Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts


 

 

Nintendo Power


Even though I've (Sort of) touched on gaming magazines in the past (as in a long time ago), there's really no better subject nor better timing to embark on a memory fragment in the back of my pop-culture-riddled mind that's always been there and that I've, quite honestly, had been kind of avoiding.

Yes, I sort of went over Nintendo Power and gaming magazines about two and a half years ago, but hey...most likely you're new and didn't read that or you're old and don' remember it. Either way, as a brief summation, Nintendo Power is as much a part of my childhood as Nintendo itself. It was associated with Nintendo, and anything that was associated with Nintendo was automatically "radical" and "awesome."

Nintendo Power, though, wasn't just a gaming magazine. Actually, it was just a promotional tool used by Nintendo. They owned and operated every part of that thing, put spins on even bad games and always had this false sense of community and togetherness they trumpeted...but really it was just a very rich and powerful company being smart and saying so.

We were kids. We bought it. 

But even though its intentions were on the same level of a large billboard or poster, it came at a time when that was all pretty damn new. Promoting videogames? More like crusading for videogames and showing that there were more than just my friends and myself that loved everything Nintendo. In a way, Nintendo Power was the gamer's bible. Now the magazine is coming to an end.

 

 

I was, I think, in the third grade when Nintendo Power unleashed its first issue. It's hard to remember exactly, but what I do remember is putting that first issue, the one above with the discolored Mario, and sticking it into my backpack. I know I had read that issue plenty of times before, but it was something that I couldn't put down. It was "cool." 

When I got to class, I sat where I always sat in pretty much every classroom I had ever been in or ever would be in - middle. Never too far front, the teacher tended to call on those student plus she could see what you were doing all the time, and never too far back, because that's where the troublemakers would usually sit. Or, at least I assumed that's what the teacher thought, and I didn't want her to assume I'm some asshole from choosing to sit in back.

At some point during that day, I pulled out the magazine. Pulling out something that said "Nintendo" around a group of kids in 1988 is like pulling out a picture of Edward Cullen at a Twilight Convention today. Everybody...ok not "everybody" because it was pretty much just the male kids...turned their heads and we all started looking through it.  It was all wide-eyed and mouth-agape in a semi-circle around my desk.

Nobody else had a subscription to this magazine. Only I did. For a brief moment, I felt like a king.

For the rest of that school year, I continually brought in magazines. I enjoyed drawing as well, so I would also draw things (art/covers/comics) that were in the magazine and actually sell them to my friends. Twenty-five cents a piece. You can tape it to the back of your trapper keeper or clipboard or hang it up in your room. I made about ten bucks or so doing that, not a bad sum for just a few months when I was eight.

Somehow my teacher found out about my little "business" and put a stop to it. Sorry if I was entrepreneurial, Ms. Kirk. Just thinking outside the box.

 

 

  

As a kid, the first thing that struck me were the covers. Even the awfully bad ones (like that Ninja Gaiden one above). We only saw these games through the box art and through little sprites on a television. Here, we saw them in full color glory as each cover was full of things that "popped" out to you. Fantasy art, live-action versions of games and photographs, crazy designs. It was a new way to see our favorite games. Truth is, I think the covers were by far my favorite part of Nintendo Power.

Because it was more a promotional tool than a "gaming magazine" as we would associate the likes of a Gamepro or Electronic Gaming Monthly with in later years, they also crammed in tons of promotional materials. Posters, trading cards, send offs for strategy guides and, later, VHS videos and things you could send off for just by being a subscriber were like miniature version of Christmas. 

"Oh, the new Nintendo Power has arrived! Let's flip through it first and see what free shit we can get!"

Everybody loved those posters. They weren't even that big of posters, but the fact is you got a brand new one every single issue and it was, again, "cool" (or at least "rad" ...I never figured out the heirarchy of 80s slang). That's 12 awesome posters a year! And I read Nintendo Power for years.

Of course, they made them hard-as-hell to get out. As a kid, you didn't consider things like a "staple remover." You just pried at the staples holding the poster in, get them as much into a 90 degree angle as you could and slowly pull the poster through so as not to tear it.

I always teared it. I remember I was pulling out a poster one time, and the whole thing just ripped through the center. I was pissed. I mean, nine/ten-year-old-rage pissed. I took the poster, ripped it out completely, yelled, shredded it with my hands, took all the small pieces, crumpled them up, yelled again with curse-words under my breath, ran into the kitchen, crumbled them further into a ball and threw it with ferocity into the trash. An impressive physical feat for an asthmatic if I do say so myself.

