The July/August 1990 issue of Nintendo Power was the first I ever owned. Sure, I knew about the magazine beforehand. Which kid hadn’t? But not being an NES owner I didn’t have much use for tips and tricks “straight from the pros.” I don’t who, but someone got me this issue. Probably my parents as Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers was one of the first games I did own. I don’t think I got the issue from a friend – Nintendo Power was just too valuable to give away. However I got it, Nintendo Power soon became a major part of my childhood. I begged my parents for a subscription and borrowed every copy I could until they relented. Nintendo Power was my entry into a world I only had little access. I would study each issue, learning the in’s and out’s of games I would never play. Like I pointed out last post, I often have a greater fondness for NP articles than the games they cover.
Eventually, my parents pressured me to throw out my magazine collection. Those issues had covers missing and pages ripped and generally would have made bad retrospective material. Such is the price for being loved. Then where did all these images come from? Why the good people at RetroMags of course! These guys are doing the saintly work of preserving the detritus of our misspent youth and this series couldn’t exist without them. Thanks, fellas.
So won’t you join me on a nostalgia trip through the wonders of early Nintendo Power: the worst/best magazine ever printed? I plan to start here with my first issue, about half-way through the NES life-cycle, and go through to when I stopped my subscription, a bit into the N64 days.
We start in the early 90’s: a time of neon highlights, denim jackets, and unrepressed extreme Raditude. Also: the Disney Afternoon.
It’s not hard to see why Chip and Dale are on the cover. Marketability and all. I mean who would buy a magazine featuring a no-name LP’s like Golgo 13 or Final Fantasy? Got to go with the smart money. What is a mystery is why the chipmunks are hanging out on a lightbulb. It’s easy to seem the germ of the idea. Chip and Dale are small, they run all over giant things in the game, put them on a desk or something and there’s your cover. But something went horrible wrong. I can’t help but assume that this cover was ruined by committee and the poor graphic designer stuck with the project just cried as his bosses were like “what if they were on a lamp!”
It doesn’t even make sense visually, let alone logically (wouldn’t the exposed bulb burn their feet?). Chip’s sliding off as we’d expect, but Dale’s sticking to that bulb like he’s an un-related asset pasted on an inappropriate background. Oh wait. I do dig Fat Cat peering in the window like the Rangers locked him outside for the night. Guys, no! Fat Cat’s an indoor pet. He doesn’t know how to survive outdoors.
The Rescue Rangers article is kinda bland; more official art from the show and level maps. As much as I love old NP’s game-guide-map-things (tracing them with your eyes was like playing a game!), this one isn’t interesting. Let’s move to the star of this issue instead: Final Fucking Fantasy.
Nintendo Power really pushed Final Fantasy. Three issues covered the game and they mailed a strategy guide to all subscribers. This was more than a little overkill as the game came with an “Adventure’s Guide” which walked you through the whole game. In last issue was a “storyview” which explained the plot points in the first half of the game but didn’t have any gameplay coverage. Here they cover the same ground with a little more depth (emphasis on “little”). It’s not hard to guess why they pushed the game so hard, RPGs being a death knell in the West and all. But hey, it worked. A fair number of kids I knew had Final Fantasy. Then again, everyone had a copy of Dragon Warrior and we all know how that worked out.
Nintendo Power ran three trivia contests, the prizes of which ranged from controller stickers to real-life power staffs and crystal orbs. The grand prize was an adventure vacation where Nintendo Power would fly you and some friends to a tropical island, dress you up like Final Fantasy dudes, and film the whole thing.
For this issue the two grand prizes were a suit of armor. I wonder where these things ended up. It’s not like you can just pawn them once there’s no more room in the garage. Far better was the runner-up. 500 lucky kids walked away with a “Final Fantasy Adventure Pack,” which, if this image is to be trusted, were bright pink Final Fantasy fanny-packs. Was this for real? I’ve never heard of them since, but I refuse to believe we don’t live in a world where some ecstatic 5th grader wore his to school and was proclaimed King of the Playground. The article says these packs were stuffed full of treasure. The treasure in the fanny-pack of my youth was tubes of Chapstick and a dirty water bottle. I can only imagine what treasures was stuffed into these FF ones.
But enough of dubious prizes, let’s get to the meat of the article: bad advice and awesome art! Come now, Nintendo Power, grinding to level 3 before Garland? Madness. Who know’s how many kid’s experiences with Final Fantasy was less than it could have been thanks to Nintendo Power. At least it did give us this art. FUKT looks like he could take down CHAOS without even stubbing out his cigarette. IKA may be old and decrepit but that’s only due to the awesome power coursing through his veins. And man, if the Red Mage sported that mustache in-game every party would be composed of 4 of them.
I love this art so much. Like the Final Fantasy II article it defined the game for me more than anything in the game ever did. It’s not clear who drew this stuff. I’ve heard Katsuya Terada’s name thrown about, but this stuff doesn’t look like the Legend of Zelda art he did for Nintendo Power. Supposedly Terada worked on the Howard and Nester comics with Shuji Ima, and this stuff kinda resembles the Howard and Nester style, so Ima is my best guess. I could be way off though. The Internet, as always, is no help.
I just eat this stuff up. There’s just so much character in these pictures. Look at Matoya there. You best be bringing her crystal back, or else she’ll swallow your soul. I wish there was room for crazy interpretations like this now, but everything’s so polished and iconic. Designing a Black Mage as anything but Vivi-esq (or some sort of Nomera monstrosity) is blasphemy. But wouldn’t the world be a better place if a black mage could rock a tiger-fang necklace?
