In this special edition, Awinnerwasyou takes a look back at some of his favourite SEGA magazines, while making a complete tit of himself on camera!
Back in the fifth edition of Memories of SEGA, I talked about some of my favourite SEGA adverts and videos. All those played a big part in my life as a gamer, but they were nothing compared to what would be my main lifeblood in gaming- the magazines! The UK had a great variety of SEGA magazines, and I got to read many of them in my youth. From the likes of Sega Pro to Sega Saturn Magazine, all of them had a special place in my heart. In this special edition, I’ll be looking back at three of my favourite magazines of the nineties. That’s not all, though- I’ll also be taking a look at an issue of each magazine in a series of videos too! So, if you never read or even heard of any of these magazines, you’re in for quite a treat!
Though Sega Pro wasn’t the first video game magazine I ever bought, it was the first one I started collecting. It all started when I went with my mum and grandparents to Lakeside back in 1992, and I saw a copy of issue four of this magazine in WHSmith. It had Sonic on the cover, so I really wanted it! It turned out the main reason he was on there was just for a single page review of the Game Gear version, but I nonetheless enjoyed the magazine. It was also that very magazine where I learned that Sonic 2 was on the way! I found Sega Pro to be rather colourful and vibrant, with slightly abstract backgrounds on each page. Screenshots for games were mostly placed rather messily around the pages, giving it quite a unique feel in my opinion. That kind of in your face nature was probably what appealed to me the most.
The reviews themselves were simple in design, but informative enough so you knew what the game was about and what to expect from it. Each game was rated for graphics, sound, gameplay and challenge, with a final score to top it all off. Any game that scored above 90% would receive a Pro Yo! Award, which meant it was one to pick up! Also included were little Pro Tips to help anyone who bought the game in question to improve their skills. A nice little touch as well were little facts at the bottom of each page that were very vaguely related to the game. As well as the usual tips and guides, there was the Game Over page, which was usually at the end of the magazine. This page showcased the ending to a selected game, most often a recent one. Few magazines did this, and it was fairly interesting to see how certain games ended.
Sega Pro ultimately ran until 1995. Later issues ditched the abstract backgrounds, though the same likably messy page layout remained the same. Eventually though, it would see a sharp decrease in quality. By the end of its run, each issue was barely fifty pages long, and while it was still fairly colourful, it didn’t have the same kind of crazy quality early issues had. And with the original staff gone (among them gaming legend Dave Perry, best known as a commentator on shows like Gamesmaster and Games World), it was nothing more than a mere shell of its former self. A real shame… Still, at its best, Sega Pro was one crazy and fun magazine, and my first proper experience with SEGA magazines.
Here, I take a look at an issue of Sega Pro. Apologies for the poor camerawork!
Sega Power was the other magazine I mainly collected back in 1992, and was another favourite. I don’t quite remember where I first read it- as far as I can tell, it was a friend’s house. I do however, remember that it was issue 32, and its cover game was The Terminator on the Mega Drive. This particular magazine started out under the name of S: The Sega Magazine, before ultimately evolving into the Sega Power I would start reading. Much like Sega Pro there was plenty of colour in the magazine, though it didn’t have the more abstract backgrounds. The screenshot layout was less messy and crazy looking as well, though the whole magazine was still quite eye catching and pleasing to look at.
Compared to the simpler reviews in Sega Pro, Sega Power crammed a lot more information in theirs. Games were scored in four categories- graphics, sound, addiction and brainpower, as well as the final score. In addition to that, the good and bad points of the game were highlighted next to the main score, while there was also a frustration factor which rated a game on how frustrating it was from low to medium to high. Away from the main score there were also Power Points that gave little details about a game, such as the number of players, levels, whether or not it had battery back-up and even the kind of players who would enjoy the game the most. The controls for the game would also be shown, and last but not least was the Alternatives box. This would show an alternative game to the one featured, kind of like “If you like that game, you’ll love this one” or “Don’t buy this game- get that one instead.” Yup, the reviews in Sega Power were very informative indeed. Apart from the reviews, the early issues of the magazine I read had a comic strip called The Adventures of Captain Ages and Rewop (SEGA and Power backwards, of course!), which involved the titular hero Captain Ages and his wimpy sidekick as they battled against evil. Then there was The Hard Line, which listed the majority of SEGA games currently released, as well as reviews for them. Accessories were also reviewed here. There was also a regular letters section, as well as an art page. The latter featured quite a lot of pictures of Sonic killing Mario, as you’d expect in the 90s! In addition to the standard art, there was also Dan’s Crap Corner, which featured some of the worst art. This was a bit mean spirited, mind- most of these pictures were clearly drawn by very young children, and dismissing them as being crap maybe wasn’t a great way of publishing them.
