Back in the 1980’s there were a wide variety of home computers available, but arguably the most popular in the UK were the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC. OK, the BBC Micro was popular too, but when it came to playing videogames, those first three were normally the best choice for quantity and variety of games. And before people complain, I know, the BBC Micro may have spawned the classic Elite, but it wasn’t exactly overladen in games compared to the others.
The quality of the games available for these computers was not always guaranteed though, and so before owners forked out between five and fifteen pounds for a cassette tape with the latest game on many would first turn to the reviews in a computer magazine to help them in their choice. Some of the best respected magazines for games reviews came from the magazine publisher Newsfield.
The first Newfield review magazine was named Crash, and it solely covered ZX Spectrum games when it was launched in 1984. Compared to the other magazines available at the time it was a fresh direction. It was all presented in an edgy, more cool approach than the more stuffy attempts of other magazines.
Gone were the type in listings for naff games written by other readers, and instead you got extensive reviews of the games, handy tips and cheats (remember the good old POKE codes?), and maps and play guides for different games. The reviews were particularly revolutionary because they often had the opinions of more than one reviewer. If all the reviewers liked it, chances are it was a good game, and if it was really good it could be given the coveted Crash Smash award!
In 1985 owners of the Commodore 64 got to discover what the Spectrum fans had been enjoying when Zzap! 64 was launched. It too followed a similar format, and as with Crash if a game did well in the reviews it could be given a Zzap! 64 Gold Medal award. So respected were these magazines that game publishers were keen to print the logos for these awards on the box art and adverts for their games.
Towards the end of 1985 Amstrad CPC owners got Amtix, although this magazine always seemed to be the poor relation of the three and only lasted for 18 issues, whereas Crash and Zzap! 64 both managed around a hundred issues each. The award for a great game in Amtix was called an Amtix Accolade.
One thing that all three magazines had in common was their brilliant cover images, which were all created by the brilliant Oliver Frey. He had a very distinctive style, and finding out what was on next months cover was always an exciting affair when you made a trip to the newsagent to pick up the next issue.
I’ll leave you with a couple of links which you might find useful if you have good memories of any of these magazines. Check out Crash Online for details of just about every issue of Crash, and in a similar manner there’s The Def Guide to Zzap! 64 which is full of cover scans and article transcripts. The latter also has a shop area where you can buy DVDs of scans from all three Newsfield magazines discussed here, and lots of other different magazines as well!