Nintendo Power: purveyors of terrible advice since 1990. I mean, sure, 99 potions is cool and all if you don’t mind wasting the gold and hours wasted buying them one at a time, but no amount of potions are going to save you if some undead decide today’s a good day for a stun-lock.
Fighter is holding the CROWN so gingerly. This picture really makes picking up the plot ticket epic. Much more epic than it is in the game where it’s just another deal in a chest. A chest guarded by motherfuckers sure, but still. This picture built up the event in my mind. I was so determined to get that CROWN and the KEY and all the wonderful treasure that was promised me. But I could never get past the ZOIDBERGS and my dreams were dashed to pieces. Thanks, Nintendo Power!
This picture has always stayed with me. Playing through the Final Fantasy remakes years later I’d still imagine the Titan, nose-ring glistening in the torch light, chowing down on the ruby like it was a delicious chocolate. Good art really makes you feel the moment, you know?
Damn that’s awesome. This art would make Van Gogh weep tears of impressionism if he alive to see it.
The article goes up through the Sea Shrine with maps of it, the Volcano, and the Ice Cave for good measure. At least the maps will help you find your way through the dungeons. It then threatens more tips for the endgame next month. I can’t wait to see what kind of nonsense they’ve got baked up for the next issue.
Interestingly, the coverage never breaks down the different job classes or explains different party builds. I guess they were just trying to sell gamers on the expanse of the setting and story, never mind silly things like gameplay.
Speaking of Howard and Nester, this month they’re chillin with the big boys from Super C. Remember in the game when you shot that pod and got a blanket instead of the spread gun and you were all like WTF! but then it saved you when you fell off the cliff? Nintendo Power does.
This issue devotes a couple of pages to the Consumer Electronics Show. Coverage is spotty though. Most of the space is taken by announcements for Simpsons games on the NES and the home version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: the Arcade Game, but they still managed to find the space for some very important titles.
Power Mission would eventually become Power Blade. You can see a how blatantly the game aped from Mega Man originally. Natsume eventually hid their influences by changing the protagonist into a muscle-man 80’s guy, but the game is still considered an inferior Mega Man clone. I like their blurb for Deja Vu here. Neither is Deja Vu the sequel to Shadowgate (it was the original MacVenture game, Shadowgate just got ported to NES first) nor is it set in the modern day. That is, unless the early 90’s were more like 1940’s than I remember. Also, the Miracle Keyboard was never hot.
It may look like science fiction but this crazy thing actually existed. It worked with light-gun games and you would yell “fire” to shoot. I can just imagine some unlucky kid screaming at Duck Hunt and never getting past the first level.
These codes are the only reason I got through Astanax. Sure, it felt a little like cheating to play through invincible, but you could still die from pits so you had to be a bit careful. And it was worth it to see the gripping story of a modern boy thrust into a fantasy world he never made, and the fairy who loved him. Did anyone beat this legitimately? The controls were so stiff as to be unplayable. Great music though.
NP didn’t always get the art right. That’s not Solstice Man. Solstice Man is a bad-ass bearded dude with no shirt and lightning crashes around him constantly. I don’t know who this fruity guy in the robe is, but he better watch out for the green monster hand moving in for the reach-around.
It’s stuff like this that I remember most about classic Nintendo Power. This is from an article on Crystalis and whole pages are taken up by these items descriptions. Some guy was actually paid to draw every consumable, key item, weapon, and piece of armor in the game. It may seem pointless but this is the stuff that sticks in my mind, and that I find so endearing about the magazine. Got to fill space for the kiddies? Fill it up with item art and they will love it. And we did.
Who knows how you got a job as a Nintendo Power counselor but it looks like being creepy as hell is a pre-requsitic. Rich Richardson looks like the kind guy who has a windowless van full of boxes of apple juice that put you to sleep. I mean, that name sounds made up and everything. His high-score, and arguably the proof that he has the chops to be a NP game counselor, is that he finished Adventure Island before anyone else could be bothered. In fact, none of these high-scores are scores at all. The only one that’s half-way impressive is polishing off Bionic Commando in one life. I donno, Mike, I’m a little skeptical about that. Dane’s got the best one. Finishing two games in one day won’t win you the ladies, buddy.
More great original art. The theme for the letters section was “knights” but I guess it didn’t have legs because everything at the back is “underwater.” I want to know what shark game that fish is playing, the graphics look amazing. Between reading this stuff and Boy’s Life I think my fate as a cartoonist was sealed. That last one though? Whew! Something horrible happened to that octopus. Someone replaced all his tentacles with worms!
You would think that a behind the scenes look at Lucasfilm would be fascinating, but the article is slight and short on info. It touches a little bit on Skywalker Ranch and Maniac Mansion, saying “LucasArts is making funny games!” and then ends on pimping their new NES support. The game they choose to highlight?
Lastly, the issue reminds everyone to check out PowerFest 1990. This was a series of expositions NP had around the US. I was able to convince my dad to take me somehow. They had rows and rows of NESes and Game Boys set up and this stage in the middle with stuff on it that I don’t remember much because of the rows and rows of NESes and Game Boys. It was a wonderland, though the only things I remember playing were Mega Man 3 and Wizards and Warriors for Game Boy. The first was amazing, the second not so much. It felt like we were only there for minutes before my dad got bored. In reality, it was probably closer to two hours. He’s a stand-up guy for taking me, and I got a free Mario plush just for showing up.
Next time: Nintendo Power’s foray into Strategy Guides and more praise for mediocre art.
Again, all images were provided by RetroMags.com, your first provider for all things retro and mag.