No video game magazine before or after had the influence on thousands of children the way Nintendo Power did from 1988 and throughout the 90’s. The magazine only recently ended its run in 2012 but for those of us that grew up with an NES in our households, the first several formative years were the ones we most likely recall. As a precursor to Nintendo Power, Nintendo Fun Club News was a glossy magazine like newsletter that was sent to children who signed up to join the free Nintendo Fun Club. Most famously, this club was marketed during the in between rounds of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! when Doc would remind Little Mac to “Join the Nintendo Fun Club today Mac!” By the time I got my Nintendo in Dec of ’87 and signed up for the Nintendo Fun Club, they were already onto issue 5 of what would be a 7 issue run that lasted until the summer of 1988. The 3 issues of NFCN that I received as a member were issue #5 featuring R.C. Pro Am, issue #6 featuring Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link and issue #7, which was a sports game wrap up. I bought issue #2 & #4 with Mike Tyson’s Punch Out as the cover story years later thanks to Ebay. I am still hunting issue #3 with The Legend of Zelda on the cover and the difficult to find issue #1 to round out my collection.
While the Nintendo Fun Club News was a great way for the NES to infiltrate the homes of American kids, the upgrade to Nintendo Power in the summer of ’88 would prove to be the company’s master stroke of genius. I knew Nintendo Power was coming since it was advertised in the final issue of NFCN but at a special introductory cost of $15 per year for existing NFC members. I assumed it was going to be a hard sell to my parents to get them to spend money on a video game magazine subscription so I figured it was good while the free stuff lasted. When the first issue of Nintendo Power, featuring the soon to be released Super Mario Bros. 2 on the cover, showed up in my mailbox that summer I was shocked. I was not a jaded, cynical child so once I realized my free issue wasn’t a mistake, I saw this act by Nintendo as only altruistic. A thank you of sorts to all the people that spent hard earned money on their products. I was in awe of the sheer volume of content & depth of information the premier issue contained. I was already very excited by the small blips of information regarding Super Mario Bros 2 that was leaked in the NFCN, but what was presented before me was 20 pages solely dedicated to the sequel of the game that sold me on the NES in the first place. The issue included a layout of the first 6 levels of the game! Nintendo could not have done anything more to get their consumer base excited for the release of SMB2 and I was obsessed with owning it as soon as it came out thanks to this issue.
Besides the cover story, Nintendo Power #1 featured information on the second quest of Legend of Zelda complete with fold out map, a baseball round up featuring Bases Loaded from Jaleco, R.B.I. Baseball from Tengen and Major League Baseball from LJN. Guess which one sucked? The Counselor’s Corner was a way for Nintendo’s game counselors (only a phone call away!) to answer reader’s questions on tough spots in popular games of the time. The first issue included help for Ghosts n’ Goblins, Ring King, Metroid, Super Mario Bros, Kid Icarus, Rygar, Castlevania, Ikari Warriors & Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! Howard & Nester was a comic featuring the cartoon likeness of Nintendo Fun Club President Howard Phillips and a punk kid named Nester who was a total jack-ass. Even I recognized that as a 13 year old. The Classified Information section was used to provide Pro-level tips for gamers including codes. The first issue of NP included the infamous Konami code, just in case you were still trying to play Contra and Gradius without it. Relatively new but popular games such as Double Dragon, Gauntlet & Contra all featured multiple page reviews in this first issue. The Video Shorts section offered a brief synopsis of newly released 3rd party games such as Legendary Wings, Iron Tank, Gun Smoke, Rambo, Dragon Power, Metal Gear, Bionic Commando, City Connection, Ikari Warriors 2, Star Force & Freedom Force. As you can see, a mixed bag in quality. Pak Watch was the section that discussed soon to be released games. Of the 18 games discussed in issue #1, only two, Chesterfield & Empire City 1931, were never actually released unless they were released with different names. Of course there would be the obligatory mention of the upcoming Zelda 2 and its notorious delay due to a “computer chip shortage”. In NP issue #1, Nintendo declared that Zelda 2 would definitely be out by October 1988, which as we all know now was not true.
