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I grew up on computer games, graduating from a C64 to a Sega Megadrive to a steam-powered 486 DX PC, (with 8mb ram!), and to say that I have something of a soft spot for retro games would be a massive understatement. Game developers have gotten incredibly lazy these days, much like hollywood and for much the same reason. Modern games tend to dazzle your audience with flashy visuals, whereas games of the past had to rely on much subtler techniques to immerse their players- namely inventive and addictive gameplay and a thrist to push the envelope as far as the limited technology of the day would allow. Sure, for every Deus Ex or Dune 2 there was a Daikatana or ET (the latter being an old amstrad game so bad that the publishers couldnt even give it away and ended up burying thousands of copies in the New Mexico Desert), and there were always hacks churning out mundane rubbish for cash, but there was a creativity and passion that seems sadly lacking with so may of todays' big-budget mega-unit-shifters.
Retro Gamer is a magazine dedicated to the games of the past, classic and obscure, on all formats, from arcade games to spectrum games to old pc games to old-school console games. The magazine features in-depth features on particular platforms, such as the sega megadrive for example, as well as exhastive looks at well loved games, co,plete with developer interviews and where-are-they-now features on the mysterious bedroom-programmers of old.
The writing team are clearly passionate, and the mag well written and presented, and reading it regularly prompts huge buzzes of pure nostalgia as you come face to face repeately with games that were all but lost to your deepest subconscious but are suddely fresh in your mind, bringing back vivid sound-effects and pixellated animations and arcane game mechanics in an instant.
There is something to please everyone, as the magazine's scope is so wide, and its a magazine that makes me excited about gaming again in a way I havent been since the the glory days of PC Zone. If there are any problems with the mag, then they are its length, as an issue can be rapaciously devoured very quickly. THen again, Im happy to choose quality over quantity every time. The other problem is taht the magazine is very costly (over £5), though it is a bi-monthly publication written and researched to a very high standard. It might be worth grabbing them second hand on ebay, or just being selective about which issues you buy, but in any case Retro Gamer is well worth a look for anyone with a love for the gamign world of yesteryear.
If, like me, you're a bloke in your 30s, the chances are you look back on the halcyon days of the 80s and early 90s as the very pinnacle of computer gaming. Sure, the graphics may have been rubbish, sound primitive and the machines have less memory than an amnesiac goldfish, but the game play was so imaginative, so well thought out and addictive that they knocked most of today's flashy, but soulless games out of the arena.
If that's the way you feel, then Retro Gamer is likely to be right up your street- a magazine dedicated to old games and old gaming machines.
One of Retro Gamer's big strengths is its depth of coverage. It essentially defines "retro" as anything from around the early 80s to the mid 90s. This gives it plenty of games, computers and consoles to cover. In the issues I've read, there have been articles on Commodore 64, Spectrum, Amstrad, Amiga, ST, arcade games, Playstation One, Dreamcast, Sega Saturn, Neo Geo... to name just a few. This means that in every issue there will be something of interest to everyone, giving a very varied read each month.
Of course, this can also be a downside. If your interests are fairly narrow and you're only interested in certain types of games or platforms, you might find this variety annoying and wish it would concentrate more on "your" computer. Personally, I find it refreshing: it gives me the chance to find out more about games or machines which previously I knew little about and helps me to appreciate just how varied the computing scene was in the 80s. Whilst articles which look at games or computers I remember owning bring back a far greater sense of nostalgia, it's nice to get a sense of perspective on what else was happening at the time that I remained blissfully unaware of until now.
As well as depth of coverage, Retro Gamer also produces lots of different types of articles. There are in-depth features, interviews, retrospective game reviews and even reviews of "home brew" stuff - games which are still being written by enthusiasts for "obsolete" machines. There's even an attempt to bring the magazine into the 21st century by reviewing a limited number of games for current consoles which are based on old retro titles. Again, this really adds to the variety. You're not just reading a traditional "reviews" magazine, but something which is packed with information and has something for everyone.
