What began in 1988 as a Nintendo fan club newsletter grew to become a staple in the lives of many 90s kids as Nintendo Power. Nintendo of America executive Gail Tilden built a magazine that in addition to providing video game news and detailed walkthroughs, created bridges between kids who were looking for other kids that liked video games as much as they did. Nintendo Power was also notable for a mass giveaway of the NES game Dragon Warrior, a title that flopped hard in stores but was a hugely successful promotional stunt. Was your beloved childhood monthly escape a very slick tax write-off helmed at every turn by bloodsucking corporate executives? Yes, it was, but it was a damn good one.
I was struck by just how solidly these games were marketed to boys. It’s easy to forget the severity of how excluded girls were from video game culture and how good we have it in 2018, comparatively. Thinking about how hard women have fought to be recognized as a viable market for video games today, looking through this issue with that in mind will be a real eye-opener for those who don’t remember the world that so many gamergating primitive screwheads grew up in.
I don’t think anybody wanted somebody who — and I was around 31 at the time myself — they didn’t want to see a picture of somebody’s mom as the person who’s doing Nintendo Power. So we were always a little bit…even the pictures of the kids themselves…it wasn’t for safety or security so much as you always want the person to put themselves into the magazine, and if you see people who you think aren’t like you or don’t reflect you, it can be a turn-off. So there were not too many people in the magazine. — Gail Tilden, Founder and Editor-In-Chief (1988-1998), 2012 interview
(This interview also goes into Tilden meeting monthly with Japanese Nintendo executives who called her “Dragon Lady” behind her back.)
Full disclosure: I didn’t own a SNES or a Game Boy as a kid. My young life didn’t have much of anything Nintendo related that wasn’t The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, which I could/can/will happily talk your ear off about. Point is, I don’t think I actually played any of the games in this issue, although I may have heard of them in passing or played a few times while waiting for the pizza to reach the table. So if I get a detail wrong or seem to gloss over something hugely significant in Super Nintendo history, please forgive me and go hog wild in the comments.
This week we’re looking at the April 1992 issue, featuring this wonderful cover of Hulk Hogan crushing a very clearly photoshopped SNES controller in his golden-brown hand while busy at his day job. I suspect that the professional who stuck the mailing label on this cover had some opinions as to whomever it is he’s about to land on there.
(Also in the interest of disclosure: I know nothing about pro wrestling)
I am sorry to say that there won’t be a huge amount of totally radical 90s ads in this one. It’s remarkably dense in content, but there are a few good ones tucked in here and there. Apparently Nintendo of America didn’t allow non-Nintendo ads in the magazine until 1998. Alternatively, you can think of this magazine as one big 100-page ad for Nintendo products.
Starting with the most elaborate and ridiculous subscription card I’ve ever seen. It’s three pages long! And it threatening to destroy my mailbox by being delivered in a ball of flames? Radicalize? What are we radicalizing in response to? Not having a magazine? Not holding the key to UNLIMITED HOT MOLTEN CHARRED FIRE POWER POWER POWER HARDCORE SKILLS? REACH OUT AND SCORE NOW YOU FUCKING DWEEBS!
Let’s talk about how goddamn expensive video games are. Video games in the 90s: about $60. A new video game today: about $60, which still seems pretty damn expensive but is half as expensive as it was back then thanks to inflation. Consoles usually came with a flagship title game included, so if your family was poor like mine and had to scrimp and save to get your child a console for Christmas, that was the ONLY goddamned game that your kid was EVER going to own because you already spent two hundred bucks on the console and that kid better fucking love that copy of Sonic The Hedgehog and play it until she can do speed runs blindfolded (uh, this is definitely not what happened to me or anything). So while six games in one with no extra cost for a peripheral is a really good deal, there were probably a lot of upset parents and kids who didn’t put two and two together and realize that you still needed to buy your kid the console to make the games work.
I’m impressed by how easy this is to read for how text-heavy it is. According to Tilden in the interview I linked above, the Japanese executives had very strong opinions on the magazine’s color palette.
So much to love here; the kid who won the phone booth from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the lawsuit-dodging warning about seizures, the wonky Mario mascot costume, the elaborate creative kid-brained schemes of what they would do to get a Super Nintendo.
This magazine’s real meat is in detailed walkthroughs. I’m trying really hard not to lean on the YOU KIDS DON’T KNOW HOW GOOD YOU HAVE IT TODAY crutch, but if you were stuck on some level and didn’t know how to make progress you either had to just keep trying with the hard headed diligence of a prisoner digging out a tunnel with a spork, or you’d throw down your controller and shriek about how much you hate Nintendo and how you’re never going to play another Nintendo game again. Nintendo really didn’t want that. So, in addition to being a nifty way to pretend that you knew everything about a game that you didn’t actually own (I know you did this), it may have answered some very important questions you had.
“The Big Apple has never been the safest of towns, but to our heroes it’s a nightmare.” Because of rent prices? The tourists? The hipsters?
A completely forgotten game starring the hippest hoppest biggest baddest gorilla this side of 1992, like the embarrassing cousin that Donkey Kong never invites to Christmas.
I didn’t realize that Yoshi was in Evanescence.
The comic at the bottom starts out just fine and then everything just falls apart into a surreal nightmare. The layout suggests that this is translated directly from Japanese? I want every image from that last panel to be dissected into memes. Seriously, what happened?
