There are quite a few publications I've never read, some of which are renowned for their excellence. My buddy James (yes, the same UK bloke from The Super Play Drama) told me a lot about Maximum, which had a short run but was the very best, he said. At any rate, based on what I've read, here are my top 5 magazine publications... graded per OVERALL QUALITY
5. NINTENDO POWER
Before the N64 era, this magazine was really, really good. Each issue examined, in-depth, a handful of current SNES games. As many as 10 pages of level breakdown's and strategies were devoted to each title
Their fold-out's contain a bevy of goodness. Each issue had one
The best thing is that NP go for next to nil on eBay these days, unlike the other 4 in this countdown (But good luck getting the fold-out's, as many were removed)
Pros: Loads of strategy, decent art, great information for SNES fans
Cons: Horrible letters section, lackluster review format
You've probably read EGM vs. GameFan. In '93 and '94, I was a HUGE fan of this publication. It was a gold mine. Sadly, GameFan hasn't aged as well as I hoped. The writing quality was very spotty, something I didn't really notice when I was 10...
Their review system was poor. The quality and quantity of the text was lacking. 90+ percentages were handed out like free condiments. One issue the lowest score was 85 and the average was like 94! (The one where DKC scored straight 100's)
Their printed letters annoyed me. All their writers wrote "1. blah blah 2. blah blah" and the Postmeister would answer "1. blah blah 2. blah blah." But that's only a minor grip. My biggest is that they included WAY TOO MUCH praise in their letters. It became bothersome to read.... "GameFan Magazine rocks!!! You guys are awesome, keep up the good work! No other gaming mag can match your expertise and passion!" 2 or 3 times in each issue
EGM, on the other hand, was infamous for limiting that nonsense. They knew they were #1... we knew it -- so there was no need to waste room with that sort of drivel. Therefore, even back then, as much as I loved GF, the junk they didn't edit out always made it seem a bit 2nd-rate
I know I'm ripping GF quite a bit, but it's ONLY because I loved them to death back in the day. It was very disappointing to see 12 years later they really weren't as good as I once thought. However, one thing at least lived up to the memories: Their ace lay-outs
Some I remember fondly. As a kid, I admired and studied them, imagining how the game would play based on the preview. Good times. Some of their lay-outs were the stuff dreams are made of
Pros: Excellent lay-outs, stylish glossy pages, promoted import games, a fanzine feel but with magazine production values
Cons: Questionable reviews (Clay Fighter 97%? Whoa), erratic quality of writing and professionalism, too much self-appraisal
3. ELECTRONIC GAMING MONTHLY (EGM)
Back in the early-mid '90s, this magazine was simply the best. A great crew of professional video game fanatics. Steve Harris, Ed Semrad, the whole crew. There was a real heartbeat to this magazine. The lay-outs weren't on GameFan's level, but plenty solid in their own right. In every other category though, EGM outclassed their rivals
You always felt like you got your money's worth with EGM
Speaking of which, who could ever forget their legendary 300 plus page issues? I remember jokes about them being bigger than a small town's phone book! And, they probably were right
The last two issues of '94 were epic. I have great memories of #64 (see The Bet). That one clocked in at approximately 395 pages. The December '94 issue, #65, was just over 400, good Lord. I think EGM peaked at #65 in terms of quality...
It just never was the same after December '94...
I loved their review style and presentation. The ratings were big and easy-to-spot, they had four reviewers per game, but the difference between this and GameFan's: The quality of text in each review was superior in EGM's. You came away feeling like you really understood their view points and exactly where they stood on the game. On the side, they snuck in even more reviews. It was a great, simple format that really worked
My only problem with EGM: They were some times generic in their previews. Often they regurgitated the game plot, or threw out a bunch of cliches. And they were TOO nice in previews. Though to their credit they weren't afraid to slam a game once it was completed. I guess one can call it "Journalistic Professionalism"
If you were a subscriber, they gave out awesome bonuses. Their preview books were classic
I drooled at the never-ending screenshots -- marking down which games I had to play, by hook or crook
As for favorite issues or memories, I have two in particular. First is this December '92 issue. Today, it's one of the rarest issues (what EGM said in the late 90's). I remember reading this with my friend over Thanksgiving weekend of '92 or thereabouts. We loved going through the latest ish together back then
So there we were, in the living room lying on the ground with this issue in front of us. Every time there was an ad we both said "COMMERCIAL!" and automatically flipped the page. A couple times we said "COMMERCIAL!" 4, 5 times in a row, before bursting out in laughter. Ah, those were the days...
