After a painfully long absence from our screens, GamesMaster returns to UK TV screens with a brand new series. The revival features Reviews, Challenges, a new presenting team, and a new GamesMaster in the form of veteran news reader Sir Trevor McDonald. I shan’t lie to you, dear reader; the original GamesMaster program was one of my favourite programs growing up. Goodness, had it not been for that show I might not even be here writing on this very site!
A return to the television has long been teased but never materialised. And with the magazine that span off from the show it dying in November 2018, I worried any hopes of the show returning died with it. And yet here we are, with a program this is a perfect continuation of the original. However it isn’t without a few rough edges here and there.
GamesMaster will broadcast on E4 in the UK Wednesdays from 10pm, the first episode is currently on the E4 YouTube channel.
STORY – ERR…
Being a light entertainment/game show, GamesMaster doesn’t have a story; it’s a show where people play videogames with the odd review thrown in. However that isn’t to say that there isn’t a script that can’t be scrutinised. The episode starts off with a short monologue about how long it has been since the original show started and how long it has been since it was last on the air. Something that feels in tone with the original without making itself feel too self aggrandising; it really sells the tone of the whole program. It also gives a tip in the cap to the original.
As said in my intro, this is a show I loved growing up. And it is obvious that this revived series is one that comes from a place of passion. There is no denying that the creative forces work on this program all have a love for the original. The execution of this version gives it a feeling of being very much made by and for the fans.
HERE FOR A GOOD TIME…
Of course passion alone isn’t good enough to make something work. You need the skills to pay the bills, as the saying goes. This version of GamesMaster is near perfectly executed on almost every level. It all works to create a show that both feels like a continuation of the original and feels like it fits perfectly in the modern world. The duration of the run time left me with a massive smile from ear to ear, and when finished made me hunger for more joystick-waggling fun.
However, if we are to address the elephant in the room, this revived season is only going to be three episodes long. So whilst I enjoyed this week’s episode, there are some aspects of it which, when coupled with the short length of this season, sadly gives the program a feeling akin to it being an extended pilot rather than a fully realised entity. It is testing the waters; seeing what works and trying out features that don’t feel fully completed at times.
I do hope that that is the case, as beyond the nostalgia this is a damn good program. And I really want to see this taken into a longer season with a few bits trimmed here and there. But more on that in a moment or two.
CHARACTERS & PERFORMANCES – A NEW MASTER
So much about what made the original GamesMaster work was the presenting skills of Dominick Diamond. His presentation style felt like a British gaming mag’ had been brought to life with a child’s wish and granted a Scottish accent. He was just so interwoven with the program that he was irreplaceable (seriously, they tried; it was terrible). So it was always going to be a mammoth task to find someone to replace him who fit they style of the program without just being a carbon copy. And for the most part I feel that they have succeeded.
For this revived series we get a team of talented and skilled presenters to lead events: Robert Florence, Frankie Ward, and Ty Logan. I have to say that together they do a damned fine job. They all bring something different to the show. They give it a dynamism and flare that could have been lost had it just been a one-man band kind of deal. Sure, they are still new to their position in the program and trying to find their voice, but so far so good.
However as much as I enjoy GamesMaster’s team, I do feel that Ty and Frankie aren’t really utilised all that much. They are barely in the thing; only really acting as commentators during some challenges and in some of the side features. Which is a shame as I think they are both great fun; they just don’t really get a whole lot of screen time to show what they can do.
There is no denying that Sir Trevor McDonald is an inspired choice for the new GamesMaster. And goodness I’m not the only one that thinks that! He brings the same kind tone and presence to the role that Sir Patrick Moore did. However I do feel the material written for him needs a little tweaking here and there. The humour of the original GamesMaster character was a little more cheeky and playful. Here it feels a little more deadpan, which I’m not sure really fits McDonald’s performance or not.
Overall I feel that any issue I have with any performances, or even the show itself, is stuff that can be easily tweaked in the fullness of time. This first episode has a feeling of ‘First night nerves’ which is understandable; this is the first episode back of a show that hasn’t been on TV since the late 90’s in a subgenera of television that hasn’t existed on air since the early to mid 00’s. This version of the show has a world of promise and potential; it just needs a little more refining.
CINEMATOGRAPHY & PACING – FEATURE PERFECT
Running at close to forty-five minutes in length, GamesMaster is stuffed full of content. I’m honestly shocked by how much there actually was in it, and yet the program never felt like it was dragging or going on too long. It was near perfectly paced with a fist full of challenges and some neat features thrown in. Granted, structurally this version takes a lot from the original and gives it a more modern coat of paint. Even if there have been some features which are sadly lost to time, such as the Cheats section.
