The Year Was 2007.
With the day off of work and my last class ending at 1:00 P.M, I decided to once again engage in my obsession; Looking for SNES games. It was the year that I discovered SUPER PLAY. I still remember it as if it were yesterday. Walking to Recycled Records and greeting the owner before heading to my usual haunt-the glass case of SNES games. It was my lucky day, as there was an in-the box copy of Breath of Fire 2 for $45, and a nicely taken care of copy of Pocky and Rocky for $12. Not a bad haul for a nice autumn day off of school. Then as I turned to leave, I heard the owner call me back.
“I almost forgot. I’ve been saving this for you. Might want to have a look.” It was SUPER PLAY ISSUE 6 featuring Star Fox on the cover. Knowing he had me, he let me take my time looking through it, reading the various interviews and features on games I had never even heard of. Then he promptly told me that if I wanted it, it could be mine for twelve dollars. Needless to say, Pocky and Rocky was put back, most likely to go to some other SNES-loving home, and I would have to find my copy later. But it did not matter. I now had a new mission: Finding out as much information as I could about this gem of a Magazine…
SUPER PLAY is a British publication published by Future Inc. from November of 1992 to September of 1996. It was forged during some of the greatest years in gaming history and gave exclusive coverage to the Super Nintendo, though later issues also covered N64 development. SUPER PLAY holds a special place in my heart for two distinct reasons. The first being that aside from Nintendo Power, this is the ONLY magazine to dedicate itself entirely to the SNES. Nintendo Power had always been a mainstay of my childhood, but compared to SUPER PLAY, it just felt sterile. Whether it was the anime-esque artwork or the sharp opinions of the articles, SUPER PLAY just had the vibe of a magazine written by SNES fans, for SNES fans. I can only imagine how lucky the children who got this as a subscription must have felt.
The second reason that SUPER PLAY helped to carve me into the gamer I am today has to do with its status as a British magazine. Since Nintendo of Europe gave its customers an even bigger shaft than what Nintendo of America did to their consumer base in terms of available games, SUPER PLAY was the first magazine to have a heavy focus on import gaming-something you just didn’t get from Nintendo Power, a magazine that towed company line whenever possible. It was thanks to this magazine and its coverage of the European and Japanese markets that I was able to discover just how massive this system’s library is, especially when you consider the over 800 games that never even left Japan! It made me begin importing, where my love for the SNES was reignited, and to this day it is my primary system. And I still use SUPER PLAY to find new games! It is an invaluable tool for the SNES enthusiast.
SUPER PLAY Features
Throughout the pages you will find witty, intelligent commentary and coverage of anything relevant to the SNES community. One of the things that I respect the most about the publication is its down to earth feel. You can tell that it is written by a group of passionate Super Nintendo gamers with a no nonsense outlook. As an independent magazine, they often asked the tough questions of developers and businessmen alike, and questioned industry direction when they felt it was in the best interest of their readers. This was a refreshing change of pace in a time where most game magazines read like one long commercial for the games they were covering; a practice that has only gotten worse with time.
The artwork and general design of this magazine is truly a wonder to behold. Pages are colorful and detailed, with lots of screenshots and even background page images. And the artwork has a very anime feel to it, giving the magazine a unique look and feel. It also helps that design-wise, this is one of the most varied and feature-packed magazines ever written, with interviews, opinion columns, quizzes, reviews, and technology features. It even has a monthly anime feature, and was one of the major factors in growing the anime market in the United Kingdom! With these things in mind, lets take a look at some of the regular features you can expect.
This feature appears in every issue of SUPER PLAY, and it includes all of the news, sales charts, rumors, and previews of the magazine. Other things such as interviews and in-depth looks at various gaming tropes are all present in this section. Opinions are clearly presented and honest, with none of the promotional BS normally associated with game magazines.(That is what the ads were for!) Two of my favorite examples from this section include the myriad developer interviews with Nintendo legends such as Shigeru Miyamoto, and the constant coverage of Nintendo’s quest for a CD-based peripheral. Knowing how things would turn out makes for an even more fascinating read. Ultimately, I think that this is the appeal of some of these old magazines, allowing us to study the past while knowing the future.
SUPER PLAY was also one of the primary proponents of the Japanese RPG movement, going as far as to have at least four pages per issue devoted entirely to RPG coverage. Tragic, considering that despite their valiant attempts to make these games mainstream, Europe never received most of the system’s high profile releases. So to all of the Europeans RPG fans who are thrilled to be getting Xenoblade and The Last Story, remember that SUPER PLAY paved the way!
One of SUPER Play’s most important legacies is the way that they connected the anime world to the video game world. As I have previously said, their coverage literally grew the British anime market, thanks in large part to Helen’s brilliant articles spotlighting the best anime has to offer. It is to this section’s credit that I am still finding great anime that I never would have known about otherwise!
I also enjoy the articles linking gaming and anime, whether it is by looking at games based on popular anime and manga, or simply pointing out it’s influences on game development and culture. It turns out that anime and gaming have much more in common than you may initially believe.
