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It's rather ironic that as games get more complex and graphics and sound increasingly advanced the nostalgic yearning for the simple games of yesteryear with their blocky graphics and bleepy sound increases. Indeed, as releases like Sega's recent Mega Drive Collection (available for PC, PS2 and X-box) show, companies are finally starting to realise the value their old intellectual properties have.
If you're the type of person that values old-style gameplay over, then this latest Retro Gamer collection (or bookazine as it calls itself) might well be for you. Retro Gamer is a monthly magazine that looks at old games and old systems and this latest bookazine is a compendium of some of the best articles from the last 20 issues or so.
The collection brings together a host of different articles which offer a new spin on old games. Some are simple, straightforward reviews of classic (and not so classic games); others are histories documenting how particular games came into being, trace the history of particular software companies or interview programmers of yesterday and find out what they are up to now. Thanks to their expertise in the field, Retro Gamer often manages to interview the people directly involved with the game's creation, so the information comes straight from the horse's mouth. This gives each article a far more human angle than a straightforward history, which in turn makes them far more interesting. It's always full of little snippets of trivia or amusing anecdotes that a more traditional chronological account would simply never include.
The standard of writing for each article is also very high. The passion of the authors for their subject shines through, and it's obvious that the writers are keen gamers themselves, not just journalists being paid to write about games. Articles are in turn informative, interesting, funny, thought-provoking and all written in a very accessible way. Even if you have never played the game in question or heard of the programmer being interviewed, the article will still be of interest.
Retro Gamer also takes a very broad - and constantly shifting - view as to what "retro" actually means. It prints articles which cover a massive span of time from the birth of the video game industry as we know it in the late 70s/early, though the boom period of the 1980s (when everyone and his dog seemed to either release games or manufacture hardware) and the advent of the 90s 16 bit machines. This is what most people consider "retro"; yet the magazine is not afraid to challenge that and has recently run articles on late 90s machines, such as the recent Playstation or the Dreamcast. 80s to far more recent consoles like the Sega Dreamcast of the late 1990s. It also means that this bookazine can carry articles on more recent gaming characters such as Lara Croft, whilst still retaining its retro spirit. This can annoy readers who define retro as being around 1979-1993, but I think it keeps the magazine fresh and is one of the reasons why it has survived so long for such a niche title.
The bookazine also has a strong visual identity. Throughout the book, liberal use is made of photographs and screen shots of games, people and places. These help break up the text of the articles and, since the screenshots are usually full colour, help to brighten up the pages and make the magazine appealing to look at, as well as interesting to read. Other standard magazine tricks (such as side panels or boxes containing trivia or facts) are also used to good effect. It does occasionally have a slight over-fondness for garish colour combinations, which can make the text difficult to read, but these don't occur too frequently to be a serious gripe.
There are a couple of editorial faux pas, although again, these were little more than minor annoyances which are likely to be noticed only by sad, pedantic bespectacled monkey readers. All the articles in the collection are straight forward reprints, lifted wholesale from the magazine in which they originally appeared and with no further editing. As such, they occasionally make reference to an article which originally appeared in that issue of the magazine, but is not reproduced in this collection. So, you will occasionally see things like "see page 55 for more information" when page 55 of this collection actually contains a totally different, unrelated article.
I also always think it would have been nice to include details on when each article was originally published. This is not something which is crucial, but being the saddo that I am, I do like to know these things, and I can't imagine it would take a great deal of effort to add this to the contents page.
More seriously, regular readers of the magazine need to ask whether this collection offers value for money. The compilation deliberately contains no new material; everything in it has previously been published in recent issues of Retro Gamer monthly magazine. If you regularly buy that title, then £10 is a lot to spend on something you already have (assuming, of course, that you keep your back copies) and is probably something only completists will want. If, on the other hand, you haven't read the articles and are interesting in retro gaming, then it's excellent value for money - 256 pages of fascinating and informative articles from recent issues of the magazine. From my perspective, this is probably the last such collection I will buy, as future collections will cover the period since I became a subscriber. Having said that, due to limited print and distribution runs, previous volumes in this series have sold out quite quickly and subsequently sold for much higher prices on eBay, so you might want to consider getting hold of one as an investment opportunity!
This hits on another issue which is that the collection can be a little tricky to track down in the shops. Tesco sometimes have the odd copy, as do WH Smith and it can be ordered directly from publishers Imagine. Other than that, though, you'll struggle to find it on the high street.
Retro Gamer is obviously aimed at a fairly niche market and in some ways, this bookazine gives you a good way to dip your toe in the water and see if it's for you. It might be rather more expensive than getting hold of a single copy of the monthly magazine, but because it selects the best offerings of recent issues, it will probably give you a far better idea of the range and scope of the articles and help you decide whether you wish to become a regular reader.
Retro Gamer: Volume 4
Imagine Publishing, 2010
© Copyright SWSt 2010
Retro Gamer is a great magazine for all us die hard video game fans who are now in their 30's and 40's. The magazine provides a nostalgic trip through all the great games and game systems that have occupied the market since the 70's.
This collection is basically a look back at the various contents of the monthly magazine and would be invaluable for consumers who have missed several editions over the past 12 months. Being a subscriber myself I do find that these guides are a good resource but the content is duplicated from past editions. The articles are very well written and cover both the hardware/software the people/organisations behind them.
It's certainly a trip down memory lane and does serve to point out that retro gaming isn't the niche market it is thought to be. Would I recommend the collection? It is priced high at £9.99 but it does contain 256 pages. It's hard to recommend if you're a subscriber to the magazine but great as a catch up and much cheaper than buying many back issues.