Video games, Where I Read

Where I Read – Nintendo Power #1

The Cover of Nintendo Power #1

The Cover of Nintendo Power #1

So, I’m going to expand on my Where I Read threads some. Basically, throughout my EGM recaps, I’ve tried to contextualize the content of the magazines with my knowledge of gaming from what was going on in the world around that time, as well as what has gone on in the world since then, and general things that we, as gamers, have learned in hindsight. However, what I’d like to is to expand on that even more, by contextualizing the magazines, even further, it helps to read more magazines. So, to play off this theme, I’m going to basically add a few more gaming magazines to my recaps, not all at once, but slowly over time.

To give you an idea of how I’ll be including these recaps – EGM will be my “lead” magazine – I won’t recap any of the other magazines I do any further than I’ve progressed with EGM. If I haven’t reached the first issue of another magazine yet, I won’t start recapping it until EGM gets there. Oh, and one more thing, I’ll be including “House Organ” magazines in my recaps – Nintendo Power, as well as official Sega magazines as well (if I can find them). For each of those recaps, I’ll be doing a side feature which I’m going to refer to as Quality Control. The purpose of this feature will be to find a game that was previewed in that month’s issue and play it, and see if it lives up to how well the magazine hypes it. The game chosen will be selected by 3 criteria, of which it must fit at least 2.

  1. I must not have played it before.

  2. It must not be a “classic/landmark game” – one which is universally known as being good-to-perfect. None of the first 3 Sonic games, not the first Castlevania game, none of the core Mario Brothers games, not the first Final Fantasy.
  3. It must be interesting. Specifically, it must catch my interest.

I will then play the game, (though I don’t have to beat the game), and then I’ll give my thoughts on the game, and whether the game the magazine in question was full of crap or not.

The first magazine I’ll be recapping is Nintendo Power #1. The first issue came out in July of 1988. At this time, Nintendo Power was a Bi-Monthly magazine, and it’s first issue was only about 114 pages long. It’s first cover was a nice looking clay Super Mario Bros. Diorama, which also got Mario’s hat’s color wrong (on the picture it’s blue with a black M in a red circle – in the games it’s red with a black M in a white circle. It’s a nitpick, but it makes the picture look off. The game getting top billing in the magazine is, no surprise, Super Mario Bros 2, a.k.a. Doki Doki Panic, with the playable characters from that game changed to be Mario, Luigi, Peach (who is getting a name for the first time), and Toad.

Super Mario Bros 2 Strategy Guide: The preview starts out with content from the manual. We then move on to a fairly in-depth strategy guide with information on various items in the game (and, in the case of the stopwatch, how to get them,) ways of crushing ones enemies and seeing them driven before you. A nice little thing they do in the strategy guide is they do a cartoon using track and field as a metaphor to show how each characters strengths work out. Toad is in the shot putt (can’t run very fast, but can throw very far), Luigi is in the high jump (can jump high, but not far), Peach is in Long Jump (can jump far, but not high), and Mario is in sprinting (can run faster than the other characters). It’s not the most deep way of presenting things, but at the time Nintendo’s target audience was kids – they hadn’t even considered parents (or grand parents) or probably even college students to be part of their target audience yet.

We get some detailed maps of the first 2 worlds of the game, including strategies for the boss fights. The enemy position isn’t probably perfectly accurate, but considering the amount of trial and error involved in a lot of platforming games at the time (and considering the different strategies for each character), knowing the platform position helps, especially for determining which character you select. It also bears mentioning that the writers of the strategy guide point out a bug in the game – a thrown shy-guy can get stuck in the sand on the second world (the desert world), rather than dying, thus removing the enemy from your way (unless you need to go through the sand) but depriving you of the points for taking it out.

Legend Of Zelda – The Second Quest Strategy Guide: For those of you who haven’t played the game before – to get the proper ending for The Legend of Zelda, you have to beat the game twice. When you go through it for the second time, The Second Quest, the location of many (if not all) of the items, shops, and dungeons are changed from the first time though, rather than most shops being in hidden caves and most dungeons in the various temples on the map, so you have to go back through and find everything again. The strategy guide has the locations of all the dungeons and how to access them though they don’t have the location for the over-world shops.

