Issue Review: CF 3 (December, 1990)

December 1990. This was the month British and French Channel Tunnel workers met in the middle and shook hands. Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsay was born, Saddam Hussein released all British hostages held as human shields in Iraq and in Burton-Upon-Trent an upstart company opened its first ever shop. It was called Poundland.

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CF3 was the moment the covertape became the Power Pack. And the point it started coming in its own box, too. Sounds a small thing, but it made them much more collectable and they looked great on a shop shelf, too – it was quite the package for £1.95.

The end of any year is great for statistic nerds, and hidden among the UK government records for December 1990 is an absolute cracker. Apparently, 0.1% of the population – some 60,000 people – had home access to what we now know as the internet. Exactly what these rich folk were using to get online isn’t clear, but it wasn’t out of the realms of possibility for any of the old computers to talk to the world: in fact, this month’s Commodore Format had its first ever article about getting online tucked away on page 60.

In it, future editor Andy Hutchinson describes how you need a modem, a subscription to a service provider (£20 a quarter) and to pay the price of a local phone-call (off peak 1p a minute, on peak 7p) to access things like MicroNet – which could have “as many as 50 people online at any one time”. Imagine! In seriousness, the picture portrayed of being able to talk in real time to other C64 users or play online adventure games was salivating: it’s just a shame it was an expense beyond the reach of most.

Speaking of which, the first C64GS cartridges were beginning to appear this month at £20 a pop. Cover star Chase HQ II – SCI certainly had some fancy presentation and access times impossible on old fashioned cassette, but it wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty. “The fact it’s on cart saves its bacon”, said reviewer Andy Dyer. “Otherwise it wouldn’t be worth the wait.” Twenty notes was a huge ask for a kid with a Commodore 64, though – to survive, the games needed to be way more special than this.

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Get on’t t’internet. On a C64. In 1990. Just hide the phone bill from your ‘rents…[click to read the full piece]

Still, Commodore’s ill-fated console – whose game carts also worked in any C64 – continued to be taken seriously this month, at least by a fanatical CF, which plastered a cart logo on its cover and told readers to look out for it in the magazine to see if a game came on circuit board. Last Ninja Remix was the other biggie in December 1990, and to be fair it was a much grander example of what could be achieved. It was in essence Last Ninja II with bells on: better graphics, more music, and instant loading. It compared favourably with NES and Master System releases of the time. Yet it – like so many other cartridge games – didn’t sell in huge quantities and wasn’t stocked by some of the major chains, who were unconvinced by the new format.

The run up to Christmas was reassuringly big in Commodore 64 world, with US Gold’s impressive Golden Axe and SSI’s phenomenal adventure Buck Rogers also hitting the streets. But there’s also an element of CF shaping the narrative here. They were now dedicating far more pages to games in comparison to the first two issues, which had split fun and serious use pretty equally. This was a title beginning to find its feet, with no clearer example than Roger Frames. The budget game reviewing skinflint was already hugely popular and promoted to a more prominent spot in the magazine this month – in full colour, too.

Commodore_Format_PowerPack_3_1990-12

It’s a hugely popular covertape, this one. Kids don’t really understand what a big deal a magazine with computer games taped to the front meant in 1990, but the fact these ones trigger memories even today says it all.

And then there was the covertape. This was the month the cassette got its own sexy box- making them hugely collectable – and became known as the Power PackCF3‘s tape was a brilliant collection, too. Gutz was an old Ocean release with a neat soundtrack that saw you wandering around in, er, guts. Then there was Domark’s classic slidey puzzler Split Personalities, and a full art package called VidCom 64. Demo wise, there was a special level of Spiderman, and a chance to test the new racer Badlands. Top prize, though, went to the full first level of Midnight Resistance. We spoke about it in our review of issue 2, but to reiterate: this. game. is. incredible. The thumping, overwhelming soundtrack is a masterclass in the SID chip, and the range of weapons you can go on the rampage with utterly incredible. It lasts for about 90 seconds – but from the reaction we get whenever we talk about it, clearly provided memories for a lifetime.

It was, in short, a stunning collection of  software and the new box made CF look great on a shop shelf. The new kid was in town, already selling in excess of 50,000 copies a month. And there was still another issue to come before Christmas….CF 


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