EGM had a lot of ads. More than GameFan. But looking back, I don't mind seeing all those ads. They were the sign of the times... so I love looking back at 'em seeing which ones were cheesy, which ones ahead of their time, etc.
Another favorite issue of mine was February '93... the cover was simply awesome. I remember my bro bought this issue when it came out circa January 1993. At this time, the SF2 boss code rumors were swirling, gamers just came off a summer and winter full of great Street Fighter II wars and memories, and the SNES was getting ready to TOTALLY take off. It had been in US markets for 15 months now, and 1993 was poised to be a break-out year
It's hard to put it in words, but it was an exciting time like no other. I was 9-years-old and to me this issue just symbolized the potential of that era. The mag had a futuristic feel. It was just very "en vogue"
My favorite memory of this issue: The 59-pages inside previewing SNES games currently out or on the horizon. Over 300 games! It was insane, and truly a testament of the good times to come. And indeed, 1993 was a great year
I remember I rented the import version of this game about a month earlier, and was just so amped when I saw it was coming out in the US (see Power Moves)
Ahhh, Takara. They sure ported over a lot of Neo Geo ports. The early ones weren't very good but some of the later ones hit the nail on the head, at least about as close as you could have hoped for. King of the Monsters was my first SNES game purchase
And hey, who could forget those gaming store ads? Remember browsing through 'em? Yeah, I know you do. Remember dreaming about all the games on the ad you wanted to buy, but knew you never could? You weren't alone...
Many years later, I even had a letter printed. Issue #110, September '98. Back then I had AOL and when I signed on one morning, some stranger GirlGamer98 messaged me
Her: DUDE! YOU MADE IT!!!!!!!!!!
Her: GO SEE THE NEWEST EGM!!!!!!
Interestingly enough, they editted my letter. They cut:
"I liked Kelly because he seemed like a good guy who knew his games. Also, being African American it was nice to see that diversity in your magazine"
For obvious reasons... reasons which I can't blame them
[Er, which one is Kelly? -Ed.]
Oh no you didn't...
So anyway, in terms of SHEER MEMORIES, EGM is easily #1 for me. But this list isn't about that. EGM is rock-solid, but only places a respectable 3rd in this countdown...
Pros: Huge issues, good information, a solid combo of professionalism and spirit, being dead-honest with its audience, solid import coverage, great cover stories, fun letter section, cool bonuses and great review crew/style
Cons: Fighting game overkill in the early-mid '90s but to their defense they were doing their job. At times a bit generic in previews by regurgitating the plot etc.
#2 SUPER PLAY
Super Play was a UK Super Nintendo magazine that ran 47 issues from November 1992 to September 1996. It was filled with lots of great features. Besides SNES games, they also put a premium on anime (Wil Overton who did the art for each cover was a big anime nut), Japan lifestyles and all sorts of odd trinkets you wouldn't find in "normal" US magazines. They also looked at and even reviewed quite a few obscure Super Famicom games, games which had a snowball's chance in hell of making it to the UK. They really promoted expanding your SNES horizons and thinking outside the box
Their letters section was hit-or-miss, though. Some letters were great fun to read, others felt very useless. Though I guess with the age of the writers probably being under 16 or so on average, I can understand. I loved the presentation of the letters section, but the letter quality was erratic
I wish more letters had the kind of quality this one had... as for Sanrio Smash! you can check out my review of that game here:
They had a ton of oddball things... like KINDLY LEAVE THE STAGE. Any submitted joke that scored at least 5 out of 10, you'd win a Super Play t-shirt. It began in issue 1, and went 40 (!!)issues before anyone scored a 5/10!
