Yesterday marked the 25th birthday of Nintendo’s original Game Boy console, and to celebrate, I decided to open up an a couple issues of Nintendo Power magazines from 1992 and reminisce in the gaming culture of the simpler time before I was born. For those of you who don’t know, Nintendo Power was a monthly gaming magazine published by Nintendo of America from 1988 to 2012 (285 volumes). In its earlier years, Nintendo Power basically acted as the gaming corner of the modern Internet, featuring everything from game walkthroughs, mail forums and fan art.
As I flipped through the pages of volume 32 (January 1992) of Nintendo Power, I was slapped in the face by the giddy feelings of a nerdy 90s kid ready to obsess over the latest entertainment their 8-bit wonder-machine had to offer. I got a very odd nostalgic feeling as I glanced over the first few pages filled with standard subscription ads and ads for Nintendo’s “latest” hardware. It was quite amusing to see the old, innocent-looking marketing tactics that were used to promote the original Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and of course, the Game Boy. The magazine itself is visually appealing, detailed with vibrant, and sometimes obscure drawings of Nintendo’s most beloved characters (such as Link and Mario) on every page. As almost everything, including the ads, is hand-drawn, it is clear that a lot of effort was put into these magazines. This is kind of effort is rather characteristic of the Nintendo of the past. Its dedication to providing the best entertainment to its fans was the reason why Nintendo had such a death-grip on the gaming community at the time.
After the ads, the real exciting part of the magazine begins: a gauntlet of game walkthroughs. You see, back then, even though games seemed very primitive, they sometimes got very difficult. If you got stuck, you stayed stuck unless that you had the latest issue of Nintendo Power. That’s right kiddos, there was no IGN or GameSpot to search a walkthrough with, you either spent hours to figure it out or you waited a month for your favourite magazine. Gaming is a harsh mistress… I feel like a gaming lightweight…
I was pleased to see that this issue of the magazine featured walkthroughs for a few prominent Nintendo-exclusive and third party games that are still revered today. These games include: Mega Man 4 (NES), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Back from the Sewers (Game Boy), Prince of Persia (Game Boy), Super Castlevania IV(SNES), and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES). Each walkthrough is packed with screenshots of game levels, strategy blurbs and character bios. In between the walkthroughs, you can see where the current Internet-based gaming community was spawned. Aside from the walkthroughs, Nintendo Power also featured discussion forums where people got to write in to the magazine and talk about different aspects of any video game. This is where strategies were discussed between gamers and where cheat-codes and Easter Eggs (inside jokes or hidden messages in gamer-speak) were revealed. Quite interestingly, there’s a section titled George and Rob’s Now Playing which is basically two guys discussing their opinions on different games. I found this to be quite similar to the very popular Game Grumps and Two Best Friends Play Youtube series (minus the swearing and inappropriate jokes of course). For all you fanfiction lovers, Nintendo Power has that covered too (sort of). Each volume of Nintendo Power features one or two comics based on one of Nintendo’s video games. Volume 32 just so happened to feature the first chapter of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past comic and the first chapter of a comic providing the back story of the Super Mario Brothers titled Super Mario Adventures. These comics are especially entertaining because they give dialogue to Link and Mario, two characters who are iconic for being almost mute in their modern games, save for a few grunts and one to four word phrases in Mario’s case.
By looking at the games featured in Nintendo Power, it is clear that there is a major contrast in what gamers liked to play back in the 90s and what they like to play nowadays. Back then, gamers liked wimpy-looking elves in green dresses, plumbers jumping on turtles, anthropomorphic turtles with swords, and short, blue, disproportionate men that shoot rockets out of their arms. Today, gamers mostly like guys with guns, guys killing zombies with guns, guys with guns that steal a whole lot of cars and rob banks, and guys from different historical time periods that assassinate other guys – sometimes with guns (let me clarify, I love all these games, new and old). Okay, that last part is a bit of an exaggeration; people still do love their green-clad elves and turtle-stomping plumbers, but gamers are in fact, more attracted to guns and violence nowadays. There were tons of games that involved guns and violence in the past that were very popular, but more wholesome games that didn’t involve as much violence and guns were equally as popular. The difference is that today, there are still wholesome non-violent games out there, but they never do as well as the more violent ones (trust me, I’m not trying to go on a “oh no stop the violence in video games” tirade here. I love a good round of Mortal Kombat). Throughout the years, Nintendo has stuck to more family oriented games as their consoles started to get more advanced and as a result, Nintendo consoles sort of became the consoles you would to satisfy your kid until you felt they were mature enough for something like Sony’s Playstation or Microsoft’s Xbox. Also, even though Nintendo was more creative with consoles, such as their famed Wii system, the hardware could not compete with Sony or Microsoft. This caused many popular third-party game developers to stay away from Nintendo, and caused a steady decline in Nintendo’s prominence.
Yes, there was a time when the word “Nintendo” was interchangeable with any game console, but that was only during the time of Nintendo Power. Sadly, it looks like Kratos tore poor little Pikachu in half and Master Chief introduced Link to real, non plant-based explosives. Even after Nintendo’s latest attempt to get back into the gaming market with the Wii U, they were still outdone by Sony and Microsoft. They did manage to win the love of third-party developers again with the new and advanced hardware of the Wii U but they failed to sell less than a third of the Wii U systems they had predicted to sell and suffered a loss of 30 percent of their profits as of the start of 2014. With all of this disheartening news, does this mean that Nintendo will fade into obscurity forever? Not likely.
Despite its decline as a company, Nintendo is still the one of the most recognizable and loved game companies in the world. Almost any non-gamer in modern society can recognize characters like Mario or Pikachu from Pokémon. Nintendo is the heart of massive Internet geek fandoms around the world. Even though it may not be able to compete with the console giants, Nintendo has always been, and still is, the handheld gaming paragon. It has gained so much recognition that Google used Pokémon in its Maps Smartphone application as the basis of its April Fool’s joke this year. Nintendo is far from gone.
So go ahead and dust off your old SNESs and Game Boys and re-live the glory days of gaming. Nintendo will always be in our hearts…while we mow down zombies and rob banks…