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Cover Critic
The Cover Critic Hates Your First Issue
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on August 31, 2009   |   Episode 72 (Show Archive)  

For the last 70 episodes the Cover Critic has spent his time complaining about video game box art. Whether it's on the Commodore 64, Genesis or PlayStation 3, he's been busy exposing some of the worst cover art imaginable. But after all of these years he needs a break. He's tired of bitching about the same things day in and day out, so he's found a brand new target - video game magazine covers. For the next few months The Cover Critic is going to be taking a look at different eras and video game magazines. This week he's taking a special look at a number of first issues. From EGM to NEXT Generation, every video game magazine has to start somewhere.
Electronic Gaming Monthly (Issue 1)
[ May - 1989 - Final Rating: C- ]
There are a lot of good things that can be said about Electronic Gaming Monthly. They were among the first to offer real video game reviews, they weren't afraid to employ a gossip hound who was wrong more than he was right and it inspired an entire generation of game journalists. But judged by this cover, Steve Harris didn't know the first thing about magazine cover design. If all you want to do is get the information out and overload people with teases for your editorial content, then this cover does that in spades. But I'm a firm believer that magazine covers should be more than simply using some game's box art and then name dropping a bunch of video game titles.

This issue of EGM really wants you to buy it. It's as if the U.S. National Video Game Team (whatever that is) decided to throw every gimmicky idea they had at the cover and hope that something would stick. Not impressed that the magazine is "all about" Nintendo, Sega and Atari? Then maybe you'll like the "free video game tip booklet inside." Or what about the fact that you could "win 50 Nintendo carts in the Great Game Give-Away?" Or maybe it's their "Exclusive Nintendo Preview." And don't forget the trading cards. And there's even a Mag Max (yes, Mag Max) poster. I'm not sure EGM could have packed this first issue with any more gimmicks. What a disappointment.

GamePro (Issue 1)
[ April - 1989 - Final Rating: B- ]
Like an explosion of macho testosterone, GamePro is here! Gee, I bet you didn't think GamePro could be this manly. But they proved you wrong, because you don't get any manlier than a football player, an extra on 300 and the one-eyed ghost of Charles Bronson. This team can right and wrong and solve any crime. You better not run, because that guy with the football is going to tackle your sorry ass. And don't even think about plucking out Charlie's other eye, because there's going to be a sword in your stomach if you even get close to this motley crew. Hey GamePro, the reason your TV show failed wasn't because of J.D. Roth, but rather the fact that you didn't make these three manly men the A-Team of the 80s. Well, the other A-Team of the 80s.

GamePro would have you believe that these steroid-addicted heroes are so amazing that they are literally bursting out of the magazine. Let's pretend that these characters didn't burst through the magazine's cover (because it's a lot more fun than what you could be doing right now), wouldn't this be the single worst magazine cover of all time? It would just be a black cover that says "Hot tips on pre-released games triple your scores" and "the pros show their secret moves." It would be like a Spinal Tap cover. And what does that first quote even mean? Pre-released games? If they are pre-released, then how would I triple my score? Who are these pros? WHY DOES THAT DUDE FROM 300 WANT TO KILL ME??? All valid questions.

Super NES Buyers Guide (Issue 1)
[ May - 1992 - Final Rating: C ]
Don't believe their lies! This May 1992 issue of Super NES Buyers Guide may say that it's the first issue of the first volume, but it's not. Late in 1991 Sendai Publishing spun off Electronic Gaming Monthly's Super NES section into its own special magazine, called the Super NES Buyer's Guide. All of the previews, reviews and screenshots came directly from EGM issues; only now it was contained in one $3 magazine. This Super NES Buyers Guide came half a year later and spells its name differently. See, one has an apostrophe, which makes all the difference.

Confusing history aside, this Super NES Buyers Guide cover reminds me how many of my favorite 16-bit games came so early in the system's life cycle. Smash TV, Contra III, Street Fighter II, Out of This World, Zelda III ... the list goes on and on. And all this was less than a year after the launch. Unfortunately this cover also reminds me how primitive early Photoshopping was. Merging Contra, Smash TV and the Mutant Turtles together may have sounded like a good idea, but the results are rough and wholly unconvincing. Even if Sully and Raphael were stuck in the middle of Smash TV, I doubt it would look this cheesy. Also, I like how everybody is standing on $1 bills and trying to win a VCR. Now THAT is a game show I want to see!

NEXT Generation (Issue 1)
[ January - 1995 - Final Rating: B ]
With its simple cover art and foreign prices, NEXT Generation's premiere issue really set the tone for much of the magazine's run. The idea here is to offer a gorgeous picture that sums up the next generation of the games industry. They did this with Sega's Virtua Fighter 2, a graphical tour de force in early 1995. With a new world of 3D gaming in front of it, NEXT Generation was poised to become an influential player in an industry that was about to explode.

Unfortunately, the impact of this cover is muted now that 14 years have passed. These Virtua Fighter 2 shots aren't nearly as impressive, especially when compared to what we see on a regular basis on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and even the Wii. Years ago this cover would have stopped me in my tracks, fixated on its beauty. These days I can't help but pick apart all of the imperfections. Like Akira's neck or Wolf's painted-on six pack. Much of these characters look like they were assembled using super glue. And while I still love NEXT Generation (not to mention Virtua Fighter II), I don't feel like this cover has held up well. Also, the big shiny "Collector's Issue" sticker isn't helping matters any.

Nintendo Power
[ July/August - 1988 - Final Rating: A ]
Leave it to Nintendo to give us one of the most memorable magazine covers of all time. Instead of using the usual hand-drawn artwork, Nintendo Power went for ... clay? There's something incredibly low-tech about this cover; it has an innocence that you don't usually equate to a magazine cover. I would also argue that this drastic change from the standard Mario art works perfectly with a game like Super Mario Bros. 2, a title that has very little to do with the rest of the series.

Yet as much as I love this Nintendo Power cover, I can't help but feel sad for what the magazine has become. The truth is that these days the magazine doesn't even try. Their most recent issues revolve around pre-existing artwork and pictures they stole directly from the box art. Yet back in the first few years they were willing to try anything, no matter how cheesy it was. They would dress a man up to look like Simon Belmont, they would recreate a scene from Zelda II and they would craft plastic models. If they could imagine it, they would try it. And to a lot of NES gamers, we believed that this try anything mentality bled over into their game development. The sky was the limit back then, and this cover art really captures the essence of that era.


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