Neko the Tiger deserves a special mention. From the 1st issue to about #26, they had this fictional character, a tiger named Neko, placed in adverse situations and showed you a drawing of said situation. They would then go on a "If you don't subscribe, we'll do this to poor Neko ahaha!" spiel. Each issue had a new tortuous drawing. It was a very creative and interesting method to inspire readers to subscribe. It was this strange sense of humor that added so much to the spirit of the magazine
Super Play had a top-notch sense of style... some lay-outs were right up there with GameFan's
Speaking of review scores, Super Play's reviews were pretty good for the most part. Small games received half a page, niche games sometimes had a full page, most regular releases saw two pages, and the big boys got anywhere from 3 to 6
My main grip though:
They were far too hard on platformers and beat 'em ups. Games like Knights of the Round scored a paltry 51% . . . some of those games deserved so much better
You had to be an exceptional example of the genre to score well, likeNINJA WARRIORS here, 84%
Jungle Book fared well, netting 82%
In general, they were the complete opposite of GameFan in terms of rating games. The biggest rating doled out was 96%, only once or twice. Games like Chrono Trigger scored only 90%! Most games GameFan awarded high 90's to, Super Play gave mid-high 80's, sometimes even lower...
Moving on, their gameplay guides and tips were bloody brilliant, on par with Nintendo Power's if not a notch above
Their captions were hit and miss, though. Some times they tried a little too hard, it seemed
I have to admit, for all the hype Super Play gets online from fans, I was personally let down just a tad with their overall quality -- but only because I was expecting an A+++ magazine. For me, it's an "A" mag
Issue #1-#25 had 100 pages per issue, some 108 or so. However, from about #26 on it was relegated to 84 pages per. Because they had 3 or 4 different editors during their lifespan the direction slightly changed from editor to editor. Toward the end the focus on Japan lifestyle and obscure import coverage faded. Some later issues felt a little lightweight. The quality ranged from SUPERB to GOOD issue to issue...
Still... an awesome mag that beats the pants off of any US publication. And I guess my #1 entry was what spoiled me so much. Truth is, Super Play is DAMN GOOD... just not as good as #1...
Pros: The perfect companion for the diehard SNES fan, great tips/gameplay strategies, cooky sense of humor and style, great art covers
Cons: Shaky reviews, letters and captions hit-and-miss, lack of articles and "cover stories," later issues not as good as the earlier ones
And the #1 magazine publication IS........
What else? ;)
#1. SEGA SATURN MAGAZINE (SSM)
Even though I'm no longer in a Saturn state of mind these days, I'll take SSM over the four aforementioned. This 'zine was jammed pack with style, spirit, quality, showcases, the best reviews on the planet, and an undeniable passion for Saturn gaming, but they were never bias to the point where it got sickening
For two years, I searched high and low for SSM. I lost out on a few auctions in those years, but my moment came September 6, 2003. It was a Saturday night
I cancelled any plans of going out with the guys
I situated myself firmly at the controls of the PC and was going to snipe the auction
At 10:42, when the dust cleared, I stood alone at the mountain top. Two years of hunting and probing had finally come to an end
29 issues, a total of $225, so about $7.75 per issue. I outbidded a friend of mine even; we've talked and joked about it over the years. He told me he actually had a lot already, and was just looking to round out his collection. I, on the other hand, had none, so it worked out nicely for both of us. He has a complete set today, while I have 4-37, missing only the first 3 issues
The seller I also knew, he needed money to fund toward his car hobby. To this day, he tells me he still misses SSM, but is happy to know they're in good hands. He kept them in great shape, because there are no missing pages, cut-out's and they seem brand new. Phenomonal
What makes SSM the very best was their grade-A+++ quality in everything. They had the perfect style.. the right recipe!
Each issue contained 100 pages of sheer goodness. They devoted a lot of their energy toward Japanese games, and they were the first ones to promote Radiant Silvergun... way before it exploded into the $100+ game it is today. In one of their last issues, they ran a gorgeous 10 page feature/review
Each month, a handful of games received the SHOWCASE TREATMENT. This meant four to ten pages of coverage, chock full of interesting, well-written information and tons of wonderful picture grabs and captions
What amazes me most is SSM almost NEVER missed. Every single caption and review hit the mark. While other great publications like Super Play had the occasional clunker, seemingly, SSM always got it right
Let's go through the main parts of one issue...
