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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Best of Classic Game Room: 15th Anniversary Collection (Blu-ray)
The Best of Classic Game Room: 15th Anniversary Collection (Blu-ray)
Other // Unrated // Region Free
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Classicgameroom]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted May 12, 2015 | E-mail the Author

In 1999, Mark Bussler and David Crosson created Game Room, one of the first online shows of its kind...if not the first. Dedicated to reviewing a mixture of classic and then-contemporary games (from the Atari 2600 to the fledgling Sega Dreamcast), Game Room was shot on a shoestring budget by two enthusiastic friends who met in film school. Casual game reviews filled with sarcastic comments, a few bottles of beer, and bleeped-out swearing are a dime a dozen now (especially since YouTube's launch in 2005), but things were much different just six years earlier. Filmed mostly at night during their free time, Game Room produced roughly 80 episodes before its cancellation a year later....but it was fun while it lasted. Bussler and Crosson went their separate ways; the former stuck with filmmaking and directed a handful of documentaries, and a DVD release about the original series was released in 2007.

A year later, Bussler relaunched the show in 2008 as Classic Game Room HD. Early episodes were much more relaxed, technical, and information-heavy than the original Game Room, but seven years of documentary filmmaking will do that to you. In fact, Bussler had no intention of staying on as full time host, hoping to step behind the scenes instead...but he not only stuck it out for the long haul, he loosened up quite a bit and garnered a sizable audience in the process. The set design has changed a few times, Bussler's voice has become much more radio-friendly, and Classic Game Room now broadcasts from the Intergalactic Space Arcade...but the show's original enthusiasm for gaming remains largely intact. Bussler obviously enjoys his job and has gradually branched out into further areas of the review spectrum---toys, food, game accessories, even a U-Haul van---and, for the most part, his ever-growing fan base has followed him every step of the way. Uploading new content almost every day doesn't hurt, either.

Though most of the original Game Room episodes and newer videos are easily available on Bussler's YouTube channel (over 3,500 as of this review), you can't blame the guy for wanting to put out another collection of videos on disc. After numerous fan requests led to a 2014 Kickstarter campaign that was funded in less than two days, The Best of Classic Game Room: 15th Anniversary Collection (2015) was assembled. Like that 2007 DVD, there's something of a story wrapped around Bussler's favorite episodes---many of which were voted on by fans---and the entire production chugs along with a loose, organic structure. Clocking in at over 4.5 hours, there's absolutely no shortage of content on this Blu-ray (also available as a two-disc DVD set, as well as a limited edition laserdisc-sized package with both formats and the 2007 DVD), enough so that it's almost intimidating at first glance. Almost.

Several reviews like "Shenmue", "Super Metroid", and "Mark's Broken Game Boy Advance SP" are exclusive to this collection, as well as a handful of skits and the loosely connected sci-fi story that bookends a few segments along the way. Others are just good to see again, like a tribute to "Truxton" for the Sega Genesis and his backyard adventures with Star Wars action figures. Original Game Room partner-in-crime David Crosson even appears via Skype for a few retrospective chats with Bussler, as do a handful of those original 1999-2000 episodes.

I'll be honest, though: the way in which this content has just been lumped together occasionally works against it. Classic Game Room has always played best in bite-sized chunks, and I'd have been just as happy (if not more so) if the reviews and skits were broken into smaller categories instead of the more cumbersome "Play All" format here. Either way, digging through this material is still a lot of fun, and the addition of a feature-length audio commentary gives casual and established fans even more reason to support Bussler's continued efforts. A rundown of all the included content appears below, as well as a look at this Blu-ray's A/V presentation and bonus features.

