Video games, Where I Read

Where I Read: GamePro #1

The cover of the first issue of GamePro

The cover of the first issue of GamePro

So, as part of my continuing mission to chart the path of the early days of gaming, and hopefully put those titles available through the Wii’s virtual console or on the shelves of your local game retailer that sells classic games (or available on eBay), I’m also expanding my magazines I’m recapping to GamePro. GamePro is, at present, the only video game magazine on the market that isn’t attached to a retailer (like GameStop and Game Informer). GamePro’s first issue came out in May of 1989, the same month that EGM’s first issue came out. Unlike EGM’s first issue though, the cover art doesn’t specify any particular game, and the magazine is only about 65 pages long, which is a little shorter than EGM’s first issue, but not by much. Our first ad of the magazine is an ad for Atari’s first-party fan club, the Atarian Club. The ad in general looks really dorky – complete with an ultra-scrawny Atari-themed superhero (with cape and Atari-Shield) holding up a moon. The next ad, for Bubble Bobble from Taito, is a step up.

Editorial: The magazine’s first issue has yet to take on the bizarre cast of characters that would become one of the magazine’s signature elements in later issues. There are some elements there (with writers by the name of “Mirage” and “B. P. Gundam”) but Major Mike and others are yet to make an appearance. Our EIC, Don Ferrell expands on this by explaining that GamePro’s intent is not to bore you with “long, dry, opinionated stories about the stuff game players wouldn’t be interested in” instead presenting screen shots, previews, and strategies for various games. Don doesn’t know it, but the Game Journalism Industry’s identity crisis – which continues to this day, has begun. Do Game Magazines keep with the flashy pictures, the reviews, and previews of games – which requires the magazine to stay on very good terms with various publishers, developers, and console manufacturers? Do they do hard hitting journalism, which goes into the nitty gritty of how the consoles work, as well as digging behind the scenes, to find rumors of games that are coming, back room deals between game companies that will determine who makes what games for what systems, as well as doing analysis on events in the gaming industry to determine whether the movements in the game industry are in the best interest of the consumer or not, to help the consumer make an educated decision on what to buy, and to help make sure more good games come out, and to advance how people experience the games they play (and hopefully bring it closer to art)? Is there a middle ground, between hard hitting, but ultimately dry gaming journalism and criticism like EGM, and magazines like GamePro which seek to entertain just as much (if not more) than they enlighten?

I’d love to answer those questions for you, but it’s been almost 20 years since EGM #1 and GamePro #1 came out, and the game reviewers and critics still haven’t made up their mind yet!

We get yet another Atari ad, this time for the Atari 7800 and the Atari 2600 consoles.

The Cutting Edge: This column appears to be preview column for upcoming technologies in gaming and this issue has a doozy – the Power Glove. They spend about a page talking about how wonderful the power glove is, and they do a decent job making it look like a million bucks. Unfortunately, the Power Glove doesn’t nearly turn out that well. We also get about one full page long column talking about Broderbund’s U-Force, which doesn’t turn out very well either, though it works out a little better than the Power Glove – particularly with games like Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!

Personality Profile: Now this is something that is now for console games journalism (it had been going on in PC games journalism for a bit) – profiles of people in the game industry. This issue we have a profile of Alan Fetzer, who is the president of the North American branch of Taito. At this time, Taito’s North American wing is more involved in localization of Japanese titles, rather then game development in general, whether in the form of sequels to existing titles or in terms of new series. So, most of what Fetzer discusses is more related to finding the games in Japan that will do well in the US, like Operation Wolf and Renegade. Basically, though he doesn’t draw the analogy, it’s a bit like finding talent for a record label – you have to know what’s popular now, and figure out what will be popular in the future – thus helping you figure out which games of Taito’s to bring over to the US – particularly considering Nintendo of America’s limitations on the number of games they can bring out in the US. Speaking of NoA, Fetzer does discuss the Nintendo/Atari mess a little bit, mainly related to Atari’s attempts to crack Nintendo’s authentication scheme for their game paks.