The Challenges make a triumphant return. Challenges are where one or more members of the public are given a task to complete a videogame-based challenge to certain requirements to win a Golden Joystick. Or alternatively it will be a Celebrity Challenge, which this time featured BBC Radio 1 Xtra’s Snoochie Shy facing off against Little Lad Larry, the son of show favourite Big Boy Barry; a surprise appearance that only made me feel very, very old. But if someone fails their task, they are thrown into the Abyss (in a totally convincing visual effect).
The Challenges are great fun to watch in themselves. However the thing that did stick out to me is that almost all of those taking part were all professional gamers in some form; they are either people working in the industry, eSports people, or are world record holders. Now I’d never begrudge anyone from going onto a show they love to do something they love, but I do wish that there were a few more Average Joe and Jane gamers than people that does this kind of thing for a living.
And on a side note, there is a part of me that did wish they did retro challenges; trying to do X or Y in an older game would have been cool to see. Especially if it was someone from the original show getting a second crack at a challenge that they failed. I know that might not fit the vibe of what they are trying to do today but I think It’d be a neat thing to see.
I was honestly not expecting to see the Review section returning to the show, especially given the landscape of media we live in today. This episode would have been recorded weeks, if not months in advance, so it would be next to impossible to have reviews of recent and upcoming titles. Or at least not without doing what the old show did, where the reviews were done by staff from the GamesMaster magazine as well as other gaming magazines in the UK at the time, closer to the episode’s airing.
In this new incarnation of GamesMaster, we don’t get that. The one proper review in the episode is done by Robert, and whilst it is fine for what it is, it feels like it lacks focus compared to other features in the program. I sadly feel that it goes on a little too long and almost meanders at points. I like the framing device for the review, and Robert’s delivery is fantastic. However in the time spent on it, there could have been two or even three quick reviews that were more focused and with a far less vague scoring system.
SCRATCH THAT REVERSE IT
A new feature in the program is Colleagues. This is another review section that’s, to be blunt, just fine. I mean it has the feel of almost any given YouTube Let’s Play and Review show of the late 2000’s to early 2010’s. As such, it’s weirdly cute in a way that feels a little too out of step with the overall feel of GamesMaster and a tad unprofessional in a bad way. There is also Educating Gardo, which features Robert teaching professional wrestler Gardo about technical terminology in videogames. Whilst I honestly found it rather interesting and funny, I dare say that some might have found it boring.
All these are features are perfectly serviceable; hell, I can’t even say they are bad! But given their execution and how they sit in the show’s structure, it only furthers this feeling of episode and series being an extended pilot; there is a lot of throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. And if that is the case, then it’s fine to try it here and now. Should the show be turned into a full series, then the Review section, Collages, and Educating Gardo are the ones I’d be tweaking or cutting outright to make this show a far tighter and more fine-tuned machine.
EDITING & SOUND – A NEW ERA
After a pre-title preview of what is coming up, GamesMaster begins with an opening sequence that is a throwback to its very first. The intro music has been updated, remixed, and given a dubstep flare (despite dubstep not being culturally relevant since 2012…) and the wireframe effect of the set being rendered feels a little slick for my liking, I won’t lie. But when I saw it happening before my eyes, I was on cloud nine. It was just like being a kid again and I just love every moment of it.
The intro is a perfect fusion of the old and the new, as much of the main show itself is. I will grant you, however, that I would have liked the intro to be a little more game-like in sounds and had a little more Gothic tones to it, like the version it was referencing. Though it is still the best kind of fan service in my books. Beyond anything else, the show has always tried to reinvent itself with every passing season, with new intros and variations of them. So this is just another evolution of that—and for my money, it works!
The episode itself is tightly edited and helps to maintain a steady pace throughout. The main area I was worried about in that regard was how the challenges would be presented; a balance needed to be met which made sure it wasn’t too much like just watching a livestream or that it was too ‘TV friendly’ with more crowd reactions than gameplay footage. For the most part they get the balance right.
Granted when some of the gorier moments do come along in the featured games, they do seem to pull the camera back as far they can to stop showing any of it. Which does kind of defeat the point of showing said games in the first place; if you are going to show Mortal Kombat 11, then show us the blood and guts! Otherwise don’t bother showing the game at all. I mean if nothing else it’ll help secure an earlier time slot, which itself would help the viewing figures.
Still, of all the issues I have with GamesMaster that is the least of them. And when everything is said and done, any of the issues I do have with the program overall are minor. They are ones that can easily be altered in time and come from the point of view of a massive fan of the program. In all likelihood, these things won’t bother you in the slightest.
(This article features videos by E4.)