Presented in its original 1.78:1 and 1.33:1 aspect ratios (depending on the age of the review), The Best of Classic Game Room plays as well as expected on Blu-ray. Newer content has been available in 720p and/or 1080p on YouTube for several years now and obviously doesn't suffer from as many compression issues when ported directly to disc. Generally speaking, the easiest observation is that this Blu-ray looks as good as its source material will allow: older clips and game footage, some recorded on Beta or transmitted via RF or composite cables, obviously show some native limitations (but at least the game footage retains its original aspect ratio, thankfully enough). The newer stuff, all digitally shot, looks progressively better and displays good image detail and a more natural color palette. Overall, I'm very pleased with how CGR has translated to Blu-ray, and I'd imagine this represents both a modest step up from online streaming and a more noticeable upgrade over the separately available DVD option.

NOTE: The screen captures and images featured in this review are decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p resolution.

Not surprisingly, the audio is limited to Dolby Digital 2.0 (presumably for disc space)...but despite the lack of a lossless mix, The Best of Classic Game Room sounds clean and crisp from start to finish. Obviously, some of the older material pales in comparison slightly, but there's a strong level of dynamic range and a good amount of channel separation. Dialogue is clear and rarely fights for attention with the music, game footage, and other background noise, while there are no glaring audio defects aside from a bit of clipping during the earlier reviews (again, this was most likely a source material issue). As a whole, it's also mixed a little louder than most discs. Unfortunately, unlike the 2007 Classic Game Room DVD, no optional English subtitles have been included during the main feature.

A pile of CGR goodies including the Blu-ray, DVD, a hardcover comic, artwork, and the Laserdisc-sized Collector's Edition (all sold separately).

The clean interface is smooth and easy to navigate with minimal pre-menu distractions...but there are only ten chapters for this 4.5 hour mountain of content, which means that you can't access specific reviews or segments without doing a little fast-forwarding (luckily, everything is clearly labeled). The disc also isn't authored like your typical Blu-ray: there's no pop-up menu and the "resume" feature is dependent on your player, which makes picking up where you left off kind of annoying. This one-disc release arrives in a standard keepcase and includes one insert. A partial content listing is printed on the back, and a more complete one has been repurposed earlier in this review.

Just one, but it's pretty substantial: we're treated to a feature-length Audio Commentary with director Mark Bussler, who's periodically joined by original CGR co-host David Crosson via phone (sometimes without warning). Not surprisingly, Bussler does a terrific job of keeping things lively and interesting during the bulk of this scene-specific 4.5 hour chat (which was presumably pieced together during multiple sessions), and there's no shortage of interesting retrospective comments about the show's production and the items under review. Recorded at the end of 2014, topics of interest include the Kickstarter campaign, filming "Future Mark", ignoring continuity, reviewing fan-submitted games, playing with toys in the backyard, tools of the trade (1999 vs. 2014), Internet street cred, technical details and the filming process, the cult of Dreamcast, CGR stock music, deviating into food reviews, fixing mistakes in post-production, independent vs. big-budget games, microphones 101, streaming vs. physical media and much more. Overall, this track provides a lot of added value and, at times, is more engaging than the main feature itself.

If you've been a fan of Classic Game Room for more than a few years, there's absolutely no reason why you wouldn't enjoy digging through this 15th Anniversary retrospective...but honestly, it's an even better value for newer fans who haven't seen most of Mark Bussler's videos on the official CGR website, YouTube, and elsewhere. The basic selling point here is a physical copy of Bussler's favorite material though the years...but of course, this Blu-ray's real objective is to financially support a guy who's been putting out loads of free content for more than a decade, so the the addition of a few exclusive videos, skits, and other fun stuff is just icing on the cake. All told, there's almost five hours of content here (closer to ten, counting the commentary) and it's all entertaining, while the Blu-ray's solid A/V presentation represents a modest upgrade from 1080p online streaming. Highly Recommended for casual and seasoned fans alike, but those completely new to Classic Game Room should test drive a few episodes first.

Need more CGR? Go inside Classic Game Room with an exclusive Mark Bussler Interview by yours truly!

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
Highly Recommended
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