MM2 led to 3, and how 3 morphed and changed in the sequels that followed – that makes this a standout Boss Fight Book. I walked away feeling like I understood more: more about Pane, and more about the game, and more about how and why the Mega Man series has had relevance for so many, when it never connected with me.
That has been the Boss Fight m.o. in my mind – to connect readers with the gaming experience – but it’s proven an elusive goal for most. Salvatore’s confident writing voice suggests, right away, that we’re in good hands for actually achieving that goal, and about 150+ pages later, he undeniably achieves it, without reservation.