Last Updated on September 21, 2023
GamesMaster, that most 90s of shows; The Word for people who were into Microsoft Word, presented by Dominik Diamond, a man who put the Gear into Game Gear. A show lost to time and perhaps, judging by recent efforts, recreation.
Like many, I grew up on this show, loving the enthusiasm for the culture while grasping at what I could of its throbbing maturity, as the series went on and the challenges became ever more bespoke. Over the past months, I have been going back through GamesMaster, remembering some old high points and catching up on the details of the classics.
Here’s my personal top five.
5. Virtua Fighter 3: Iron Man Challenge
Series Six of GamesMaster saw the show lighting the afterburners on entertainment and bringing out the big challenges, and they got no bigger than their one man vs. one hundred Virtua Fighter 3 challenge, an idea lifted wholesale from popular tournaments in Japan. Indeed the production even brought top Virtua Fighter player, Kyasao from Japan and set him off against Britain’s finest, his goal being to not lose more than ten of his hundred rounds.
At least that was the hype. In reality it was a litany of pre-pubescent school kids with a smattering of older, experienced tournament players brought in to apply some tension. Not exactly a like-for-like copy of the Tetsujin (Iron Men) tournament, but this episode-length challenge still displayed the most advanced of arcade games in a fashion that had never been seen in the U.K.
It didn’t matter that Kyasao showed no early sign of losing to ten opponents because it soon became clear that he might not lose a single bout. And that was the sort of tension that Dominik Diamond could shout about. Heck, even comedy villain sidekick Dave Perry was along for the fun on this one. They just had to keep up.
Twenty, forty and then over sixty opponents are glossed over and the tension builds as the production realises that Kyasao is going for that flawless one-hundred victories. Savvy to this possibility, they have a selection of Britain’s finest for the final ten, but no one could stop Kyasao and his control of ninja master, Kage.
As a wide-eyed fan of the Virtua Fighter series, I was stunned, and remain so. No fighter was as fast as Virtua Fighter, and Kyasao could play it twice as fast as anybody else. He took home the Golden Joystick while viewers picked their jaws from the floor.
Incredible, to quote the GamesMaster himself.
4. Bomberman II: Take That Celebrity Challenge
Winding back to Series Two of GamesMaster and celebrities were already lining up to appear for the chance to be nationally embarrassed and perhaps walk away with a Golden Joystick. The quality of these challenges could vary as much as the celebrities’ ability to play the game at hand, but at their best they could be an absolute joy.
Take That were, as far as my senses could make out, a complete travesty to music, even at the popular end. But that didn’t matter, because as those five boys shuffled down the stairs to meet Dominik it was clear that they were up for anything. Probably the sort of attitude which got them into the business in the first place, and it did them well here as they went up against each other in a five-player round of Bomberman II. A short round as it turned out, which went a little something like this; one of the two members that everybody knew, Gary, promptly blew himself up and was left only with his hairstyle.
One of the unknown boys, I think his name might be Harold, followed suit shortly after. It was becoming clear that this was a scrap to the finish and soon enough one of the other unknown boys who wasn’t Harold blew himself everywhere.
We were down to Robbie and the rent boy-looking one. They indulge in a little chase-me, catch-you until Robbie has the rent boy trapped in a bomb sandwich and scuttles off across the screen in victory, while the bombs go kaboom on the challenge.
You really cannot beat Bomberman for multiplayer mayhem and Take That were fully up for that. The best thing they ever did. Well done Robbie.
3. PaRappa the Rapper: Kaleef Celebrity Challenge
Heading into Series Seven now, and right towards the end of GamesMaster as we knew it was another uproarious celebrity challenge featuring DJ Oddball and Mush of urban band/thing, Kaleef, and cultural hit/thing PaRappa the Rapper. Not a game I particularly enjoyed, but that doesn’t stop this.
And although brightly coloured and entirely elasticated at the waistband by this point, sometimes you couldn’t hold GamesMaster back from a well-fitting celebrity challenge. They even threw in a novelty control; a giant-sized PlayStation pad that both boys can get around for some two-way grapple-rapping.
The boys are up for it, Dominik is up for it, and co-commentator Kirk Ewing has a massive Pa Rappa head-on. So it goes, after an iffy start the Kaleef boys get their rhythm down while commentary gets loud. By the time they finish the round, the pair appear to have the patter of the game down, and everyone else dancing.
A fitting display of the social qualities of the game and a joyful nugget of a challenge.
2. Virtua Cop 2: Martin Mathers
Back in Series Five, Martin Mathers played through the entirety of the original Virtua Cop without dropping a single life. Brilliant stuff that would have taken this position, but for his returning challenge on the arcade sequel in series six.
He wouldn’t win, but playing the entire first scene of two Virtua Cop 2 coin munchers simultaneously was one heck of an upgrade, and by golly, the boy almost went and did it!
Picking out the delay between the machines, Martin didn’t just go about getting the shots in and hoping for the best, he was accurate between one screen and then again on the other, then back again. Back and forth. He even picked out a few of the minor background crime dogs who don’t even register as a threat. Both Dominik and co-commentator Dave Perry are stunned. I was stunned back when I watched it. Eyes on stalks. Bang, bang, back and forth.
When Dave Perry announces that there are just a few bad slags left to slug it all seems done but for the final detail, which in this case turns out to be a fleeing hostage whom Martin shoots, ending his game and giving Dominik the excuse that the hostage just looked too much like Peter Andre. He had to do what he had to do.
Fair Doos. Not a winner but still an absolute champion.
1. Athlete Kings: John Regis and Tony Jarrett Celebrity Episode
I am holding to Series Six for my closer, and holding to the opinion that this might just be the most effervescent piece of television that I have ever seen. A whole episode dedicated to one challenge on the button-bright Saturn classic, Athlete Kings. It was a good game that, all big bold brights and button bashing.
And athletic champs John and Tony were as bright as the game. Right off the bat, the chemistry rings sweet between them and Dominik. Then, when co-commentator Rik Henderson earmarks his position as court jester, we are into the game and witnessing a handicap between John and Tony. One of these men (John) can play this game and one of them can’t and is called Tony. It matters not a jot though, because nothing can surmount the charisma of this episode. From the efforts of the athletes as they go from 100 metres and on through three more of the Decathlete events on which this game is based, the joie-de-production is palpable.
This was pique sweetness from a series that would soon over-ripen into internal spoils, and then a last series which came across like an awkward goodbye.
John is a writer and gardener. He comes with various 90’s Sega attachments and is the author of The Meifod Claw and other works. His favorite tree is a copper beech and he would like his coffee black without sugar, thank you.