As time went on, Sega Power would change its look many times- the earliest I saw was in issue 39. Sadly, none of them really matched up to the quality of issues 32-38, so that was definitely my favourite era of the magazine. By 1995, the humour became more immature than it used to be as well. It was always silly and irreverent but it got kind of annoying during the Saturn era, with a fair bit of the words being written in capitals JUST FOR THE SAKE OF IT. The reviews weren’t even half as packed with features as they used to be, either. Nonetheless, the magazine fared better than Sega Pro. There was a slight lull in 1995 where issues had fewer pages than they used to, but it managed to pick itself back up and go back to the bigger issues of the past. In the end, it properly ran until the end of 1996/start of 1997, where it evolved into Saturn Power and focused exclusively on the Saturn. It was pretty good in that incarnation, but sadly only lasted about ten issues before fading away. Still, that was a good run for the publication that started out as S: The Sega Magazine. It never quite matched the first year I read it, but I always found it a good alternative to Sega Pro.
A look at an issue of Sega Power. Now with slightly less crap camerawork! (Slightly)
Mean Machines SEGA
Ask anyone what THE definitive video game magazine of the 90s was, and there’s a good chance they’ll probably say Mean Machines. Featuring some of the best known names in the industry, such as Julian “Jaz” Rignall, Gary Harrod and Richard Leadbetter, and known for its flashy style and great reviews, it was one of the all-time greats. It ran for twenty four issues, but near the end of 1992, it split into two separate magazines- Nintendo Magazine System and Mean Machines SEGA. Needless to say, both magazines focused on their respective company, though NMS had the benefit of being the official Nintendo magazine- thus giving them the biggest games first. MMS on the other hand, was not an official magazine (Not to begin with, anyway!), but it arguably had more of the classic Mean Machines feel to it. Though I bought an issue or two prior to properly collecting it, I mainly started collecting this magazine around mid-1993 with issue 8. I hadn’t really read the original incarnation of Mean Machines, but the style of MMS and the reviews in particular instantly got my attention, and I had a new favourite on my hands.
The reviews were a little different from the ones I read in other magazines. Instead of one big write up, there were several paragraphs scattered around the review which explained the games mechanics, along with two reviewers giving their thoughts and comments on the game. This was a particularly neat touch, as it meant you’d have two different viewpoints- quite interesting when one person has a slightly different opinion than the other. Games would ultimately be scored on Presentation, Graphics, Sound, Playability and Lastability, along with the final score. As well as the usual previews you’d expect, there was also a Work In Progress feature which focused on the more technical side of forthcoming releases- showing things like concept art and developer insights. The letters section was split into two parts- Mean Yob, which featured your standard letters, and Q & A, in which Jaz answered questions regarding the latest or potential happenings in the world of SEGA. The Mean Yob section was overseen by the titular character, known for his aggressive nature and replies. (It’s okay. He was just a fictional creation, and readers knew what they were letting themselves in for when they sent their letters in!) Earlier issues also had a feature called Lookback, where they would go back to games reviewed in previous issues of the original Mean Machines and see how they held up several years on. Sadly, this feature didn’t last too long due to a lack of interest from the staff, though Jaz said in a later issue that he rather liked the idea and was sad to see it go.
By the end of 1993, several writers on the team, including Julian and Richard, left the magazine to focus on the Official SEGA Magazine- almost like a sister publication to MMS, and one that got most of the big SEGA related exclusives first due to being an official magazine. Near the end of 1995, this magazine would go on to become SEGA Saturn Magazine- which would go on to become another of the all-time great SEGA magazines. When this happened, the official SEGA license was handed over to Mean Machines SEGA, giving it the official SEGA logo. Sadly, by then the whole original staff was gone, and MMS really wasn’t as good as it used to be. Though the format and the layout of the reviews remained very much the same, it lacked a lot of the charm it once had. It was still a decent magazine, but compared to SEGA Saturn Magazine, and other popular publications like C&VG, it paled. The magazine ultimately met its demise in early 1997 after 50+ issues.
As with Sega Pro and Sega Power, Mean Machines SEGA was a magazine that I enjoyed the most the first year I spent reading it. But what a year that was! I found it had the most charm out of all the magazines I read at the time, and it was the magazine from the early 90s that stood out the most in my mind. A worthy successor to the original Mean Machines legacy, in my opinion.
In this last video, we go through an issue of Mean Machines Sega.
Though I read many magazines back in my youth, these three are the ones that stand out the most. There are a few others, and maybe someday I’ll take a look back at those too. Gaming magazines in the 90s really were the best. The majority of them had so much colour and liveliness to them, and even the less bright ones had so much love and enthusiasm for gaming it was hard not to get caught up in them. It is perhaps sad to think we may never see the likes of them again…
In the next installment of Memories of SEGA, I'll be looking back at a Mega Drive shooter with a setting we didn't see too much of on the console. Some people even felt it evoked the style of a famous anime film. See you then!