The much-loved cheats and exploits section. No snark, this would have been my favorite part of any issue.
A Legend of Zelda comic! In which Link talks more than Peter frickin’ Parker?
In this issue, Link goes off tripping in the desert like he’s at Burning Man. I like his ghost dad’s sassy ponytail.
So I’m not a huge Zelda devotee, but I do know one thing, and that’s that Princess Zelda never shuts the hell up. Link never talks because all this time he’s been patiently waiting for her to finish her monologue. So Zelda here is clearly a hallucination because if this was actually Zelda, every single dialogue bubble would be filled with her giving her life story, and how she got kidnapped this time, and the story of where she wants to go with her life, and the life story of everyone around her, and so on…
So…that was cool.
More walkthrough/previews, just in case you’re stuck and need some help.
In this issue we get to see put-upon single father Bowser go full on bridezilla with his plans to kidnap the princess again. What I’ve seen in various Mario Bros. games really indicates to me that Bowser just really loves weddings.
Again, the hugely exaggerated expressions and overall art style indicates that this was originally Japanese with some very heavy-handed localization in the translation (the only thing more timely than a “hasta la vista, baby” joke at the time would be for Peach to slap herself in the face and scream, Home Alone-style).
Uh, Luigi, you can totally swim. That’s like one of the three things you do in these games. What the hell is wrong with you?
You know, I think Bowser is doing a fine job of raising these kids on his own. They all seem fairly well-adjusted and work together well as a close-knit family unit. He should just find himself a nice lady kappa who won’t karate-kick her way through his kids.
Some scoop on the upcoming CD-ROM technology that is about to change the world forever, no big deal.
On a whim I looked up what Eric Bush is up to today, and his LinkedIn profile says that he’s still at Nintendo and has patented a bug-testing and tracking system, so good for you Eric!
Remember when the market consisted hugely of film franchise tie-in video games? Some were good, some awful. However, this game actually sounds pretty fun and the world of The Addams Family is one with a lot of potential for campy creativity.
Ok, Nintendo Power, you’ve lost me, WEDNESDAY ADDAMS WOULD NEVER SAY THAT!
This issue came with a super sweet Street Fighter II centerfold poster (what on earth is going on with Ken’s arm??), and whomever had this magazine before me had it up on their wall for years, going by the pinholes in the corners (that I cropped out, but take my word for it). I’d like to think that it had just been hanging on the wall in someone’s basement, or somewhere without light, as aside from the pinholes it’s in very good condition, for 25 years, until they were like “Well, time to sell my last back issue of Nintendo Power“.
Each game comes with a tanning bed coupon and stray yellow mustache hairs!
These interviews and soundbites are all amazing, as of course they are 1000% in-character and I hope you take the time to read them. I think my favorite might be The Undertaker’s endorsement of “WWF Super Wrestlemania is as close to the dark side as you will get”.
In the dystopia of 1999, the most popular television entertainment is the exploitative reality game show…actually, they weren’t far off at all. It will involve a few less molded codpieces and metal thigh-garters, however.
“Old Male”?! Again, had these people ever actually seen The Addams Family? And I’d say I don’t know why Gomez looks like a pudgy Paul F. Tompkins, but look at that sandwich.
I wonder who’s job it was to just sort through thousands of envelopes every month with blurry photos of tv screens?
You can win a…piece of shit Ford Taurus! Your mom will be so thrilled to have this thing parked in the driveway until you turn 18! Just settle for the VHS, kid.
In which these dorks have boring discussions about video games. Again, for those needing context, this was kind of a big deal back then because nobody had serious discussions about video games like this.
“Did you see that Hook only got a 2.5 in Graphics and Sound on the NES version, but it scored a 3.1 for the Game Boy versi-“*commences being stuffed into a locker*
Laser background school pictures! Fancy square backgrounds! Brick wall backgrounds?? I don’t remember “gross brick wall” being an option for school picture backgrounds, so maybe that kid is just standing in front of a gross brick wall. How many of these kids grew up to be commenters on the Avocado? WHICH ONE ARE YOU?
“I like to look at girls” — Eddie Furlong, 1992
I wonder what happened to Fertile Ground.
Two immortal pizza-parlor staple arcade game classics…and whatever that was.
According to Wikipedia, SimEarth was released for the Super Nintendo in 1991 so I’m not sure what’s happening here. However, GameFAQs says that the game was released in America for the SNES in 1993 (thanks to Otakunomike for the help).
Also this game sounds really, really hard.
I genuinely love that they kept up a huge backlog of back issues available for sale and listed the main reviews of each back issue, so that people could buy them for reference for a specific game. That is a level of consideration for their fans and customers that would seem to be unprecedented.
I have no idea who Brian Robbins is, so I’m guessing he’s someone that they made up and hence he has not been featured in the Celebrity Profile column. Did I get it right?
And finally the back cover, which is dutifully full of shooting stars and things but will never live up to the MOLTEN FURY OF EXTREME RADICAL HOT HOT POWER that the subscription card promised.
Thanks as always for reading this column/feature/whatever this is, and I hope I did your favorite childhood video game justice. Thanks to all who responded to my reader poll, and if you’re interested in the results I’ll share some of the data with you next week. Next week we’re going way back in time to the glamorous days of 1936, where I can’t wait to share some very interesting parenting advice that will make you realize a lot of things about the world that your grandparents were raised in. Harper’s Bazaar, August 1936!