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A Brief History of Gaming
The Death of the Game System Review
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on January 26, 2009   |   Episode 9 (Show Archive)  

   
EGM Issue 1
This is where Electronic Gaming Monthly came from, it's hard to believe that twenty years later it's all coming to an end!
Electronic Gaming Monthly is dead and gone. Those words are hard for me to write, even now that the news is a couple of weeks old and has had time to sink in. While I have some mixed feelings about the quality of EGM over the years (I even started a whole show debunking them), I can't deny that this is a magazine that had a lasting impression on me. As a kid I grew up wanting to be just like the people in EGM, playing games and telling people about them. It is definitely one of the reasons that I started Defunct Games, and I suspect the reason that a lot of other people decided to create video game blogs and websites. EGM will be missed.

Sadly, the EGM of today was not the same as the EGM of yester-year. Sure they continued to have game reviews, misleading previews and the questionably accurate Quarterman section, but some of the best elements of Electronic Gaming Monthly were killed off long before Dan "Shoe" Hsu and Shane Bettenhausen ever showed
EGM 1992 Video Game Buyer's Guide
In the early days of the Video Game Buyer's Guide EGM would PhotoShop together different clip art and game systems to make ugly covers like this one!
up. That's not to say that the new EGM staff didn't work hard to add new and interesting features to the magazine, but it was never the same when they decided to take away the one thing that made them special: System reviews.

For many EGM readers the most exciting time of the year was October, when the editorial staff would come together to produce their annual "Video Game Buyer's Guide." I know I have spent a lot of time bashing the very ideas of a video game buyer's guide, but this was a buyer's guide unlike anything you have seen before. And since EGM was the only magazine doing this, the idea of having a separate 13th issue on top of the standard subscription was more than my young brain could handle.

But it wasn't the buyer's guide itself that made me happy. Understandably, half of the magazine was made up of recycled game previews and reviews from their past issues. That is, if you were a
Y's Book I and II
Does Y's Book I & II deserve a perfect 10? Of course it does ... but so does Tetris!
subscriber, then chances are you're going to get a lot of duplicate previews of Mega Man 3 and Double Dragon. But while we got a lot of repeated content, the other half of the magazine was brand new and full of EGM's "Best and Worst" awards. And then, in a stroke of genius, EGM had their stable of review crew staffers give their final score for each of the systems on the market, including the top sellers, the CD attachments and the handhelds. These reviews were brutally honest and, if you were a fan of the underdog, often a little depressing.

The origins of the EGM Video Game Buyer's Guide came from issue five, the very same issue that gave Tetris a 7 and Y's Book I & II a 10. In what now seems like an obvious move, the magazine decided to publish a special list of the best and worst games of 1989. The very
Oprah's Favorite Things
You get a car, and you get a car, and you get a car. EVERYBODY GETS A CAR!!
first video game awards show featured such categories as "Most Exciting New Theme in a Game" (Tetris), "Most Ridiculous Premise for a Game" (Taboo), "Hottest Hero in a Video Game" (Mega Man), "Wimpiest Hostage in a Video Game" (President Bush in Bad Dude's), "Most Unpronounceable Game Title" (Nobunaga's Ambition), and of course the all important "Best Game of the Year," which ultimately went to Capcom's brilliant Ghouls and Ghosts [sic].

A year later EGM would turn this five page special feature into its own magazine, adding that one ingredient that made the whole thing make sense. Although it was small, the two (sometimes three) page system reviews are what prompted people to run out and buy these buyer's guides. People waited all year for this thing, much like an Oprah audience waits all
EGM Buyer's Guide System Review
The annual Video Game Buyer's Guide was a fantastic way to end arguments about which system was the best and worst (assuming that you would rather substitute their judgment for your own)!
year to be part of her "Favorite Things" episode. Only instead of getting thousands of dollars worth of clothes, fragrances, gift certificates and gadgets, EGM readers got their favorite critics throwing trash at your system of choice.

Part of what made the EGM buyer's guides so interesting was that they came out at a time when the Super NES and Sega Genesis battle was just starting. For example, in 1991 all of the critics gave the Sega Genesis 9s, while the Super NES received three 8s and a 7. Nintendo fanboys were shocked; the only comfort for them was knowing that most of the critics hoped that the system's library would improve. However, even that wasn't much condolence when you read comments like this directed at the Genesis: "The best games, the most games and the best deal for a 16-bit system! With loads of hot titles and the Mega CD due out next year, it's obvious Genesis is a Super NES killer in 1992."

EGM's 1995 and 1996 Video Game Buyer's Guide
In the mid-1990s it looked like EGM wasn't even trying any more, they just continued to use the exact same layout with very similar games taking up the coveted cover real estate!
And it wasn't just the top tier systems that garnered reviews, we also saw reviews for the 8-bit systems still sticking around ("It's hard to get excited about [the Master System] which doesn't have the complete backing of the parent company, Sega."), the long in the tooth portables ("Why is [the Game Boy] still on the market?") and everything in between ("Launching [the 3DO] with NO additional games is not too smart."). While EGM had a tendency of being overly harsh on some of the less popular systems, they were often fair and gave reasoning. For example, despite all of the terrible things you hear about the Atari Jaguar these days, EGM gave the systems all 7s and seemed hopefully saying things like, "The price is right, the graphics are okay and the sound is well done. The CD games will make this system even better. Get to it, Atari!"

These reviews continued into the 32-bit era, where EGM gave the Sony PlayStation a 10 and the Sega Saturn a 6. In fact, as the years went on this section grew from a two or three page affair to something that was as big as 20 pages. Like the standard game reviews, these system reviews became bigger and more detailed as new review crew staffers joined the magazine. By this time the Video Game Buyer's Guide was one of EGM's best known (and most loved) issues, the kind of thing that people waited all year for.

But sadly all good things have to come to an end. As EGM entered the 21st century they decided to scrap some of the features
EGM 2002 Buyer's Guide
This 2002 Video Game Buyer's Guide was the very last time EGM used that name. In 2002 the name switched to the Holiday Game Guide For PC and VIdeo Games before ultimately dying!
that made the Video Game Buyer's Guides so popular in the first place. For starters they changed EGM's Best and Worst awards to "The Good, the Bad and the Silly," opting for more comical awards than the serious honors that were given out just ten years earlier. They also decided to get rid of the system reviews, the one thing that drew me to the magazine year after year. Ultimately EGM would say goodbye to the Video Game Buyer's Guide and merge its best remaining parts (the awards show) into their already established magazine. It was the end of an era.

Despite the success of these issues, no other mainstream magazine ever decided to review the game systems. Perhaps it's because they were afraid of angering the console makers, or maybe they just didn't see the point, but whatever the reason they missed a golden opportunity to pick up what EGM had left behind. Although it's a small thing, I sometimes wish there was a magazine today that would still score each of the "living" game systems. Then again, these days maybe I should just hope and pray that there are any game magazines around, let alone one that reviews game systems. Rest in peace, EGM Video Game Buyer's Guide.

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