Nintendo Power would carry over the chart from NFCN but expand it beyond the top 5 into a top 30. What game was #1 for the first issue of NP in July/August 1988? None other than The Legend of Zelda, which had been released in the U.S. for a year by the time this issue was made. Games in the late 80’s definitely had more staying power than games do today. Rounding out the top 10 were: #2 Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!!, #3 Metroid, #4 Super Mario Bros., #5 Kid Icarus, #6 R.C. Pro-Am, #7 Ice Hockey, #8 Rad Racer, #9 Top Gun & #10 Double Dribble. As you can see, the top 10 was heavily in favor of Nintendo developed games. Other notable 3rd party games in the top 30 were #12 Castlevania, #17 Mega Man & #22 Contra. By the summer of 1988, Nintendo’s original black box titles had fallen out of favor by gamers and only occupied 6 spots out of the top 30 (SMB, Pro Wrestling, Kung Fu, Excitebike, Baseball & Mario Bros).
The sections of the magazine that least interested me as a kid were stuck towards the back. The NES Journal highlighted Nintendo mania in other parts of the world, i.e. Japan (Dragon Quest 3) and Hollywood (Big Top Pee Wee). The Players Forum offered us a chance to read about celebrities love of Nintendo (hello Kirk & Candace Cameron!), Mail Box & Video Spotlight where players would write into Nintendo gushing over the games, brag about achievements and spouting off lame tips & NES Achievers where players could write in and boast of their high scores. Today I totally understand that this aspect of Nintendo Power was important in making the magazine not just about Nintendo the Company but about the end users, kids! The opportunities for interaction that these sections of the magazine provided was critical to its long running success in a pre-internet age when this type of information sharing could not be done instantly. Personally, it allowed me to determine how I stacked up against other players my age and gave me something to strive for (high scores, bosses beat, etc.). In the end, I did convince my parents to pay for my subscription to Nintendo Power likely as an early Christmas present and would maintain that subscription through Dec 1991 issue #31, which featured Metroid 2: Return of Samus for the Gameboy. I think once Nintendo Power started to feature less NES and more Gameboy and SNES games (two systems I did not have in 1991), my interest was lost so I let my subscription run out as a result. Since then, I have added a number of key issues to my collection but have little interest in collecting much beyond issue #60.
I will briefly use this post to talk about some of my NES peripherals. I own two light guns, the original gray version and the orange version which was released later to make it look more like a toy. I also own a NES Max controller which was only purchased recently. I preferred the NES Advantage as a kid but I never owned one. Instead, I had a cheaper 3rd party knock off that was more like a shell that would clip over your existing controller with a mini-joystick. This typically would come off if you got too aggressive with it while playing so I sold it many years ago and never replaced it in my collection. I also have the Power Pad, which was often bundled with the 3 in 1 cart of Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt/World Class Track Meet in later Deluxe Sets (post R.O.B.). I never owned a Power Pad as a kid and have no nostalgia for it personally. The Power Pad was a total gimmick to get kids to exercise while playing video games, a notion Nintendo would dust off 20 years later with the release of the Wii. Speaking of dust, I also have a couple different Nintendo cleaning kits (one official Nintendo and another 3rd party) which were mandatory once you had your Nintendo for a period of time and were starting to consistently get the blinking light. I also have a dust cover which was picked up at a garage sale many years ago and 2 Game Genies. One for the classic toaster NES and the attachment for the top loader. I also never had a Game Genie as a kid and I rarely use it today even though I could cheat and finally beat some of the games I never could if only I would use it.
Last but not least in my books/magazine/peripherals collection is The Official Nintendo Player’s Guide. This black book was offered to NES fans in 1987 as a (at the time) comprehensive look at all the games available in the NES library. It was actually bundled with the NES console but I don’t know why anyone would chose to only read about games instead of getting the Control Deck set that gave you an actual game to play in Super Mario Bros. I think the version that came with the book was slightly cheaper but still, not a wise choice. I ended up getting my book for about $20 as a special order once I received my NES. I pored over its contents, memorizing all of the games available and using it in an attempt to identify which games I wanted to own. This was also the book that featured a multiple page layout of Zelda 2 almost 2 years before it would actually be released in North America. Talk about a tease!
Currently in my collection:
- Nintendo Fun Club News issues #2, 4, 5, 6, 7
- The Official Nintendo Player’s Guide (1987)
- Nintendo Power issues #1-35, 40, 50, 57, 61
- 2 Light Guns (1 gray, 1 orange)
- NES Max
- Power Pad with manual
- Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt/World Class Track Meet with manual
- NES Cleaning Kit with box
- The Eliminator cleaning kit with solution
- Nintendo Dust Cover
- Game Genie (1 for toaster NES, 1 adaptor for top loader NES