The funny thing is I can't even recall what was on the poster. I just remember the rage and how I swore to never again try to pull out a poster from Nintendo Power.

Of course I did. Kids never do what they "swear" they're going to do. 

 

 

Oh Jeff. Jeff Benson. Jeff is 15, likes skateboarding and rock 'n' roll and really enjoys dressing like a cast member from Saved by the Bell. Does anything scream Nintendo "hipness" more than this advertisement for Nintendo Power? Sometimes, Nintendo was damn guilty of just trying too hard. 

 

Eventually, you got to the meat-and-potatoes of the magazine. Once you double-checked for all the free stuff and failed to pull out a poster, it was time to get down to it. Now, as I learned much later, there's nothing necessarily "informative" about Nintendo Power. No matter how bad or awful a game was...Nintendo Power wasn't going to speak ill of it. It was just there to bring anything and everything to your attention. Nor was the magazine really full of "feature" articles - things like interviews or going into the detail over the development of a game. It knew its audience. Nintendo of America knew their audience. They knew no kid would care about the development process of some game in Japan, though we certainly liked the little "teases" about an "upcoming awesome game" that's for sure.

It did this best with the various "lists" it had, I found. There were always the monthly "top games" list that went over the most popular games for the system - later expanded to systems as the Super Nintendo and Gameboy were released. As a kid, we pretty much judged whether or not we wanted to play something based on two things: Screenshots and the Title. Nothing else mattered, and the "top games" list was just that: A few screenshots and titles. 

Then you got down to the big things: the guides. All the things you ever wanted to know, new every month, in full-color glory. I mean, if there's anything that Nintendo Power did 100% unabashedly right, it was the maps and guides. Just gorgeous, sometimes even pulling-out to expand and show the levels. Plus, out of all the things in the magazine, it was this that was probably the most useful and made it worth the subscription price. Nothing else really was worth your time (now looking at it in hindsight) but the guides...this was what defined Nintendo Power. I mean, just look at these first few pages of a multi-page guide:

 

 

 Click to Enlage...and experience awesome. How would these first few pages NOT get a kid excited? They could look through a game they haven't even played yet. It was like an early-version of a free video demo.

 

Out of all those pull-out maps and lengthy guides, though, I actually preferred the smaller, easier digestible Counselor's Corner: brief tips and tricks that went over common questions gamers had. Someone would write in a question, well...actually I don't think it was every actually someone writing in, it's probably just questions the editors got a lot and they put them in the section and give a brief response.

That kind of interaction was readily apparent too. You could, if you so desired, write letters to Nintendo Power. I think I wrote some, but none ever got published in the front of the magazine with all the others. I always felt those letters weren't nearly as worthwhile than mine, when I asked compelling questions like "How does Princess Toadstool float?" and "If Bowser is the dad, who is the mom? Is it Princess Toadstool?" and "How did Princess Toadstool become a princess..."

Hmmm...apparently I had a crush on Princess Toadstool, now that I think about it. Strange, I always figured I was more the Princess Zelda type thanks to the (awful) cartoon...but before that aired I think it was Toadstool. What's even stranger is I remember asking those questions in a letter.

...I was nine or ten. Lay off. I had a thing for Gadget from Rescue Rangers too.

After that, it was usually on to the comics. Nester was the official Nintendo Power mascot (get it..."NES"ter?) and he had his own comic strip. I didn't hate the Nester comics, but I wasn't a huge fan either. As expected, I was a far bigger fan of the comics based on the games, the big one that was in the issues being the Metroid comic. There was a Zelda one too, spanning 12 issues and later published as a seperate Zelda comic that I wrote about here

 

Full of Nintendo game references and snarky attitudes. "Humor" wasn't always on the menu, though, but at least it gave Nintendo Power variety.

 

Nintendo was good at that "promotions within promotions" thing. Sure, we were subscribed to Nintendo Power, but you can also buy and get other things on top of that, as mentioned earlier with the "free shit" giveaways. The most memorable ones to me actually came in the 90s, towards the tail end of when I was really into Nintendo Power. The Super Nintendo was really at the height of its popularity, but it was also at a plateau. Sega was chugging along, now over their "attach life support to the Genesis" stuff with the Sega CD and 32X, and began promoting the new Sega Saturn. That same year, 1994, Nintendo was working on a "secret project" with Rare. Turns out that project was damn big.

 

Thought that Jeff Benson advert above screamed "1990s?" You haven't seen anything yet...

 

This. Was. Amazing. I think this was the first VHS tape that Nintendo Power sent out to promote their games to subscribers. Boy, did it ever work. Other VHS tapes would come as well, the only other big one I remember vividly being the one about the Nintendo 64 and Mario 64. That had as much hoopla as the Donkey Kong Country video, and Nintendo was riding high.

