There’s already been one Commodore magazine – Zzap!64 – inducted into RetroReactiv8’s Hall of Gaming Heroes. Now there is Another One. Of it. The one and only Amiga Power; in many ways the spiritual successor to Newsfield’s publication.
It shared many of the same characteristics: an honest reviewing policy, an off-beat sense of humour and a core group of reviewers that you felt like you knew, even though they were complete strangers. People like Stuart Campbell felt like friends to AP readers in the same way that Julian Rignall or Gary Penn were in the 8 bit era (or was that just me and my sad, friendless existence?) Like Zzap!, AP didn’t take itself too seriously and, unlike many of the other magazines at the time, was able to have a laugh at both its own expense and that of the growing software industry
It was the honest reviewing policy that attracted me to the magazine. Generally speaking, its staff seemed to share similar tastes to mine so if they rated a game, the chances were I would also like it. They also had a much more transparent reviewing policy than most. Look at most magazine review scores and they tend to be in the range of 60-90%. Amiga Power used the full range of scores. For them, every game started at 50% (the score for an average game). It would then lose or gain points based on a whole range of criteria (graphics, sound, gameplay, controls etc.) to calculate its final score. As such, it wasn’t uncommon to open an issue of AP and find one game scoring 87% whilst another might get 22%, with everything in between also represented. To AP, a score of 65% wasn’t a bad game – it was an above average one, although software houses of the time, used to the inflated scores of other mags, used to get very irate at times!
Some people (both then and even now) accused AP of being controversial for the sake of it but, with a very few exceptions, I don’t think that’s justified. Like Zzap! before it, they just didn’t bow to the pressures of the marketing people and tried to guide their readers towards the good games, away from the bad and point out when a game was merely run of the mill. Personally, as a student at the time, I was very grateful to them for helping me to choose my games and spend my money wisely.
Other (unfair) accusations against AP include it being biased in favour of certain publishers – The Bitmap Brothers, Sensible Software and Acid Software spring to mind. Whilst they certainly rated most of the games from these companies very highly, so did most of the other magazines at the time, as well as the games-buying public. The fact is these three companies (and others) really found their home on the Amiga and generally, their name on a box was a guarantee of a certain level of quality. Amiga Power recognised and championed this.
Like other aspects of the magazine, the humour divided opinion. There were times when it felt like one big in-joke but once you adapted to the style, you soon felt like you were in on it. The off-the-wall, absurd humour (The Four Cyclists of the Apocalypse, AP’s Five Sturdy Jokes) was never going to appeal to everyone and it’s true that at times it felt a bit like a student rag mag. On the whole, though (again, perhaps because I was roughly of an age with the reviewers), I found it funny. I also used to enjoy the fact that the reviewers hinted that there might just be stuff outside of games (WHAT???!) and frequently digressed into talking about other things, like films (and for the record, I agree with them about Stargate).
Sadly, the demise of the Amiga in 1994 inevitably led to the decline of the magazine. As new releases dried up, AP’s digressions became longer and a more central feature of the magazine. The issues when they reviewed games and had occasional digressions into other subjects morphed into the issues when they had long digressions and occasionally reviewed games. AP had always had a tendency to be a little over-reliant on features (particularly joystick reviews which no magazine in the world has ever managed to make interesting), but this increased during the magazine’s death throes. I’d jumped ship by this point and moved onto PC gaming, so I didn’t see the sad, declining years of Amiga Power. Instead, I can fondly recall the Matt Bielby Golden Era, and the days when it was in its prime: strong, loud, controversial and often very, very funny.
By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=780895
There’s just one thing that is a very serious black mark on the magazine’s history and almost cost it a place in the Hall of Heroes. Around 1993, I won a runners-up prize – a copy of Hudson Soft’s Yo! Joe! in an AP competition and I’m still waiting for it. So come on Amiga Power – get it sorted. Not even the British postal system is that slow.
Amiga Power (sort of) lives on today in the guise of AP2 – a bizarre website written by former Amiga Power reviewers Stuart Campbell and Jonathan Nash which will give you some idea of the off-beat humour that permeated the magazine (although the website design is best described as Turn of the Century Garish and you might want to put your sunglasses on before viewing it.)
Anyway, welcome to RetroReactiv8s’s Hall of Gaming Heroes, Amiga Power. You truly were The Magazine of Champions.