February 18, 2007 9:01 AM |
['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which covers video game magazines from the late '70s all the way up to right now.]
Following up my guide a little while back on the history of Famitsu (Japan's largest game magazine), I thought I could expand on the subject a little bit by covering some of the competition Enterbrain's title has faced since its inception in 1986. That's what I thought I'd do, anyway, but the sheer number of titles was too much for me. So I'm sticking only to multiplatform and Famicom-specific mags for this little overview -- the number of platform-specific mags published after 1992, when the Dengeki brand was launched, is just discombobulatingly large.
Family Computer Magazine (ファミリーコンピュータMagazine) was published by Tokuma Shoten starting in July 1985, meaning it predates Famitsu by about 10 months. It started out as a monthly, but later switched to twice a month as the 8-bit NES boom swept across Japan. "Famimaga" was the de-facto official Nintendo magazine of the mid-to-late 1980s -- Tokuma editors helped with the launch of the American Nintendo Power and even wrote the instruction manuals for some of Nintendo's games. (Indeed, early Nintendo Power issues look a lot like the 1986-1989 era of Famimaga if you compare them.)
Back in the Famicom days, Famitsu and Famimaga were essentially neck-and-neck in terms of circulation -- Famitsu was seen as the best mag for up-to-date news and reviews, while Famimaga was the king of strategy guides, often offering a free bonus strategy booklet with each issue the way many UK mags do nowadays. Every issue also included tons of "Ultra Techniques" (i.e. cheat codes), which always included at least one completely fake and outrageous code -- nude codes, that sort of thing -- partly for the amusement of readers and partly to prevent other mags from being tempted to steal codes.
Famitsu gradually began to pull out ahead of Famimaga sales-wise in the early 1990s, and the difference was night and day by 1997, when Tokuma divided the title into two mags: Famitsu clone Famimaga Weekly and N64 mag Famimaga 64. The weekly mag was shut down within half a year, and Famimaga 64 followed soon after. At least a few of the title's old staff still work at Nintendo Dream magazine.
Marukatsu Famicom (マル勝ファミコン) was published by Kadokawa Shoten starting in March 1986, kicking off right from the start with two issues a month. It was pretty much like the Famitsu of the era, and its name changed to Marukatsu Super Famicom in November 1990. It had a mascot named Manto-Inu (Japanese for "caped dog").
In October 1994, Marukatsu Super Famicom's entire staff quit en masse, jumped ship to Media Works, and launched Dengeki Super Famicom the following month. The reasons for this jump are complex and worth an entire column of its own, but regardless, it left Kadokawa with no staff to create a magazine with, and they wound up freelancing all of it out, meaning that nearly all of its regular columns, running manga, and so forth were suddenly canceled. This naturally annoyed readers and circulation plummeted, but the mag soldiered on until 1996, when it was split into two separate titles (Game Walker and Marukatsu Game Shounen) that both closed in 1997.
Famicom Hisshoubon (ファミコン必勝本, "Famicom Victory Book") was published by JICC starting March 1986, a magazine version of a popular series of Famicom strategy guides. The mag started out with a low circulation, but thanks to a series of articles exploring "World 9" and other secret worlds in Super Mario Brothers (all accessed via assorted console-frying techniques like removing cartridges while leaving the system on) helped the mag rocket in popularity, and it soon moved to twice-monthly publishing.
"Hippon," as the title got abbreviated to, was not entirely unlike VideoGames & Computer Entertainment in style -- while trying to appeal to all ages, the mag was best known for featuring a writing stable packed with talented freelancers (including, once again, Pokemon creator Satoshi Tajiri) and devoting massive amounts of space to games ignored in other mags, such as the Wizardry series.
The name of the mag changed to Hippon Super! in 1991, following a move to make the title multiplatform. The resemblance to VG&CE grew only stronger during this era, as the reviews section grew and gave out some of the most opinionated and harsh reviews ever seen in mass-market game print -- positively scandalous by Japanese game-mag standards. Readership dwindled, however, and the mag went N64-specific in 1995 and further morphed into a bimonthly strategy-only mag in 1997, neither to very much good effect.
HAOH (覇王, later Haoh Magazine) was published by Kodansha between 1993 and 1997. It mainly concentrated on the 16-bit consoles, and these days it's less known for its game coverage and more for the magazine covers, which were drawn by Katsuhiro Otomo, Kia Asamiya and a bevy of other well-known manga artists on a round-robin basis.
Beep is...well, it's a very strange magazine. I don't think there's ever been anything quite like it, although the Newsfield mags of the mid-80s (CRASH, Zzap!64, etc) come close. Launched by Softbank in late 1984, Beep was one of the first truly multiplatform game mags in Japan, and even as Famicom-specific titles sprouted up like weeds in 1986, Beep kept an extremely unique style of its own going, concentrating on weird columns and even weirder "theme" features.
The mag was a major sponsor of the idea of game music being a real genre of audio entertainment, even including free flexi-disc game soundtracks with some issues. (It was also edited exclusively by hopeless Sega fanboys, but that's neither here nor there.)
Beep, if you count all its various incarnations, is the longest-running console mag in Japan -- it changed names over the years to Beep! Megadrive, then Sega Saturn Magazine, then Dreamcast Magazine, then Dorimaga, and then Ge-Maga, its current title.
Finally, here are a couple also-rans. High Score (left) launched in March 1986 alongside Hippon and Marukatsu and never found much popularity -- it actually stopped publishing for a time in 1987 thanks to a lawsuit with Enix, and finally closed for good in 1990. Meanwhile, Game Boy (right) launched in 1985, four years before Nintendo used the name for their portable system. Why the publisher didn't have a cow over this is something of a mystery to me, but they kept on publishing as Game Boy all the way to 1994, when they changed names to Power Gamer! before closing in '95.
Categories: Column: Game Mag Weaseling