Retro Flashback: Nintendo Power

This installment of Retro Flashback was originally going to be about video arcades (Don’t worry, that one is still coming!). However, with dozens of issues of Nintendo Power recently being made available to download and print from Archive.Org I could not resist to look back on what was likely the greatest magazine of my lifetime. Like many kids from the NES, Game Boy and SNES eras, I had the power… Nintendo Power!

To understand the appeal of something like Nintendo Power back in the 1980’s, you have to realize that gaming and media coverage of video games were very different back then. There was no public internet back then so any news about video games was found on television broadcasts, the occasional newspaper articles and most typically – magazines. Most of the gaming magazines in the mid-to-late eighties were focused on computer software and consoles did not get nearly as much coverage as they do today. We might see an article in the newspaper but they were written for the average person, not the gamer craving in-depth information about the latest video games.

Adding to the problem was the fact that video games were becoming more sophisticated. Most video games for consoles before the NES were relatively simple and the challenge lay in beating high scores. However, a new generation of video games with titles such as Metroid and The Legend of Zelda were far more complicated than what most gamers at the time were used to. A vital secret or power-up could literally be hidden beneath a specific bush or stone statue but how could we know exactly where to look? On top of that, these games didn’t have an internal map to help you keep track of where you had been. My friends and I went through reams of graph paper. Our parents were pleased because they thought we were working hard in our math classes but in reality we were using the graph paper to make maps for Metroid and The Legend of Zelda. We would devote an entire sheet of paper for a single screen within the game and pin them to my bedroom walls to get an idea of a dungeon’s layout.

Nintendo of America’s first president was a man named Minoru Arakawa. His vision was to offer an exemplary experience for NES owners from the first purchase all the way to completing a game. Those of us who sent in our NES registration cards received a small publication called the Nintendo Fun Club Newsletter. It was a neat little newspaper but it wasn’t up to the task of satisfying tens of millions of players who were starved for news and gameplay tips. Kids who were willing to risk their parents’ ire by hiking up the phone bill could make a long distance call (yes, long distance calls could be very expensive back then) to Nintendo’s game counselors for tips but this was proving to be a very expensive effort for Nintendo.

In a nutshell, this was the inspiration for Nintendo Power. By releasing a magazine crammed full of maps, secret codes and news about upcoming video games, Nintendo hoped to get ahead of customers’ demands for information. Thus one day when millions of Nintendo Fun Club members found this glorious thing in their mailboxes:

Image Courtesy of Video Game Obsession
Image Courtesy of Video Game Obsession

Back then kids didn’t usually get a lot of mail so it was exciting to see something that was just for us. While magazines such as Time or Newsweek appeared to be very dull to the average kid, Nintendo Power absolutely blazed with bright colors and screenshots from our favorite games. The Counselor’s Corner section was loaded with useful tips such as the infamous Konami code which we could use to set ourselves up with 30 lives in Contra. The Pak Watch section gave us tantalizing tidbits of games that weren’t out yet. One of the best features of the magazine were the maps. The staff at Nintendo Power took hundreds of screenshots and pieced together game maps that were so incredibly useful. That map for The Legend of Zelda I had made from dozens of sheets of graph paper was reduced to two pages. I could finally take down that map and replace it with posters from Nintendo Power… when I managed to get said posters out of the magazine without tearing them apart.

This map freed up my bedroom wall for more important things like Nintendo Power posters. Image courtesy of Gamasutra.
This map freed up my bedroom wall for more important things like Nintendo Power posters. Image courtesy of Gamasutra.

We honestly never knew we needed maps like these until Nintendo put them in our hands with that amazing first issue of their new magazine. Nintendo Power was something just for us. Non-gamers might look through that issue but they could never understand the value of the information contained within. Best of all, it was free!

Until you wanted the second issue. Then you needed to subscribe because Nintendo Power was not initially available in stores. However, once we had that first issue in hand there was no going back. We couldn’t give up our pipeline to more game tips, secret codes, news and maps. We begged our parents for subscriptions and Nintendo Power would break a record for the fastest magazine to reach one million paid subscribers. Every two months a new issue of Nintendo Power would arrive and kids like me would spend the nights when we were supposed to be sleeping hunched under little teepees made from bedsheets as we carefully scrutinized the magazine for information we would share with our friends at school the next day.

Over the years Nintendo Power helped to guide me through the worlds of games such as Final Fantasy, Star Tropics, Ninja Gaiden, Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Castlevania IV and hundreds more games across systems I would never have imagined. The Game Boy Advance, Nintendo 64, Gamecube and the Wii would receive their share of coverage in Nintendo Power. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end the internet would make the concept of a monthly magazine obsolete. The final issue of Nintendo Power was published in 2012 and many of us who subscribed back in the day would suffer a pang of nostalgia as this important chapter of our early lives as gamers came to a close.

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