Some great anime I have found thanks to SUPER PLAY include the brilliant Studio Ghibli films, YuYu Hakusho, and Ramna. And though I no longer am the anime fan I once was (anime, like gaming, has been on the decline), I still thank SUPER PLAY for those good times…
The meat and potatoes of any gaming publication, the game reviews are what separate a mediocre magazine form a truly great one. Remember that in the early nineties the internet was just rising, and a majority of children did not have access to it. So the only way to know how good a game actually played was to either play it yourself, or read a gaming magazine like SUPER PLAY. It is pretty cool to see how these games fared back in the day, especially when a review is written in an informative and entertaining manner. And SUPER PLAY had their review style down to a science.
Here is how it works. An editor(or sometimes more) sat down and played a game, while relaying their experience with the game. Four categories are graded, and all contribute to the final score. These include graphics, sound, gameplay, and game life. I like how they give the game a score out of 100 rather than 10, as I feel that it is hard to anchor a game-play experience to a one digit number. It still shocks me just how tough they were though! Some of my favorite games barely scored a 70, and while I disagreed with many of their reviews, I always respected them. They clearly cared about their readers and wanted their gaming dollars to not be wasted.
You just do not see that any more, with modern gaming magazines and web sites barely handing any games under a 70. When you read IGN or Game Informer, you almost get the impression that they are trying to sell you a game rather than inform you about it. But you never had this problem with SUPER PLAY. Without this magazine, I might have never played favorite games like Terranigma and Xandra’s Big Adventure. Think of SUPER PLAY as a gigantic treasure map that can lead you to gaming experiences that you never might have dug up otherwise!
Playback And GameFreak
In the Playback section, the magazine staff responded to reader mail, whether it was to answer questions or just add their input to a readers opinion. It is in these conversations with their subscribers that you get a taste of their sense of humor, and general expertise at all things Super Nintendo. I always enjoy reading these exchanges, as the subscribers were often just as intelligent as the magazine staff. Some of these exchanges were legendary. In one such case, a reader shared a story of purchasing a game without an instruction manual. Instead of flying off the handle, he wrote OceanSoft, the developer of his game, who promptly sent him a replacement manual at no charge! The magazine staff responded by recommending Mom and Pop chains, and told the reader that they will often do the same kind of thing without having to wait by the mailbox! Reading this kind of story I cannot help but look back on a much better game industry, combining hardworking game-makers with a helpful game press and and informed customer base.
GameFreak focused more on the technical side of things, giving readers answers to a whole host of problems with their system. Everything from compatibility issues to maintenance and console cleaning were addressed, and time was even given to those that wanted to give their console a more personal touch, spotlighting decoration and Mod jobs.
Mode 7/What Cart
Like any good gaming magazine worth its salt, SUPER PLAY had a cheats section. Carefully picked out and artfully done, you never quite knew what to expect in this section, as everything from secret level guides to hidden game modes and features were revealed by the wizards at SP! I like the name they chose, as it represents the gamer trying to get the most out of their game. Even in this day of internet domination, I still like the feel of this section.
SUPER PLAY is also notable for being one of the first magazines to give us a separate quick-reference style writeup on every game covered during the issue. It was a nice touch that gave you instant access to a summary of the magazines actions.
Far and away the thing that brings me back to reading this magazine the most are the great in-depth special features. These works almost resembled research papers at times, and were often front-page affairs. From an article spotlighting the baseball genre to their revered top 100 SNES games cover story, these never get old, and I guarantee you will find yourself revisiting these articles on numerous occasions.
My personal favorite has to go to issue number one’s in-depth look at the SNES development and marketing story. I found it amazing that the system generated so much interest, that Nintendo had to ship them at night to avoid the interests of organized crime. It is also cool to see the bundles available at launch in the U.K. Overall, this feature was a great first read, and set the standard for all to come.
The main thing to take away from SUPER PLAY is quality. This is a magazine that is absolutely full of quality art, writing, and editing. And throughout its forty seven issue run, it never faltered. Unfortunately, all good things must have a close, and the arrival of the Nintendo 64 essentially killed the publication and forced it to evolve into N64 Magazine. Still, it is easy to see why this magazine is so revered and sought after. SUPER PLAY gave us over three thousand pages of awesome 16-bit goodness, and those who have found a complete set find it exceedingly difficult to get rid of.
Back in 2007, I only had to read one issue to know that I NEEDED the rest. It took me three long years, two-hundred and sixty-four dollars, and countless auction losses, Craigslist meetings, and one trip three states away to acquire my set, and I regret none of it. Every issue I found increased my SNES bucket list with more eastern games I had never heard of, yet must play, and I can say with full honesty that the quest to assemble this SNES bible was my longest and greatest adventure.
And as a final note to other, would-be hunters of this holy grail, I say this: Be patient, be willing to travel, and have a savings fund exclusively for when you stumble across these rare magazines. That last one was a joke, but as more people complete their collections, and time destroys those issues that were unable to secure a good home, they will only go up in value. Just remember, it is not the end goal that is the joy, it is the journey.
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