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Retro Magazine RoundUp: Nintendo Power

There are few things that can take me back in time faster than an old magazine. From the ads, to the photos and the outdated article topics, magazines are a true time capsule of years gone by. In this new series, I'll be exploring the retro magic to be found on periodical pages from the 80s and 90s. What better magazine to start with than Nintendo Power!

By 1988, the Nintendo Entertainment System was by far the most popular "toy" in North America. Everyone was obsessed with this little gray box of fun, from kindergartners like myself to college students like my older brother. There we are pictured above playing Super Mario Bros for the first time. With so many 8-bit adventures taking up our free time, we needed help to figure out their secrets and the official Nintendo magazine was our go-to source. 

I'll never forget seeing that first issue announcing the release of Super Mario Bros 2 in all its clay-sculpted glory at a neighbor's house and quickly deciding I had to have at least one to call my own someday. I briefly had a subscription in the early 90s, but those issues have unfortunately been lost to the ages. Luckily I recently grabbed this random issue from 1990 and while I had no interest in the Maniac Mansion game on the cover (though I hear it's great) the nostalgic treasures within were priceless.

First off, let me just mention the magazine's mascot, Nester. Get it, NESter? This little punk popped up throughout the magazine, but I especially enjoyed him as the co-headliner of Howard and Nester comics. Howard was a real life Nintendo employee who that acted as the fun adult face of the company through the Nintendo Fun Club newsletter that preceded Nintendo Power. The adventure in this issue was kind of boring, doing a secret agent parody of a game called Golgo 13, that I am only vaguely aware of, but when they entered the world of Mega Man or Zelda, I was always excited.

During this resurgence of home console gaming, it seemed like there was still a residual early 80s arcade gaming mentality in wanting to win acclaim by breaking High Score records. Barely able to get to the 3rd stage of most games, I personally never paid any attention to the points awarded for stomping Goombas and I honestly didn't even know you were earning points in the Batman game while hurling batarangs. To me it was just about "Beating Every Level", which I never did on any game. Still, kudos to these overachievers.

Nintendo Power was first and foremost a strategy guide for upcoming games and the most famous feature were its maps of levels. In this case we have a look at the first two levels of Rollergames, which was technically based on the Roller Derby revival TV show of the same name. The wild athletes on that show both fascinated and terrified me, but the guys in this artwork look like junior high science teachers as opposed to rough and rowdy roller skaters.

Anyway, it can't be overstated how awesome it was to be able to see an entire level laid out in front of you and then be told what kind of traps or enemies you would encounter along the way. With this knowledge we could actually strategize, rather than just react to a bomb blowing us out of our skates by chucking a controller across the living room. Pages such as this really felt like being given a holy vision by the video game gods.

In addition to maps, these video game wizards also hooked us up with "secret codes" programmed into the games. I remember being very suspicious of playground rumors of the "Justin Bailey" code for Metroid, but if it was printed in Nintendo Power, I had proof it was legit. Here we find out you could get points on Tetris before the game even started. Again, I didn't care about high scores, but if I could impress my friends with a little video game magic they didn't know about, I felt like a regular Blaster Master.

You know how every kid dreamed of growing up and getting paid to play video games? These guys were to blame. Keep livin' the dream, Jeff Waite and kudos for your commitment to that mustache. I always assumed that Game Play Counselors figured out the secrets and strategies of 3rd party Nintendo games and then sold them to Nintendo Power for thousands of dollars. 

In reality they probably just got a free lunch, but the publishers fed our fanciful dreams anyway by giving kids the chance to be unpaid "Special Agents" who could send in our own uncovered secrets in the video game realm. While all of us probably looked like Mike Frazier, none of us were going to get to Hans Lo levels. I mean, how cool is that name? And he claims to have beaten Ninja Gaiden II with his eyes closed!

Another feature of the magazine were actual game reviews and in this case we have a review of the A Nightmare on Elm Street game by LJN. I always thought it was strange that Jason Voorhees got a game and Freddy Krueger didn't, but it turns out I was just unaware of its existence until this year. It's unique to note that this was potentially a 4 player game and obviously very inspired by the 3rd entry in the series, Dream Warriors. This is before Freddy donned the Power Glove for a joke in Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare against Nintendo's wishes, but wouldn't it have been cool to make the game compatible?

