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ZZap64 Magazine

Updated on August 19, 2014
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Martin is an experienced software developer with a passion for retro machines and gaming.

ZZAP 64 - The Commodore Gamers Bible

ZZap 64 magazine was one of the most popular monthly magazines available covering the Commodore 64 and it's games.

Read and remembered by many it is a rich part of the history of the Commodore 64.

Like thousands of us - I read ZZap 64 every month. But, just as it was with sister magazine Crash magazine (also published by Newsfield), my story is a little different from most.

So let us look at one of the most important magazines for any 8-bit machine. After all, it is a bit of a Sizzler...

An Overview of ZZAP 64 Magazine

After the success of Crash - Newsfield realised that a similar magazine to cater for the popular Commodore 64 would do well.

Newsfield eventually catered for the C64, the ZX Spectrum and the Amstrad CPC464.

ZZAP was published from May 1985 until November of 1992.

Subsequent issues were named Commodore Force, but by this point, just like the ZX Spectrum, the C64 was in the twilight of it's life due to the 8-bit to 16-bit transition that was taking place.

The first issue (I was thirteen - I feel old!) reviewed notable games such as all time space trading classic Elite and slick and atmospheric mythical strategy The Lords of Midnight.

Elite ended up being rated with the ZZAP 'Gold Medal' award.

As far as I can remember - game were scored and marked out of 100%

Games that achieved a score of 90% - 94% were awarded a ZZAP Sizzler rating.

Anthing above 94% was given the presitious 'gold medal' award.

Just like 'Crash Smashes' software houses were desperate to receive either of these ratings from ZZAP as they knew it would greatly help the sales of their game.

The Famous ZZAP logo

ZZAP stood out from the crowd
ZZAP stood out from the crowd

Newsfield Publications

Newsfield published ZZAP 64 (along with dedicated Spectrum magazine Crash and Amstrad-tastic Amtix!).

Founded by Roger Kean, Franco Frey and illustrator Oliver Frey in 1983. Newsfield was based in 'sleepy' Ludlow in Shropshire, England.

Frey's superb artwork also featured heavily in the pages of ZZAP - and he and his work picked up a cult following within the ranks of 8-bit gamers.

Gary Penn and Julian Rignall became well known as the reviewers of games. Both had won their jobs after placing as finalists in a video game competition!

ZZAP Sizzler Logo

If you saw the Zzap Sizzle stamp you knew you were looking at a good game
If you saw the Zzap Sizzle stamp you knew you were looking at a good game

ZZAP Gold Medal Award Logo

If you saw the Zzap Gold Medal award you knew that this game was great!
If you saw the Zzap Gold Medal award you knew that this game was great!

Why I was so lucky (and my pal Paul!) with Zzap 64

I was so lucky when it came to ZZAP 64 magazine and all of the other Newsfield publications.

All of them were printed in my hometown before being sent out for distribution.

My dad (bless him) worked for the Royal Mail and had to go to the printers every week on a mail run. The print manager and my dad got on well so he used to give my dad a freshly printed copy of at first Crash, then each of the Newsfield prints as they were published (ZZAP was the second mag and Amtix the third).

At the very least I would have my brand new and pristine copy of ZZAP a good ten days before it hit the newsagents shelves.

Sometimes, depending on which day my dad was at the printers I would get a copy 'hot off the press' from the first batch printed.

There were definitely a few instances where I was the first person in the whole of the UK to read the brand new copy of ZZap etc. How lucky I was.

Break times at school were never the same again as a group of us huddled round a copy of our favourite magazine, getting a heads up on which games were worth getting hold of.

Whilst mere mortals had to wait for more than a week to see if the latest game from Ocean or Elite was any good, we already knew the score. Good times indeed.

Once I was finished with ZZAP I used to give it to my friend Paul.

He was a C64 gamer whilst I was a Spectrum games player. I always enjoyed reading ZZAP (almost as much as Crash!) and it was good to see how some games compared on different machines.

Zzap 64 Front Cover By Oliver Frey

The Front Cover To Zzap 64 From March 1986. Superb artwork from Oliver Frey
The Front Cover To Zzap 64 From March 1986. Superb artwork from Oliver Frey

The Last Ninja - C64

Mercenary - By Paul Wokes

Ballblazer on the Commodore 64

Zzap Sizzler or Gold Medal, both were worthy accolades

As ZZAP became more and more popular, software companies realised the influence it held over paying C64 gamers.

If you received a good score for a game in the magazine then generally more people would go and buy it.

Anything over an 80% rating was considered an essential purchase - and if your game hit the magical 90% mark then you were given the 'sizzler' moniker.

A few truly excellent games received the 'gold medal' award - and most of these are true classics in the C64 gaming archives.

Some notable games that received sizzler or gold medals include:

  • Armalyte - Thalamus' excellent shoot em up was awared an overall score of 97%
  • Elite - The all time classic was awared 97% - even at the high price of £14.95
  • Ballblazer - The fast paced arcade game was given a score of 98%
  • Merenary - Novagen's classic vector graphics game was scored at 97%
  • Morpheus - Hewsons' Uridium style arcade game was rated at 90%

All of these games were massive hits on the C64 (Mercenary is a notable classic game for the machine) and sold well.

Armalyte on the Commodore 64

Julian Rignall gives us the thumbs up

A caricature of Julian Rignall as it appeared in Zzap 64 Magazine
A caricature of Julian Rignall as it appeared in Zzap 64 Magazine

The legacy of ZZAP 64 Magazine

Many retro gamers and specifically C64 gamers remember ZZAP 64 with fondness.

Even now games that were rated as 'ZZAP Sizzlers' or 'Gold Medals' remain rooted in our memories.

A die hard 'ZX Spectrum man' like me can remember the likes of Armalyte, Uridium, Mercenary and The Last Ninja which goes to show just how influential these magazines were.

Forums on sites such as Lemon 64 make references to highly rated games within the hallowed pages of Zzap Magazine.

Names such as Gary Penn, Katie Hamza and Julian Rignall (who were members of the ZZAP reviewing team over the years) stick in the memory.

One great feature in ZZAP was the little drawing of each reviewer giving their thoughts on a game - sometimes with a 'thumbs up' pose on a great game, thumbs down on a not so good game and so on.

ZZAP 64 now exists online with many of the features from each issue included. Many of the Sizzlers and Gold Medal titles are there along with other highly rated classic games.

Of course in the early 1990s as the C64 scene faded away so did ZZAP - but many of us will remember the funny games reviews from those hallowed pages...

Re-live those sizzlin' ZZAP 64 memories at ZZAP 64 Online

Zzap 64 Served The Commodore 64

The Bullnose Commodore 64 was the machine for readers of Zzap 64
The Bullnose Commodore 64 was the machine for readers of Zzap 64

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