Issue Review: CF 51 (December, 1994)

cf51_Dec1994

On December 3rd, as this issue of Commodore Format sat on the shelves, Sony launched the original Playstation in Japan. When the company initially announced that it was to make a games console the industry sniggered, with CVG magazine famously labeling it a lame duck from the start. Nintendo, blindsided by its own arrogance and only ever being used to having serious competition from Sega, had amusingly labelled 1994 the “year of the cartridge”. Ironic, then, that the end of this year saw the CD based machine that would blow up the industry and leave the two old rivals in shell shock.

A DIFFERENT WORLD

The Playstation was still nine months away from a UK release, but the industry and public knew about it and the games press were salivating. Former Commodore Format editor Dave Golder was now working on Future’s Edge-for-kids title Ultimate Future Games, which dedicated an entire section of its second issue this month to the PS. Meantime, kids were compiling Christmas lists of the stuff Santa could deliver to the UK: the graphically awesome Donkey Kong Country on the SNES, Sonic 3 on the Sega systems and the legendary multi format platformer EarthWorm Jim.

There are two ways of looking at this from the Commodore 64 perspective. One is of sadness; even CF shifts in tone this month and begins to talk about the C64’s “retirement”. But the other, hey, is how amazing is it that a magazine for the Commodore was available when the Playstation came out?

c64versustheworld

In this feature, CF acknowledges the “retirement” of the C64 for the first time. It also namechecks the Playstation, perceptively saying it would undo Sega and Nintendo.

The latter option is somewhat tempered by the reality of this month’s offering. CF had initially been granted a dignified downsizing as the machine had faded commercially, first from 66 to 50 and then 34 pages; the games weren’t in the shops, but over 20,000 people had stuck with the magazine and it was enough to make the mag viable. Clearly, though, the latter half of ’94 had seen dramatic change to those figures, as this month’s Commodore Format had just 22 pages. It had also lost its sturdy, glossy clover – “it was self covered bog paper”, remembers Simon Forrester. This issue was the first produced under the control of Future Publishing’s new owners, Pearson, who inherited a portfolio of magazines largely in decline. The immediate downsize was no coincidence. (Read about the deal here)

IT’S WHAT YOU DO WITH IT

With the benefit of many years’ perspective, though, it’s possible to leaf through the few pages of issue 51 and see that what’s here isn’t bad at all: first off, the covertape features the full version of the absolutely cracking Codemasters collect-’em-up Steg The Slug. Worth a few quid in itself!

There are still new games on the horizon, too: Tim Norris takes a look at Paul Kubiszyn’s Amorphous, a sort of tile sliding puzzler that was shaping up really nicely. We caught up with Paul to find out what he thought of it some 23 years later:

“I remember Amorphous being very enjoyable to both design and program. It was also my first and only game to feature a story based end sequence. I was however a little miffed that CF decided to include a screen of said ending in their preview. I probably shouldn’t have told them the password for the ending was 1994.” (so now you can see it yourself – Ed)

MYSTIC CF

The C64 Versus The World cover feature pitches Commodore games against the ones on the Megadrive and SNES. It smacks a bit of filler, which seems daft in such a small magazine, but in fairness was probably commissioned before CF slimmed down to 22 pages. Its first few paragraphs are most perceptive, noting that the SNES – released just a few years earlier in the UK – and Megadrive were already being upstaged by the Playstation. The rest of the mag is made up with the usual wad of PD, games tips and letters – there just isn’t room for more.

You do wonder if Pearson floated this greatly downsized CF as an experiment to see if it was worth persevering with the magazine. This could have been the last ever issue: there’s no proper announcement of Karen Levell’s arrival as editor (which we’ll come to next time; was this in case it didn’t last?) and the mag is littered with cheeky references to a lack of pages and the actions of Future’s new owners. Most telling of all, there’s no date given for the January 1995 issue (“CF52 on sale soon – probably” it says). Issue 52 did arrive, of course – but lending credence to the theory, the credits panel nicknames it “The Phoenix”.

With the gift of hindsight, we can see it as a transitional issue. There’s no getting around it:  this month’s developments were a disappointment. CF51 was an attempt at the old magazine’s formula without enough pages to do it in; it thus feels even thinner than it really is. The good news is that people did still buy CF and the mag was deemed fit to continue. Next time, a strong, serious new direction for the slimmed down magazine pulled things back on track.  CF

Commodore_Format_PowerPack_51_1994-12ON THE POWER PACK

Steg The Slug (there’s a video back up the page – Ed) was part of Future Publishing’s deal with Codemasters and had been released at retail just two years earlier, scoring 76% in November 1992. It’s a unique, almost Lemmings-ish collect ’em up that is equal parts genius and frustrating. Meantime, Deadline was a graphically beautiful sneaky peak at Visualize’ upcoming Defender clone. And the Multihack was an absolute joy, sealing this month’s Power Pack as the only thing to make issue 51 any sort of value at all. It was a collection of cheats for over 140 games – brilliant. Read the tape pages here (er – it’s just a page – Ed).

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