Also, they had several pages devoted to the then new Game Boy system that had taken the handheld market by storm the year before. The fact that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan is front and center really gets me excited, because that was the first game I bought for the Game Boy, aside from the Tetris pack-in. Speaking of our heroes in the half-shell...

I want to give a special shout out to the artwork in this magazine. It's at once cheap and charming. For example, this preview of TMNT II: The Arcade Game contains a charming drawing of Raphael which appears to be an 8th grade art project. Wait a minute, that's not Raph, he's holding katanas! The lack of quality control is an endearing error that reminds me how in their infancy Nintendo were at this point. This next piece is also quite special. 

At first glance this serene image looks like it belongs in an issue of Highlights magazine as opposed to a video game insider mag, but stop and really take a look at what's going on here. From the window we can see a child is running out to catch the school bus, having left her game of Bubble Bobble on Pause. Meanwhile the Mother is reaching for the NES controller, while a very interested cat looks on. I am positive this maternal and feline duo are about to team up for their daily game of Contra, trying to beat it without the Konami code. But you know that cat is totally stealing lives from the Mom after his run out. Now you know how the 9 lives rumor got started.

Let's not forget that Nintendo Power was also a hype machine for Nintendo, so there are a quite a few pages of gamer gossip like this announcement of the Super FamiCom being released in Japan with a new Super Mario Game featuring 16 bit graphics (whoa). "There's still no word when a system like Super FamiCom will be released in the United States...". It was sentences like these that made so many American kid's imagine all of the amazing video game magic being held captive in the land of the rising sun. I was always so jealous of Japanese kids for this reason.

This misleading headline makes me long for a world where The Punisher jumped into the phone booth with the boys from Wyld Stallyns, dispensing his lethal brand of vigilante justice throughout various points of ancient history. I mean it totally reads like they're talking about a single game, right? I also enjoy the brief mention of the Bill & Ted cartoon series and the original title of their sequel film "Bill & Ted's Most Excellent Adventure". I guess the Bogus Journey element of going to Hell hadn't yet been added to the script.

One more item I just had to include was this blurb about a New Kids On The Block video game, which never came to be. I was a major NKOTB fan at this time and would have totally preferred to have this on store shelves to feed my fandom, rather than the shame of buying one of the dolls, like I eventually did. Apparently this prototype box was sent to Nintendo Power in order to prompt the announcement and sold on eBay in 2009 for $589. I have not found any evidence of ROM anywhere, so it looks like this is as far as it got. Still, that's crazy.

There was plenty of Nintendo merchandise that did hit shelves though and I love seeing the licensed products they came up with. A Super Mario Bros 3 electric toothbrush was definitely an exotic item to me as a kid and I always loved novelty character phones, but it seems like the uneven weight of Mario popping out of that pipe would lead to a lot of literal dropped calls. Also, I am 100 percent sure that if this electronic keyboard book had introduced me to the idea of playing video game theme music on "boring instruments", I never would have quit my piano lessons.

There's so much more Nintendo goodness packed into the pages of Nintendo Power, but these were the real standouts to me. Before I go, I have to mention the back cover advertisement for PowerFest 1990. It let us know that local qualifying tournaments were being held nationwide and that winners would then go on to compete at the Nintendo World Championships, just like in the finale of the 1989 movie The Wizard featuring Fred Savage! Plus you would become the owner of a rare NES cartridge, making those dreams of getting rich playing video games come true.

So how many of you had a subscription to Nintendo Power back in the day? What were some of your favorite sections to read? Did you ever compete in PowerFest?

Check out my daily jabber-jawing about retro nonsense on Twitter @hojukoolander

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Hoju Koolander Posted on Dec 04, 2017 at 04:14 PM

@Benjanime Yeah, we all had high hopes for the SMB movie and though it was disappointing as a kid, I find it to be a fun little oddity these days. My favorite part of these old magazines is finding mentions of games/movies that were planned, but didn't come out or at least not in the way they were originally presented.

Benjanime Posted on Dec 04, 2017 at 07:46 AM

i just vaguely remember one issue that my older brother's friend had that the AVGN mentioned showing a behind the scenes look at the super mario bros. movie. i wonder what went through readers' heads thinking about how awesome the movie would be, only to be let down after going out to see it months later lol. i'm slowly picking up whatever old issues can be found on amazon for reasonable prices. one lucky purchase i made had the may 1989 issue featuring the first tmnt nes game with the ninja gaiden comic.

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