At least, that's how Nintendo Power always presented it. The spin with the magazine was that Nintendo was always number one. No matter what.

Through three generations of Nintendo console cycles, I stayed hooked on Nintendo power. From the first issue all the way through the Nintendo 64 and the promotional videos I received. It was probably about 1996 or 1997 where I just stopped reading. I was older, the way they wrote and the way they covered games simply didn't appeal to me anymore. It was written for a younger readership, and by the time I was 16, no longer exclusively a gamer of Nintendo systems and getting into things like music and film and books alongside games, I wasn't as in-tune with what Nintendo Power was attempting to do.

I think, like a lot of readers of my generation, it kind of just "faded away." At some point and at some time, I surely made a conscious decision to not renew the subscription. I remember getting those "covers" on the Nintendo Power, though. "Renew now!" it would say.

That made me feel like shit.  Here's this magazine I read for years, that I grew up with, and it was practically begging me not to say goodbye. It wasn't the "cool" and "radical" renewal covers either...not like the ones you got like this one:

 

Shit, 1990s...can you try and not yell at me to "Radicalize?"

 

No, it was the kind that, if I recall, kind of enjoyed making you feel bad. Like you're missing out. Do you really want to say goodbye to your friends? Do you really want to treat them like Simon Belmont treated Dracula on the cover of Nintendo Power that got all the parents upset?

 

Nothing says "for kids!" like severed heads on the front of a magazine.

 

Yes, I did. I had to. Nintendo Power wasn't for me, but it was very much a part of me. Once I said goodbye to it and, later on, a few other magazines I read continuously, and the internet actually began to become a "thing," Nintendo Power just became like a lot of my childhood: a memory. An integral one, but just a memory nonetheless.

The magazine ending its run isn't something I'm overly saddened over. It's been fairly irrelevant me for 15 years and I said my farewells long ago, much as I said farewell to much of my love of gaming long ago and have turned into a bitter 32 year-old-man. But, the thought of Nintendo Power still remains. It's something of fondness I recall during that time when Nintendo was king of everything and a driving, prominent voice in my life, like the first time I powered on my NES or saw The Wizard in theaters. 

Perhaps the ending of Nintendo Power isn't so much a sad realization that some magazine is ending, but that, really, one of the last thing that has sustained itself for decades, stretching from 1988 from my childhood to today is ending and holding on to those old value of "Everything is Great!" is ending. It's not so much saying goodbye to it, as much as it is a bitter confirmation that those older, simpler times when we waited in palm-sweating anticipation to get out of school and check the mailbox and got excited over magazines in the mail as though it were Santa Claus himself leaving gifts every month are forever gone.

 

I liken it to Christmas because it really was a present waiting to be opened, now that I think about it. Once in a while, this guy would show up...and he's kind of olf like Santa Claus, right?

 

I'm willing to bet that Nintendo Power was the first magazine subscription a lot of kids had. I know it was mine. It was like a special gift every month. What was inside? What will happen next in the comic? Did my letter make it in this issue? What games are at the top of the charts? How do I beat that boss? All pressing questions for a pre-teen kid. Nintendo Power was a trip into our own world, what we loved and enjoyed, once a month. It was a celebration of what we loved. Sure, it might have just been a huge marketing surge, but it did a lot of good too.

It made us feel accepted. It helped us read. It got us off the television and reading stories. Hell, I think the comics in Nintendo were even the first actual comics I read that weren't the Sunday comic strips and weren't "children's books" assigned by a teacher, and that probably got me to read comics come a few years later and, eventually, books and literature by junior high school. Hell, it even got me to pick up a pen and write a damn letter to figure out how to beat Judge Doom at the end of Who Framed Roger Rabbit on the NES. I even got a letter back...and even though I still couldn't defeat him, the fact is I wrote someone well before we did pen-pal assignments in elementary school to actually learn how to write a letter in the first place.

It's not the magazine I'll miss, it was how it impacted by early life as a whole. It was also the routine of it all and the entire process of getting it, opening it, reading through it for days, over and over again because it was fun and related to something fun that I enjoyed and actually (believe it or not parents out there) it was a great educational tool and most of us probably didn't even realize it at the time. It's also the sensation of just being excited about getting something in the mail. It's like when a smoker (and I being a former smoker identify with this as well) says it's not so much the nicotine or cigarettes that are hard to quit, it's the "process" of smoking. The routine. The mannerisms and sensation of having one. To a kid, Nintendo Power was like that, but as an adult, we never quite find the same sensation to fill that void.


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