Hot at the Arcades: This regular feature does what it says on the tin, previews titles currently at the arcades, and they’ve got a couple major titles to preview this issue too. First is Double Dragon II: The Revenge, which looks really good. By looking at the machine I can easily see one issue that will make translating the game to home systems difficult, particularly the NES – the game uses 3 buttons, one to attack to the left, one to attack to the right, and one to jump. I cannot see any easy way to fix this with the controller mapping on the NES, which has A, B, Select, and Start. The best bet I’ve got is mapping jump to Select, which doesn’t work out too well, because of the finger positioning (you normally press Select with the thumb you normally use to work the D-pad). Next is NARC – I’ve already told you what I thought of that game. Next is cart racing game from Sega called Power Drift – which looks really good, and while they’re not using 3D graphics, it looks like they are using motion blur, which is rather impressive for game of this generation.

Previews: Our first preview of the magazine is one of the games discussed in Alan Fetzer’s profile – Operation Wolf. I must admit that having Operation Wolf being previewed in the same issue as a fairly favorable profile of the company putting the game out in the US makes me a little suspicious. The first thing that strikes me about this review is how long it is in comparison to most magazine reviews I’ve read that are contemporary – it’s about a page and a half long. This review also has the debut of the ProTip, some of which are more obvious than others, though some of them may be more obvious to modern gamers, since what they’re describing have become genre conventions of this kind of light-gun shooter, like shooting destructible objects in the environment for points, taking care not to shoot hostages and civilians, and so forth.

Next up is Adventures of Lolo. This is a preview of the adventure/puzzle game the NES from Hal America. Rather than being a platforming game, I would describe the game, from the screen shots, as being closer to Bomberman, in terms of basically using a top-down perspective, only with less combat. We have another preview for Bubble Bobble – Taito’s mascot puzzle game. Basically, you progress through the game by trapping the enemies in bubbles, which then float to the top of the screen and then popping them. Just as a bit of a ProTip of my own which they don’t cover – if you want to see the real ending of the game you need to be playing with two-players, either by playing with a friend, or by hitting on the second controller before you clear the last stage, to add the second player. We then get a preview for the original Adventure Island from Hudson, featuring Master Higgins (aka Takahashi Meijin) a Japanese gamer who can hit either the A or B button (whichever you prefer) 16 times per second.

We now move on to the Sega Master System, and a preview of the first Shinobi game, which puts hero Jo Musashi (who later gets an “e” tacked on the end of his first name), facing the evil Ring of Five, which seeks to unleash a virus on the world (apparently the evil criminal Ninja organization Neo Zeed wouldn’t show up until later). We also get a preview of R-Type for the SMS – which I’ve already reviewed (sort of) in the form of the compilation R-Types at Bureau42, and the first two R-Type games have also been re-released in a “re-mastered for HD form” as R-Type Dimensions for the X-Box 360.

The Atari 7800, on the other hand, is getting the isometric shump Desert Falcon, and a port of the original Mario Bros (not Super Mario Bros, but the game which involves taking out screen after screen of various and sundry creatures in the sewers (Mario having lost his carpentry job after that whole mess with Donkey Kong and now having to work as a plumber).

Secret Weapons: This is their Tips and Tricks section. There’s nothing here I haven’t seen before. No, seriously, their first page has the Konami Code (which appeared in Nintendo Power #1 a year before), and the “Another World Circuit” cheat from the same issue. We do get some new stuff for the Sega Master System though, particularly After Burner and Shinobi.

Overseas Prospects: Previews of various Japanese games that may get released out in the US. The preview for this issue is of Super Mario Bros. 3. which gets a full 2 pages of coverage.

ProNews Report: This issue we have a special report on the Winter CES in Las Vegas. No particular games are singled out this issue, though the U-Force and Nintendo’s Power Pad get some coverage.

Short ProShots: This is just a series of 1-paragraph previews of various games. The games getting mentioned this issue that are notable are Knight Rider, Airwolf, Wizards & Warriors II, The Guardian Legend, Mega Man 2, and Bad Dudes, Ninja Gaiden, and the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle game.

Finally we move on to our Leaderboards to wrap up the issue.

That’s right – we didn’t have any reviews this issue. None at all. Frankly, I’m rather disappointed. As of this time, all the other game magazines I’ve covered have had some sort of way of telling which games were “good”. Even Nintendo Power, which did not give scored reviews for any of the games in their magazine had the results of their Top 30 poll, serving as their “Billboard Chart” for NES games, helping to build recognition for various games of various degrees of quality. GamePro has nothing of the sort. So, hopefully, in the issues to come, we’ll see when they get scored reviews, and in general see how they change to reflect their competition.