Another strength is that articles are extremely well researched. Articles are often written by people who have a special interest in that particular subject, so their passion for it really shines through. Spreading writing duties between lots of different authors also means that each article has a genuinely different "voice". Unlike more magazines devoted to current games, Retro Gamer is not afraid to devote quite a lot of space to a single title, machine or company. A recent article on arcade game manufacturer Konami, for example, took up around 10 pages over 2 issues. This allows Retro Gamer to be far more in-depth and informative than many other mags, which try to keep articles short and punchy, in order to include as many different articles of current interest as possible.
Again, of course, this can be a double-edged sword. If you're not interested in a subject, you may think that devoting 10 pages to a subject you have no interest in is self-indulgent and boring. If you do, you could find yourself skipping over large sections of the magazine. Again, I guess it depends what you're looking for. If you're after specific articles on a specific machine, you're going to hate any articles which "takes space away" from your subject. Indeed, this is a common cause of complaint one the letters page, with people moaning that machine X had 20 pages dedicated to it, whilst machine Y only had 1. On the other hand, if you're generally interested in retro gaming, you'll be fascinated by some of the stories you might previously have been unaware of.
True, some issues of Retro Gamer can become a little "samey" and it might be one of those magazines where you don't buy every single issue, but instead dip in and out when there is one that interests you. This is how I started off - I'd go into the newsagents each month and have a quick glance at the articles to see whether I wanted to buy it or not. Now, however, I subscribe to it, because I've found some really fascinating articles on games or machines about which I previously knew little.
Frustratingly, Retro Gamer can be a little difficult to get hold of , as it is not stocked in all newsagents. The main stockist appears to be W H Smith and you can almost always get hold of a copy from there, otherwise you might struggle. You can also buy it direct from the publisher's website and it's nice to see that they charge nothing for postage. Print runs of the magazine also seem quite limited (it's obviously a bit of a niche market), so copies sometimes sell out quite quickly if you don't get one within a few days of it going on sale.
Because it's a niche title, Retro Gamer is also quite expensive. The standard magazine costs £4.99 direct from the shops. When you compare this with other current computer magazines, this doesn't look too bad. The difference is these days most PC/gaming mags come with a free CD or DVD containing software and demos of new games. With Retro Gamer, you just get the magazine. Even its recent 50th issue didn't have a giveaway for loyal readers or anything to tempt new readers into buying it. It's a shame, as there are so many retro games which have been emulated to work on a PC, it would be nice for them to offer these once in a while, so that people can actually play some of the games talked about in the mag without having to go out and track down an old console. In its early days, it did do this occasionally, but there's been nothing recent that I'm aware of.
Overall, though, for gamers of a certain age, Retro Gamer is an excellent, informative and fun magazine which offers us oldies the chance to reminisce and remind today's gamers that "when I were a lad, we only 'ad 16k of RAM and 'ad to wait four days for a game to load on tape... and they was still better than that rubbish you get today." Perfect!
You young 'uns with your PlayWii and your XBoxDS, you don't know yer born!
© Copyright SWSt 2008
You may be wondering what a Retro Gamer magazine can do. After all, what are they going to do, review old games? But it is so much more, and is now one of my many monthly gaming magazines. It all started last August when I noticed it, right next to the EDGE magazine, both mentioning on the front cover, Monkey Island, one of the few games I actually play that is old. Apart from Monkey Island and Sonic, my retro gaming life has been short, and yet I always find something to interest me, such as games I have heard of, or old games that are making a Retro comeback. God knows how they do it, but even for this 16 year old, it is a bloody good magazine.
Every month the magazine has a similar format, simple, laid out and easy to read.
First, the reviews. They review the odd compilation that is out for the consoles which seem to be decent reviews and pretty decent for both detail and length-wise, saying (as expected) exactly what people want to know when buying a game. However, quite quickly it is noticeable that they involve no humour which is a huge letdown. Granted, this magazine really is not aimed at 16 year olds like me, talking about games before my time, but all people enjoy a sense of humour and it really is noticeable and automatically loses this magazine a star. The reviews are an interesting read, but for me, I like to laugh, and that really does not happen.
Next, they review old games. You may wonder what the point of such a thing is, reviewing a game that has been reviewed dozens of times before, but they are decent enough, but lack the humour once more. They also do comment on how the game holds up, which is expected, and it is really helpful to find out. Many games will have been good at the time (and the writers, with an obvious interest in retro games will not be bothered by graphics), but it is great to realise how they have held up over the past few years.
