Not too long ago, Gamepro Magazine announced a switch in format, from a typical monthly magazine to a quarterly "journal" that would focus less on news and reviews, and more on features. This sounded like a brilliant idea to me, as it would establish something more meaningful that would be worth paying money for and re-reading, rather than something to pick up for five minutes, glean a few review scores, then put back on the magazine rack. The first issue of this new version of Gamepro hit the bookstores recently, and I picked it up a few days ago.
For anyone unfamiliar with the magazine's evolution lately, it's a taken a huge departure from its 5.0 HOT smiley face and PROTIP origins, both of which have long been staples of ironic hipster websites everywhere. For a long time it was kept alive for reasons no one really understood, even though no one I knew appeared to actually read it - it always seems like it was meant for kids, which I guess would answer my own question. A couple years ago it shifted gears and got a makeover into a more mature format. I liked the change in direction, and they employed writers whose works I admired, but at the same time never actually bought an issue - their cover stories were consistently about topics I had zero interest in, and each issue felt remarkably flimsy.
The new format is a bit beefier - it feels weightier with a total page count of 148. It retails for $9.99, but costwise that puts in the league of Brit mags like Edge and games(tm), both of which use heavier stock that looks and feels quite a bit nicer. All of read on the 'net so far are people complaining about the "148 pages of epic win!" tagline on the cover, which seems like a silly thing to get in a huff about.
In spite of initial impressions when holding it, it really is packed to the brim with content, with tons upon tons of features. A few pages are devoted to artwork for the upcoming Western-developed fighting game Skullgirls, the meanings of color and psychology (and how it affects games), a quick summary of the launch window games for the PlayStation Vita, a standard "best games in 2012" preview, a lengthy section called "Now Playing", where staff members casually discuss what's on their minds (probably the best holdver from the old format) and numerous others. A bunch are simply a page or two long, like the one that ponders why all video game heroes look the same, and another showing off obscure t-shirts of the writers. However, most features clock in at six-to-eight pages. The benefit of these short-but-sweet articles is that if one doesn't catch your fancy, just flip a few more pages and maybe you'll find something more suited to you. On some levels they might appear shallow, but for what they are, they work well.
For example, it's hard to explain much about the intricacies of Final Fantasy in a limited amount of space, but the primer does a reasonable job of sorting it all out for newbies. There's also a brief article about the history of Zelda, though it seems like every mag has one of those (Future Publishing put out a whole special issue devoted to it) so it doesn't stand out as much. The one explaining what the hell a MOBA is (that's basically the title of the article) that's also quite well done. (They're sorta like an RTS where you control a single player character and you help the other guys, who are controlled automatically.)
There's a lot of introductory-type stuff which hits more towards the mainstream than readers of this site would probably like, so it's not exactly Gamefan, but at the same time the writers have an obvious appreciation outside of the usual AAA blockbusters that's usually featured prominently in US game magazines.
I do have to take issue with the cover article, which ranks the top 50 fighting game characters of all time. There are some things which rub me slightly the wrong way - not so much that they picked characters from Super Smash Bros., so much as Marth, Pikachu and Link aren't really original fighting game characters. More annoyingly, its preface is meant to defuse any "where's my favorite character?" arguments, but its problem is much larger they that - they almost entirely ignored SNK's line of fighers. These aren't some fringe, obscure games either, they were one of the most popular developers in the 90s, and just because their properties haven't been kept alive in the same way that Capcom's have, doesn't mean they should've been ignored. I don't expect everyone to know how goddamned awesome Gato from Mark of the Wolves is, but where's Terry Bogard? Kyo Kusanagi? Iori Yagami? Geese Howard? Haohmaru? That's only scratching the surface of the huge array of iconic characters in SNK fighting games, and only one that even got a mention was Mai Shiranui under the "hottest gals" category. Why were the others passed over in favor of joke entries like "Red Guy" from Karate Champ, Meat from Mortal Kombat 4, and the midget from Thrill Kill, which was never even officially released? It's things like this which suggest that the people in charge of the list either weren't knowledgeable enough about the genre, or were otherwise pandering to a readership who they suspect wouldn't get the references. Given the quality and approach of the rest of the magazine, I'm going to lean towards the latter. But I've rambled on enough and leave any more bitching to the thread on the Neo-geo.com forums that's undoubtedly devoted to it.
SNK fanboyish aside, it really is a classy issue. The content is generally great, the layouts are classy and distinct (a huge step above Edge's recent awful redesign), and it's solid enough to be worth the $10, even if it does make me wistful for the days of 200+ page issues of Next Generation that cost half the price.