Alright, time for our Retro Gaming Mag Spotlight! And since we're now full-on into Summer, I decided to magically pick a piece of nostalgia from the Summers of our youth, specifically the August 1995 issue of Game Players, a gaming magazine made famous for their offbeat sense of humor and general insanity (until they sadly went the more serious route in '96, leading to their downfall)!
...And yes, I do have gaming magazines that aren't just from the most EXTREEEEEEEME parts of the '90s, I swear. We'll get to them next time. But for now, back to the Summer of '95, & OH MY GOD THE COVER IS BLINDING MEEEE...Yeah, if the Mountain Dew-shaded palette of colors and fonts bolder than brass love didn't hit you with the full force of the mid-'90s, perhaps devoting the cover to one of the most over the top fighting games of the day, Killer Instinct, will do the trick. It was one of the biggest fighters back then, and today...well, I suppose it's still one of the biggest fighters around, if only because the fighting game pool is a bit more than it was in the '90s. Anyhow, say it with me now: C-C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER!!!
- So let's just leap right into the letters section, AKA Readers' Network here, and...alright, I'll admit that I had a secondary reason for featuring Game Players. You know how I mentioned out front about seeing one of the first incarnations of Topless Robot here? Well, it might be a bit of a stretch, but the Game Players community...well, I'm just gonna let you experience it for yourself first. See each page here, here, here, here, & here, then come back.
...You done? Good. So yes, I hope you took it all in. Note the insanity, the snark, the presence of Elder God-like figures, the contests where insane fever dreams end up winning mystery prizes that I can only assume were hollowed-out Bomberman trophies filled with pills...maybe it's just me, but the raving of a lovable bunch like this mark the earliest days of groups like us. Except they went even deeper into the well of insanity, to the point where this issue had an entire page for subscribers detailing their mythology! Dammit, we need to work on this more...I mean, we have one kickass elder god and the walking colon he tortures, but we need to do our ancestors here justice...
- Okay, going into some actual games, the news section comes first with the headliner being OW OW OW OH GOD MY EYES WHY IS THIS ISSUE CAUSING SO MUCH EYE TRAUMA...sorry, but the headline where a different size font is chosen for every letter is just so damn garish it almost hurts. And the fact that this is a story about the then-upcoming launch of the Virtual Boy doesn't help either. It's incredible how optimistic Nintendo was about this, imagining 1.5 million Virtual Boys and 2.5 million games for it sold within six months (actual number of VBs sold in its entire lifetime span: 770,000). And despite mentioning the criticisms launched against it, even GP wasn't immune to additional optimism, saying that in a few months, they'll be swimming in Virtual Boy games. Apparently they didn't foresee a mere fourteen games not making much of a pool.
- Speaking of doomed consoles and virtual reality, we also have a story about the "long-awaited" virtual reality headset for the Atari Jaguar, which followed the Jaguar's price drop and would only cost a mere $300. This is probably where you'd expect me to make a joke about the Oculus Rift and one of video game history's most legendary failures, but I'm pretty sure every video game console back then had some sort of plan for a VR headset. GP questioned if it would be Atari's savior or a 64-bit version of the Activator. Despite the obvious answer, it ended up being neither as the final product was never released.
- Next up we have the "Hit Lists", the obligatory lists detailing the top games of the month from the readers, the staff, and in the UK and Japan. Now, if you paid attention to the Readers' Network earlier, you'll note one person asking why GP didn't cover PC games, the response being they just couldn't afford to at the moment. Now, combine that with a legion of gamers craving Doom in addition to the various platformers and fighting games of the day (with the SNES version of the game still not having been released yet), and what do you have? Desperation, as the readers had to actually put a 32X game on their list of favorite games in order to get Doom up there. In fairness, the 32X version of the game was well-received back in the day, but you can just tell how much this hurt everyone involved.
Also, the JRPG classic Secret of Mana was still beloved by gamers nearly two years after it game out, which just proves how awesome it was. Just sayin'.
- In the magazine's pop culture section: remember Izzy, the mascot of the Atlanta 1996 Summer Olympics? Remember Izzy's animated special? Remember Izzy's very own video game? No? Well, lucky you. I didn't even know there was an animated special until I read this again, and I'm probably better off the less I know about it. Also, Dean Cain trading cards, a list of addresses for video game websites in this whole "Cyber Space" thing, and Marvel's own doomed contribution to the collectible card game boom Magic: The Gathering had started.
- Time for previews! And we start things off with a preview for one of the very first planned Ultra 64 games (the Nintendo 64's earlier name, in case you didn't know), Robotech: Academy. Billed as one of the most ambitious space flight sims ever, with incredibly versatile combat and a world where everything was to be rendered in 3D right down to the stars in the sky, a major accomplishment back then. Truly a game that showcased the power of this fifth generation of video games...or it would have been if the game weren't eventually cancelled in 1998 after developer GameTek went bankrupt, sadly. Oh, and they also covered this "Chrono Trigger" game, though I can't remember if that was important or not.