What has given this game a new lease of life is the Virtual Console on the Wii since they get the chance to look over all the virtual console releases. Again, these reviews are only short but these games were basic and not much needs to be said about them. Only their price, graphics and how they play with the remotes and how the games have stood the test of time. Great, but once more, no bloody humour again.
I will admit though that I dont buy the magazine for old reviews. There is far more to the magazine that that, reading old reviews of games, 90% of which I have not even heard about.
Gaming illuminate is a great example, a large two issue article on the illegal gaming underground. Not even knowing this existed it was an extremely interesting read that there were people hiding underground since people were after them just because they owned an extremely rare and unreleased sonic game. Then there were beta-versions of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, a GameCube that was cartridge based, SEGA Saturns that manufacturers used to design for the Saturn, and unreleased games such as an unreleased Advanced Wars game and someone even found the prototype that SONY made for the Nintendo SNES that as a DC add-on (that interestingly became the Playstation after Nintendo backed down). The articles are quite serious, and in depth but very interesting. It does seem to lack humour though which is quite annoying though expected for a magazine that really isnt aimed at people my age.
There are other articles such as retroinspection, a retro look at certain things such as the Wonder Swan handheld console, or in this case, the SEGA Saturn. Again, there article takes quite a serious tone as this magazine does lack the usual humour I find in my Playstation magazine, though it is ok since the magazine is interesting enough anyway, telling you interesting things. For example I was very interested to read how the SEGA Saturn flopped, which was really the thing that started the slow death of SEGA, or maybe that the console was predominantly for 2D and it was 3D that failed it.
There are more articles with a making of making it into the magazine. The interest in this normally depends on whether you like or have heard of the game, though if you have it is extremely interesting. The Making of The Secret of Monkey Island was extremely interesting with interviews by both Dave Grossman and Ron Gilbert who were large parts of the making of the game. With a lot of interest over later games, it definitely made for an interesting read and there are a lot of interviews with people who are famous throughout the gaming world. This, depending on their sense of humour, can actually be one of the amusing parts of the magazine. There are quite a few of these in each issue.
A great let down is the letters. They normally praise the magazine, ask a question and maybe point out a mistake. This is a great shame since it is relatively boring to read through it every month. A lot of magazines choose humorous letters or something interesting but I find them rather dull.
Near the back of every magazine is information on every retro console dating way back. This is interesting and is a page filler but only worth reading once. The other is about good deals on eBay and good retro sites. The good retro sites are good and have led me to some great sites full of great information.
With a Back to the Future-like sign, Back to the Eighties is in each month of this magazine and something I find the dullest probably because there are no games that I play which were made in the eighties so I have not heard of anything in it. Each issue it goes up a month, telling the readers what was going on in, say, February 1983 ranging from games (mainly) to music. After reading it though, I can imagine that older games would find it interesting, with talk about the Spectrum and Mattel, consoles I know very little about though would be interesting to people who grew up around the times of the consoles, but may have been too young to know what was going on in the games industry at the time. It slightly interested me to the amount of rivalry at the time, and how fast things changed to when I got into games, the days of Nintendo and SEGA.
Publisher: Future Publishing
Subscription: £15 for 6 issues (half price)
A very interesting read overall that is worth getting at least once whatever your age, unless you are too young to remember the glory days of the Mega Drive. Many gamers say that tae best games were in the past, simpler, not violent and original and this magazine certainly brings back memories of sitting down playing Sonic. Sometimes when I buy this I have a quick look through and at first there may seem little I am interested in but as I do look in further detail there are those games that I have heard of, those games that I have played and those that I have always wanted to. I think that the magazine could have a bit more humour and maybe mix it up a little. For example encouraging a few more Mega Drive games, since I find in some issues there seems to be a majority in one generation. If this was evened out it could attract a few more readers.
The downside is that unless you subscribe you are going to find this hard to find since I have only found it in WHSmith. Its worth a trip out though to try for an issue. Be sure not to mix it up with the other Retro Magazine which is a little thicker and WHSmith exclusive.