Get me that golden joystick! The miraculous return of GamesMaster | Television | The Guardian
I f you happen to be in your early 40s with a particular set of interests, no two words will strike fear into your heart like “GamesMaster revival”.Between 1992 and 1998, GamesMaster, a video game challenge and review show hosted by Dominik Diamond (and, briefly, Dexter Fletcher), was appointment viewing.It was smart, it was silly, it was pitched just high enough over the heads of its target audience to make it feel cool, and it tapped into the console boom like nothing before or since.So when E4 announced a GamesMaster remake earlier this year, the tired middle-aged men of the world collectively let out a prayer.Please Channel 4, don’t mess it up.
Reader, they did not.Miraculously, the new GamesMaster series has pulled off the near-impossible trick of modernising the show while retaining its core DNA.There are still game reviews and challenges, but all the faces are new.Patrick Moore – who in the original series played the titular sadistic, spherical cyborg – has been replaced by Sir Trevor McDonald, and in place of Dominik Diamond are three presenters; the comedy writer Rab Florence, the esports host Frankie Ward and the Instagram comedian Ty Logan.
It stands as a cruel indictment of time that Florence is the only one of the new presenters old enough to remember the original (and its coveted golden joystick trophy).And it turns out he didn’t even watch it that much.
Speaking over Zoom from his house, which is lined floor to ceiling with imported Japanese games, Florence explains the primary appeal of the 90s GamesMaster was always its host.“I paid more attention to GamesMaster in its later years when it was very much the Dominik Diamond show,” he says.
“I’m sorry, I was about four when the first series came out,” apologises Ward, eight months pregnant in a room kitted out with an intimidatingly expensive-looking microphone.“I remember it being around, but it wasn’t on at a time when I was actually in the house, because I was getting home from school.” Sensing my resentment, she adds, “But you know, Ty’s like 23 years old, so he’s the real common enemy here.”
GamesMaster marks Logan’s first proper presenting job and, even though he wasn’t even born when GamesMaster was last broadcast, his excitement is palpable.
“To be given such a big role, I don’t even think it’s sunk in yet.It’s still overwhelming.”
There have been other attempts at video game shows in the years between GamesMaster iterations, but none have really worked.The simple reason for this is that they relied too much on the games themselves.Under Diamond’s watch, however, GamesMaster became something of a benign dictatorship.
You watched it for the force of his personality.
And it’s this that has most successfully been preserved.The three new hosts all have their roles to play: Ward is the voice of authority, Logan provides the puppyish enthusiasm – but it’s Florence’s wry, knowing, slightly cynical presence that takes centre stage.During our chat, he also demonstrates paternal concern for his colleagues.Early on, Logan’s Zoom drops out, and Florence brings everything to a halt to coach him through it.They’ve only made three episodes together, but the affection is palpable.
Frankie Ward, Robert Florence and Ty Logan, the new GamesMaster presenters.Photograph: Channel 4 “We do have a good chemistry, and you cannot fake that,” says Florence.“We are all from completely different worlds as well.I’m from Scotland, Frankie’s from esports , Ty’s online doing all these things.”
“I’m from Scotland, she’s from esports,” Ward mockingly parrots back.
“Esports is a country, right?” replies Florence.
And it’s here that I overstep the mark.
The new GamesMaster is more magaziney than before, with reviews mixed with films that put gaming in a broader context.It’s a bit like Top Gear, I mention.As one, all three faces drop in abject horror.
Eventually, Florence (the Clarkson of the gang), tries to pick up the pieces.“I think the comparison matches because we are three odious personalities, just like the cast of Top Gear,” he says.
“No, I think we got lucky by ending up with three people who have really good chemistry.”
Although the hosts are apparently sworn to secrecy about the contents of each episode – “I don’t know why”, grumbles Florence, “it’s not a Marvel film” – it’s clear that the gaming world has changed beyond all recognition in the past 25 years.The contestants on the original GamesMaster were kids who had a Megadrive they played in their spare time by unhooking the aerial from the back of their TV.Now, esports is big business.Ward reveals that, after finishing work on the show, she flew to Romania for an esports event with a top prize of $18m.
If GamesMaster struggles at all, it’s in trying to reconcile the homespun charm of the original with the full-pelt commerce of the current landscape.
Perhaps the audience is being eased in gently, but two of the first challenges in the reboot are Super Mario and Mortal Kombat; franchises that are 36 and 29 years old respectively.Who is this new version aimed at, then – middle-aged nostalgists, or younger people used to the world of Twitch streams?
“We’re not competing with esports,” says Ward.“This is a much more accessible show, in the sense that it’s not just about one game.Some Twitch shows can be six hours long.
They’re a major time investment.You mentioned Top Gear earlier, and there is a magazine quality to it.You’re going to learn things.You’re probably going to see a video game you haven’t heard of and be like, ‘Ah, I need to get that because we’ve got people coming round at Christmas and I want to beat them.’”
A full season of the new GamesMaster hasn’t been confirmed, but it’s clear that all three hosts are champing at the bit to make more.
As we wrap up, Florence reveals that episode two contains a brand new game designed for the show by some children.As I pry, I become more and more reassured that the shonky spirit of GamesMaster remains undimmed.
“The game is terrible,” sighs Florence.“Don’t get excited.
“It’s got a really catchy theme tune,” offers Ward hopefully.
“No, that’s terrible, too,” argues Florence.
“It’s got bums in it,” says Ward.
“A lot of bums,” adds Logan excitedly.
“It’s got bums.It’s got cows.And it’s got bombs,” continues Ward.
Like I said, GamesMaster is going to be just fine.
GamesMaster returns on 24 November at 10pm on E4..