- Also in the category of "Sadly Canceled": Shredfest, a snowboarding game from EA that would have been a spiritual successor to the incredible 3DO version of Road Rash (which itself is shown here being ported to the PlayStation). In fact, the entire page contains several EA games, back from the era in which they actually still had something resembling a soul. Yeah, that's going to be tricky to explain to the kids of today...
- Now for some reviews, and as the cover stated, one of the big draws this month are reviews of the very first PlayStation and Saturn games...and it's where this particular issue of Game Players becomes a bit infamous and hilarious in hindsight. See, this is where they review Battle Arena Toshinden, indeed one of the very first PS games. And out of a score from 0 to 100%, they gave it a 98%, which was the highest ever score they had given a video game they reviewed up to this point. Reviewer Chris Slate pretty much gushed all over the whole thing, ending with "It's the kind of games that not only 'wows' your friends, but it'll also hold up over time."
Now, if your first thought upon reading that was "What the f*** is Battle Arena Toshinden?"...precisely.
Not that Battle Arena Toshinden was a bad game, mind you; it received several positive reviews back then. But "highest score ever" good? Eh, no. And it definitely didn't hold up over time, as the Toshinden franchise cranked out two more sequels and one game only released overseas before being abandoned at the end of the '90s and dying off.
Other award winners from this month, though? Daytona USA for the Saturn and Jumping Flash! for the PlayStation, the latter being a first-person platformer that most critics actually would like to see make a comeback...
- Also in notable reviews was the actual cover story, the first-ever review for the SNES version of Killer Instinct...which kind of felt a bit anti-climactic since it was just a two-page review where they give it an 83% and say it was cool, but not as good as the arcade version. Also, the stinker of the month apparently went to the 3DO version of Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller, which received a 34% and was a game they cared so little about that they apparently botched the review, accidentally repeating the intro in place of a conclusion. Oops.
- The section covering arcade games soon follows, highlighting the dilemma happening around this time that with more powerful home video game consoles out that can actually deliver improved versions of coin-op games (like Tekken, as mentioned), how can arcades survive? By updating arcade boards to add extra content as time passes, they say. A good idea, but too bad it still didn't stop the decline of arcades. They also threw in their two cents in picking the Top 10 arcade games out at the moment, with Virtua Fighter 2 taking the top spot. Oh, and notably, all of the games on the list would eventually see home console releases within a year (with the exception of Ridge Racer 2). Also, they accidentally used a picture of X-Men 2 for the Genesis in place of the X-Men: Children of the Atom arcade game, leading me to believe that by this point, they gave their proofreader a good flogging after this issue hit the stands.
- Looking at some previews of international games, the clear highlight was Gunner's Heaven, a PlayStation game that was favorably compared to the cult genesis classic Gunstar Heroes. A colorful, brilliant, action-packed romp that wowed the hell out of everyone who saw it and by now you're probably guessing that it was actually never released over here, and you'd sadly be correct. It was released in Europe under the name Rapid Reload, but to this day Westerners have yet to even see a PlayStation network re-release of it. Kind of a shame, to say the least...
- Moving into the section on cheats, tips, and strategies, we have an entire bit teaching how to pull off finishing moves in the hidden gem of a Sega CD fighter that was Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side, just in case you actually thought you could escape one month in the mid-1990s without a reminder that this was an era dominated by Mortal Kombat and all of its ilk.
- There was also "Game Slayers", the section where frustrated gamers write in to ask how to to solve certain parts of games that are stumping them. Basically the same deal as "Counselor's Corner" in Nintendo Power (before GameFAQs made it all obsolete). One notable difference is that readers could actually send in their fellow strategies for beating games, and GP would actually publish them. Case in point, here we have one reader sharing tips on how to beat The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, which goes to show that Link's Awakening was still stumping people more than two years after it came out. Pre-Internet was an odd time indeed.
- And in the actual part about video game cheats, we have TITTIES!!!...Not even kidding this time around. They discovered that an old, obscure Genesis game called Rings of Power included a code to see a topless lady in the intro, which they actually included an uncensored pic of here (NSFW, naturally) - a pretty ballsy move. And yes, that's the same Naughty Dog best known today for Uncharted and The Last of Us...the latter of which ended up accidentally containing a number for a phone sex line, because apparently old habits die hard.
- Finally, one little outro at the end advertising challenges and even more challenges to win games and mystery prizes from Game Players, because apparently their insanity involved giving away as many free games as humanly possible...another philosophy from them we should adopt, eh? Also, physical violence! Yay!
And thus ends this month's Retro Gaming Mag Spotlight. As usual, a big thanks to Retromags for making the archiving of these treasure chests of nostalgia possible. Make sure to give them your support, even check out the full issue featured this month right here if you want, god bless 'em! Next, the latest crop of recent video game trailers!