One interesting little tidbit here – at the time, Nintendo of America’s licensing & content policy didn’t allow the depiction of crucifixes and crosses in games (among other things) for fear of offending people (which is semi-justified, since Japanese developers do have a problem at times of using Christian symbolism gratuitously – sticking crosses, and references to Christian artifacts in places they shouldn’t, thus the edit is as much to avoid offending Christians as non-Christians). Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because there is a large cross on the cover of the “Magic Book” in the game.

So, anyway, after giving detailed maps for the first 6 dungeons, the last 2 we only get general maps for. Just to give a quick run-down – the 1st dungeon has the Wooden Boomerang. The 2nd dungeon has the Whistle, and the 3rd dungeon has the Magical Boomerang and an extra Heart Container. The 4th dungeon has the magic book and the raft. The 5th dungeon has the bow, the 6th dungeon has the ladder, the 7th movie has the red candle, the 8th dungeon has the Magic Key and Magic Wand, and the 9th dungeon has the Red Ring and Silver Arrow. Finally, we wrap all this up of the 2nd quest over world map with notes.

Upcoming Baseball Games: We get previews of Bases Loaded, RBI Baseball from Tengen (that’s right – they’ve giving coverage to a Tengen game), and MLB Baseball. All 3 games are depicted fairly equally, though Bases Loaded and RBI Baseball probably look the best – Bases Loaded for the graphics, and RBI Baseball for the realism. It’s interesting seeing RBI Baseball portrayed so well here, especially considering how Atari/Tengen gets screwed over later by Nintendo. I may give RBI Baseball a try.

Counselor’s Corner: Basically this is Nintendo’s Tips and Tricks column. They really distinguish themselves from, say, the tip column for EGM by presenting everything in a Question and Answer format. It really makes the column more readable, even for games that I don’t have, and may not play. This column also has the debut of their Metroid map – though we don’t see it in its entirety, here, just the Brinstar and Norfair sections. We also get the Super Mario Brothers 99-lives trick, and finally, how to beat Mike Tyson from Mike Tyson’s Punch Out.

Howard And Nester: Nintendo Power’s classic comic strip gets it’s first appearance, featuring Nester, Nintendo’s other mascot, and Satan-er-Howard Phillips. Actually, that’s unfair of me. Howard Lincoln, President of Nintendo of America is Satan. Howard Phillips, EIC of Nintendo power is not. Nester can’t find the 8th and 9th dungeons in The Legend of Zelda – and Howard helpfully points him in the right direction, making Nester look like an idiot, and setting the pattern for all their interactions in the years to come.

Classified Information: This is Nintendo Power’s other tips and tricks column. It has a more traditional style, but they give more space to each trick (at least in this issue), and use a more conversational tone to describe them, making them easier to read. Of note, this issue features, for Contra, the code that will be passed down throughout the ages to come – Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Select, Start gets you 30 extra lives. As would try that code in other Konami games to come, it would become intrinsically linked with the company as – The Konami Code. And now I need to find someone to do a parody of the movie poster for The Davinci Code, called The Konami Code, and put that on a T-Shirt. If that shirt already exists, please let me know.

Double Dragon Strategy Guide: The first console brawler gets a strategy guide. We get all the special attacks for the game: jump kicks, head butts, yea olde ground n’ pound (though they didn’t call it that yet). We get strategies for the first 3 levels, and of course, the bosses. Supposedly there’s a leveling system in here, but I never really encountered it when I played the game (or I never noticed a difference, except maybe for extra health). Anyway, level 4 (the last level) is a boss-rush so there’s not much to be said there that isn’t said in the other levels.

Gauntlet Mini-Guide: A strategy guide for an Atari/Tengen game – whodathunkit? Now, since there are over 100 rooms here, they can’t map them all, but they do give you the first 4 rooms to get you started.

