Newest Review: ... else was happening at the time that I remained blissfully unaware of until now. As well as depth of coverage, Retro Gamer also produces lo... more
Back to the Future
Member Name: SWSt
Advantages: Fascinating, in--depth articles, conjures up real sense of nostalgia
Disadvantages: Quite expensive, can be tricky to get hold of
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
Summary: An game magazine for us oldies!