Once upon a time Nintendo was more than a game company, it was the kind of community that you get among Apple users today. Maybe it was because gaming was still mostly a kid thing and kids are the world's best obsessors, or maybe it was just because Nintendo in '80s and '90s was just that freakin' awesome. There is no better argument for the latter than the magazine Nintendo Power, which will sadly close forever later this year.
For the last five years the magazine has been published under the direction of Future US, who says they will cease production this year. Nintendo has declined to either seek a new publisher or to take over the duty themselves as they did for the first 19 years.
Sure, the magazine was more catalog than journalism. You never saw a bad review for a Nintendo-licensed game. It also had a penchant for running contests for things it could either not deliver on, such as a cameo in the Mask 2, or for granting them in mindblowingly bad ways like with the infamous Chris Houlihan Room. Most damaging, gamers no longer hold their breath from month to month hoping that cheats and secrets for the game they were playing would appear. Now the internet does that.
Still, for sheer, childish enthusiasm Nintendo Power couldn't be beat. Every issue was a promise of hours of gameplay that would take you far away from your parents, your school, and whatever gives 10-year-olds angst. It's an aspect of gaming culture that simply no longer exists.
Trust me, I've got a Game Informer subscription with my GameStop rewards card and its piece of junk. Reading it feels like an assignment. Reading Nintendo Power was more along the lines of, "We both know this stuff is awesome. Sit down, kid, and let's talk about just how awesome it is!" The magazine was kind of like a friend, and at the time gaming was a somewhat lonely hobby so that was very welcome.
So goodbye, old friend. I had hoped one day to work for you and help bring others the same joy you brought me. I guess that's out the window. In the meantime, let's look back at some of the covers that brought a smile to my face when they arrived in the mail.
Mortal Kombat II is where Nintendo gave up on the always family friendly image they had hung onto as long as they could. The game featured the full, uncensored fatalities unlike the first one. Whoever did this cover was determined to let you know that the game was not in anyway messing around. I still think this is creepier than any horror movie poster I've ever seen.
Mega Man got a lot of love on the covers, appearing in at least three of them, and most of the time some great artist would make these almost Svankmajer-looking versions of Doctor Wily. Every time I saw one it made me wonder how great a stop-motion Mega Man film would've been.
Maniac Mansion is one of those games just dying for a remake. The offbeat humor, unforgettable characters, and fun puzzles make it a classic. This cover outdid the game's own box art, and brought real life to some characters that were pretty disappointing looking in 8-bit.
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I remember this cover because there's a very specific reason you can't see Kevin Costner's face. The makers of the game secured the title rights, but not the likeness rights. The character avatars in the game are completely different-looking than they are in the movie. Hence, you only see the back of Robin Hood.
Ah, the Virtual Boy. It sucked, and it sold very poorly. How poorly? If I and the other 769,999 people that bought it had started a creepy cult dedicated to it our religion would barely outnumber the world's Rastafarians. I'm kind of surprised we didn't start a creepy cult, actually. Look at that cover! It basically promises you the secrets of the Machine.
One thing you can always give Nintendo Power is that they let plenty of smaller games get on the cover. Metal Storm is one of those games that I can't believe didn't become a blockbuster series. It's basically Contra meets Portal.
Nintendo Power put out their own strategy guides for a while, and I had every single one of them. While the strategies in Ninja Gaiden II all boil down to, "Kill anything that flies damn fast or it is going to end your shit," what made the guide awesome was comic pages based on the cutscenes that were Ninja Gaiden's unique and powerful calling card.