Contra Mini-Guide: The art we get to start off this article (and a full 2-page spread of it) really helps play up the Giger-esque design of the aliens. We get maps of levels 1 & 3, as 2 and 4 are linear “3-D” shooting segments.

Wheel of Fortune & Jeopardy Mini-Guides: Well, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy are getting their own NES games, so we’re getting a little preview to hype those too – and since they’re providing strategy content for every game they’ve covered so far, they do the same here – specifically, they give the answer to 3 of the puzzles/questions for each game, which probably won’t be too helpful because you’re not likely to get those questions, unless the question pool is disconcertingly small…

Video Shorts – Previews: Now we’re actually going to have a preview section (no, we’re probably not going to get reviews – that would entail saying something bad about their own games, but that may change). As I normally do with these sorts of columns, I’ll give preview coverage to games that look interesting, or are notable for one reason or another. Capcom has Legendary Wings, a rather disturbing looking action-platforming game with a Greek mythological tone. SNK has Iron Tank, which is Ikari Warriors – but in a Tank. In the same vein, Capcom has Gun.Smoke, which is Ikari Warriors – but in the Old West. We have the first Rambo game, based on the second Rambo movie. Bandai has Dragon Power, which is a Dragon Ball game – but without the license (instead of Goku and Bulma it’s Goku and Nora, instead of the 7 Dragon Balls it’s the 7 Crystal Balls, etc.) It probably would have had the Dragon Ball license in Japan, but the show wasn’t out on US TV yet, so most US viewers wouldn’t know about it yet.

And now we get to some of the legendary games. Konami has Metal Gear, adapted by the game designed by Hideo Kojima for MSX, with some major alterations that Kojima didn’t like that much, and some horribly localized dialog. Capcom has Bionic Commando, which has been re-made fairly recently for the X-Box 360 and the Playstation 3 through their online stores as Bionic Commando: Rearmed. Jaleco has City Connection, a variant of Miner 2049er – a sort of puzzle game, where your objective is to color all the sections of the road white while driving through various cities – it’s difficult to explain in words, and Nintendo Power doesn’t do a good job of explaining it with pictures either. Speaking of the Ikari Warriors earlier, Ikari Warriors II is set to come out as well. Tecmo has a vertical shump – Star Force, and Sunsoft has Freedom Force, which is, I suspect, one of the first counter-terrorist Light Gun games.

NES Journal – News: We start off the first news column in Nintendo Power with a look at a game that most people reading this magazine won’t be getting for several years – Dragon Quest III, released in the US later as Dragon Warrior III. Enix is expecting 5 million sales, and considering how long the Dragon Quest series has lasted, with numerous spin-off titles, that’s probably not unreasonable. I’m going to have to single out one phrase from the story for being rather bad though – “Ninjas and kung-fu masters are no longer heros to Japanese players since they are now being replaced by by warriors and sorcerers who bravely confront dragons with their swords and shields.”

Alright – first, I’d like to say that I copied that phrase verbatim. All the mis-spellings, missing punctuation, and clunky phrasing is just like it was in the Nintendo Power issue. I’m not going to dwell on very long, just to say that I was rather surprised that they couldn’t find a English major to work for them and help make sure clunky phrases like that didn’t make it to a magazine like this – particularly considering Nintendo’s popularity at the time, and Nintendo’s audience. Second, aside from the fact that that sentence is totally inaccurate (Japan didn’t abandon ninjas and kung-fu masters), it feels very ethnocentric – in a bad way, which is surprising considering that Nintendo Power is the house organ for the US branch of a Japanese company. We’ll see if similar stuff slips through in later issues.

Oh, and we don’t just get coverage of what’s going on the game industry – we get entertainment news as well! We have previews of romantic comedy Vibes (starring Cyndi Lauper and Jeff Goldblum), Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, and Eight Men Out the film about the Chicago White Sox throwing the 1919 World Series (the incident that lead to Shoeless Joe Jackson being banned from pro Baseball).