After the editorial and news bits, COMING SOON hit ya. Most of these previews had up to four pages
Then their ace letter section. Only the best was printed -- some were great fun to read
Then came a series of showcases with unbelievable lay-outs. Each went six to ten pages. Sometimes packed with gameplay strategy! Note ThunderForce V... SSM were big-time import advocates!
"BIG IN JAPAN" highlighted one hot new import each month on two full pages
Then came their excellent reviews. AS IF the SHOWCASES weren't enough! Reviews ranged from two to six pages for EACH game. Even the "low priority" games received a full two page review!
Finally, their ace tips/gameplay section
Everything in SSM reeked of A+++ passion and know-how. I loved their showcases, they really detailed the heavy hitters, and next month their review showed whether or not the game was really worth your money. That's what Super Play was missing I felt. They rarely had showcases, instead, they'd review a game and that'd be it. No preview hype, no 10 page blowout. SSM no doubt spoiled me in that regard... because Super Play really is excellent. At any rate...
For me, SSM more than lived up to the massive hype built through the internet. In fact, check out some fan testimonies
Thanks to SSM (and the Saturn, of course) my years of growing up through high school were made all the more enjoyable -- I have some great memories from these times, and when I look back on it there is still a part of me that cannot believe a few sheets of paper and a now-dated games console could have so much of an impact
I always found the humor of SSM (even the jokes aimed directly at its own staff) to be light-hearted and one of the things that took its pages beyond other similar publications. Yeah, they did give Lee Nutter a lot of jokes but it was always in good fun. Remember the editorial where he was Chewbacca?
Last I heard of the guy -- after SSM retired he became a writer for Lego Magazine. (yes, the toy LEGO)
Knowing him, I wouldn't be surprised if he got fired for writing one day:
"Set 4992, Fire Fighters Command Control Center, is a fine lovely dandy set. Ace, even. But if you want real fire action -- get off your butt and get a copy of BURNING RANGERS for the SEGA Saturn! Go on! You must rescue the Sonic Team! Don't fail me now, kids! I know everyone says you're all going down the crapper but as Tillis is my witness, I shall never relinquish hope! To the Saturn! At once!"
I used to love SSM as well. The quality of the writing was magnificent. Not patronizing crap for kids like you mostly find these days
The "King" so to speak for Saturn reviews and coverage would definitely be Sega Saturn Magazine. Although they sometimes got a bit too carried away, they wrote with passion and enthusiasm and did more than anyone else to keep the Saturn alive in the UK. Their reviews were always written by gamers for gamers.
SSM was an emotional roller-coaster ride. You felt like someone was fighting the Saturn corner with you. You felt like you knew the writers and that they knew you. The magazine kept the true believers going through some of Sega's darkest days. Issue 37 was a great last issue too, a proper farewell issue from the writers
The last page is a picture of Sega Rally with the caption "Game Over Yeah!" at the top and then the bottom half is Dreamcast with "But the Dream goes on." What a way to go out. And what a ride it was
My personal rating of it?
SSM - 9.5. An almost perfect magazine. Dropped the mark due to sometimes being slightly too pro-Saturn and anti-PlayStation/N64. Bizarrely this magazine got better and better as the official support dried up. Some of the best issues feature no PAL games at all. I guess it gave them more scope and space to go into detail and more freedom to write how they wanted and to craft a unique magazine
My buddy James hit the nail on the head. SSM was as close to perfection as you could get. And he's right -- the later issues, as Saturn support died, were the very best. Unlike Super Play which let up in quality toward the end, SSM only got better with age. What a magazine
Pros: Just about everything. Their stellar showcases inspired me to buy the Saturn RPG games in late 2003, despite my being a non-fan of the genre at the time. Their passion bled off the pages. Their layouts rivalled GameFan's, while their writing was better than GameFan and EGM -- COMBINED
Cons: Extremely hard to find a complete set in this day and age, very expensive, even more so than Super Play. The magazine itself has no real flaws...
There ya go! Hope you enjoyed this countdown. I'll have MUCH more on SSM in the future... including a personal email that former SSM editor RICHARD LEADBETTER sent me October 2004! As well as SSM writer GARY CUTLACK
Together, we reminisced about the glory days that was SSM, and the innocence that is now missing from publications of today... all that and an exclusive Q&A I was able to conduct with them. What an honor that was... and you can read all about it here: