Goodnight, Nintendo Power

posted by Chris on 8 Jan 2013

The wellspring of nostalgia that rose inside me when I read that Nintendo Power was ceasing publication was inevitable. NP was the herald of a new age of video games: my era, not my father’s. He had bought an Atari 2600 when I was in elementary school and we played together a lot. Nearly all the games we were had were not very interesting played alone. Outlaw, Canyon Bombers, Ice Hockey — they were more like sports or board games than worlds to explore. Naturally, my father always held the upper hand when we played together. He had better reflexes than me, could anticipate things better, and could recognize patterns in a way I couldn’t as a kid. It didn’t hurt my feelings. It was just the natural order of things, and even so, I won some of the time too.

For those few 2600 games that really shone in single player, I was my father’s eager co-pilot. I remember him reaching the final level of Escape from the MindMaster, where the game took away the minimap you had relied on all game long and put you in a maze of tiny rooms, all alike. He opened the top drawer of his dresser — we played on the TV in my parents’ bedroom — and unfolded a map he had drawn on a sheet of notebook paper. It was inexplicable to me, that map. At that age, I couldn’t understand how you would even start to make a map like that. The game world was totally opaque to me. I could barely finish the first level of MindMaster on my own. I had to stick with the simplest variation of Adventure.

The NES changed the order of things between my father and I. He decided the console was not for him, period — one button was all he needed to play a game, he contended. And a few months after my parents gave me a NES for my birthday (with Contra and Zelda II — thank you, anonymous shop clerk who made those recommendations), they gave me a subscription to Nintendo Power. I didn’t know how good I had it.

The NES era fully ushered in video game lore into my consciousness. Before, being good at video games was mostly a matter of reflexes and improvisational tactics. It was in the NES era that I had to learn a video-game world — where all the secret powerups were, how to navigate the world, what order to do things in. I think it was first Metroid that I encountered an enemy that was completely immune to the weapon I had.

And I think it was in this aspect that Nintendo Power really made its mark. The blatant self-promotion inside its pages is tacky in retrospect, but what remains fascinating to me are the guides that were produced as part of the magazine, in particular the in-depth ones. When I first read them, they were kindling to my imagination– I would actually imagine playing the games in the magazines. But now, the maps in Nintendo Power look eerily similar to the kind of documents someone would draw up while designing a game — or maybe I should write, they look eerily similar to the documents I draw up when I design games now. Nintendo Power might be the first game design teacher I ever had, though I didn’t know it.

Of course things have changed considerably since 1988, when it was first published. The Web has in large part replaced the need for printed guides, of course. (Is GameFAQs still the leading source for that kind of thing? The site looks so dated now.) But more importantly, game design is a topic of lively discourse, not just something that accidentally is packaged up in a two-page spread on how to beat level 3. Most excitingly, it’s a discourse that game designers are taking a much more active part in, not just game players. I find every postmortem on Gamasutra a fascinating read, even when I haven’t even played the game the article describes.

So thank you, Nintendo Power. I treasure you in the oddest way.