Letters: That’s right – it’s our first issue, and we’re getting letters, and it’s not quite like the first issue of EGM, where their letters were originally meant for their Buyer’s Guide, which was basically a different magazine. The letters we get are… kind of odd. I guess some of the letters might have been meant for the Nintendo Fan Club newsletter or something and got dumped here, but anyway – we get a letter asking about how Howard Phillips has 300 games in his collection when there are only around 100 games in the US. The editors weasel around it somewhat, basically saying that Howard Phillips previews personally each game that at company wants to put out on the NES, and determines which ones go out to consumers (the reality is more complicated than that – even without talking about Nintendo’s licensing policy).

We get a letter plugging Legend of Kage (pronounced Ka-geh), which has been out for about 2 years by the time this issue hit newsstands. We get another letter from a grandmother who got a NES for her grandson to play while he was visiting, and who has started playing NES games herself, particularly liking the original Commando – and no, it’s not Old Grandma Hardcore – I checked. We also get letters promoting Rygar, Double Dribble, and Metroid.

Yes, that is Gears of War creator Cliff Bleszinski

Yes, that is Gears of War creator Cliff Bleszinski

Finally, we get our High Score page, and a lot of these scores look pretty close to the maximum possible score the game will allow (except for maybe the Gradius scores). There is one score of note – the number one score for Super Mario Brothers in the first issue of Nintendo Power belongs to a kid from North Andover, MA by the name of Cliff Bleszinski– otherwise known as CliffyB, design director for Epic Games and designer of Gears of War and Gears of War 2.

Video Spotlight: Basically, this section is all about people writing in to talk about their l33t NES Skillz – only with out l33t speak, and some proofreading (as opposed to some of the horrific spelling that gamers on the Internet have become infamous for).

Nintendo Power Top 30: This is the top 30 games currently on the market, ranked by how they were voted in the Nintendo Power Players Poll (which asks gamers to rank their top 30 games on the market). The first Top 30 is:

  1. Legend of Zelda
  2. Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!
  3. Metroid
  4. Super Mario Bros.
  5. Kid Icarus
  6. RC Pro-Am
  7. Ice Hockey
  8. Rad Racer
  9. Top Gun
  10. Double Dribble
  11. Pro Wrestling
  12. Castlevania
  13. Goonies II
  14. Kung Fu
  15. Wizards & Warriors
  16. Rush ‘n Attack
  17. Mega Man
  18. Exitebike
  19. Ikari Warriors
  20. Spy Hunter
  21. Baseball
  22. Contra
  23. Ghosts ‘n Goblins
  24. Side Pocket
  25. Mario Bros (the classic arcade version).
  26. Renegade
  27. Section Z
  28. Gradius
  29. Ring King
  30. Rygar

Nintendo Powers Top 30 divided by voting group

Nintendo Power's Top 30 divided by voting group

We also get the Top 30 list for “Players, Pros, and Dealers” – which probably is determined the same way, except Pros are internal Nintendo Power employees and developers working on NES games, and Dealers is retailers. I’m just going to put a screen shot up of that one.

Next issue will feature Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest, Bayou Billy, and Bionic Commando. Now, before I wrap up the issue, we get a letter to the reader from EIC Howard Phillips, hyping the issues to come, in particular Zelda II, as well as explaining some of the difficulties of trying to get the same game coverage with Nintendo Power’s Japanese staff (let’s just say that Wheel Of Fortune wouldn’t work too well in Japanese, what with 3 different ways to write words – Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji.) Finally, after pimping the Nintendo library with an ad, we conclude the magazine.

So, there are a lot of classic games that get previews and strategy guides this issue, which kind of rules them out from my reviewing them – Mario Bros 2, Legend of Zelda, Contra. I’m not interested in the Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy games. That leaves to the 3 Baseball games – MLB Baseball, Bases Loaded, and RBI Baseball. I’ve played Bases Loaded II, and I’m not too interested with MLB Baseball, so I’ll be going with RBI Baseball.