actually began as a little Nintendo newsletter
called the Nintendo Fun Club News
. Sent free to subscribers (aka "people who sent in the registration card from their Nintendo Entertainment System
's box") four times a year, the newsletter briefed gamers on upcoming releases, tips for the most popular games, and other little bits of information. The newsletter ran for less than a year when it was suspended and replaced with a new 80-page magazine
that provided game level maps, cheat codes, previews, reviews, and other features. Also, this new publication was not free, but cost approximately $15 per year. Nintendo Power
) was born.
The first issue of the magazine rolled off the presses in August 1988 with a large claymation Mario on the cover to tout Super Mario Brothers 2 Inside was maps of the first several levels of the game as well as previews of upcoming releases, such as Ninja Gaiden II and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In order to entice gamers to subscribe, the first issue was sent free of charge to every former Nintendo Fun Club News subscriber. The orders rolled in and the bimonthly NP quickly became the most popular magazine for readers under 13.
As the months passed by, new issues were published. Features such as the Howard and Nester comic, starring Nintendo executive Howard Phillips and a cocky fictional youth named Nester (as in NESter), the Players Pulse reader mail, a preview of future games called Pak Watch, cheat code listing Classified Information, and Q&A Counselor's Corner were introduced. Unlike most other magazines, NP featured no advertising except for Nintendo itself, and even then in extremely limited quantities. At the back of each issue was a card that readers could mail in to enter a contest, giving them a chance to win prizes such as vacations and lunch with celebrities.
In 1989 NP began adding small strategy guides to the magazine. The first guide, a 2-parter that completely mapped out Super Mario Brothers 2, was introduced in the summertime. NP's largest subscription drive began in this year as the magazine gave away a free copy of the new game Dragon Warrior to all new subscribers and to anyone who renewed a subscription. When the Game Boy was introduced in the autumn, NP featured extensive coverage on Tetris and Super Mario Land. NP switched from glue binding to staple binding in 1990, causing many issues to fall apart as they aged. 1990 also saw the debut of the Nintendo Power Strategy Guides, a series of guidebooks published in the off-month of the magazine. Four guides were distributed before that project folded and the magazine went to a monthly format. Super Mario Brothers 3's release was a landmark occassion for the magazine.
As the Super NES loomed in 1991, NP was there to showcase early screenshots of Super Mario World and other upcoming games. 1991 also saw the introduction of the Nintendo Super Power Club and the Nintendo Player's Guides, resulting in a massive influx of new subscribers. There was much criticism in the NP mailbag around this time that the Super NES coverage was eclipsing the NES coverage, as if Nintendo were using the magazine to push new products instead of concentrate coverage on what the majority of gamers already owned. In 1991 NP also switched back to the sturdy glue binding as it increased in page count.
Years continued to pass and NP previewed and reviewed all the newest (popular) games. The standard pattern was that if a game was previewed in one issue, it would be reviewed in the next issue. However, if you would like more extensive coverage of a game, you'd have to buy the Player's Guide for the game. All the hits made it into the NP pages: Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins, Mega Man 4, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and, in issue 50, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening.
Then, in 1994, things began to change. The magazine reinvented itself as Nintendo dumped the "Now You're Playing With Power!" slogan to emphasize the new "Play It Loud!" gaming philosophy. NES coverage was phased out as the aging system was put to rest. Upcoming games such as Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land were the talk of the magazine. Howard and Nester were retired when Howard Phillips left the company, replacing the comic strip with the short-lived Nester's Adventures. However, to fill the comics gap the magazine began including multi-page year-long comics based on Mario, Wario, and Link (of Zelda fame). When StarFox debuted, a comic featuring characters from that series was introduced. The Mario and Link comics were later sold in their own books (these are not the Nintendo comics published by Valiant in the early 1990s).
When the Virtual Boy crashlanded into stores in 1995, NP celebrated/hyped the occasion with a 3D issue that required 3D glasses to read. Subscribers also received coupons for a discount on renting a VB unit from Blockbuster Video. Shortly after this issue, coverage of the red-and-black contraption was discontinued. 1995 also featured reviews of such games as Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest and Plok. Around this time the magazine began adding a page or two of advertisements as well, but only for official Nintendo products.
The next big event in NP-dom was in 1996 when the Nintendo 64 was released. The magazine went all out, giving extensive coverage to Super Mario 64 as if the game were the Second Coming. Reader mail lit on fire once again as complaints of Nintendo pushing their own agenda surfaced in the mailbag section. NP rolled on as new games and systems came and went. Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie's Double Trouble, Wario Land 2, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, and many other games all graced the pages of the magazine. Super NES coverage was retired in 1998 and, likewise, Nintendo 64 reviews were scrapped in 2001. The Nintendo GameCube and Game Boy Advance took over the bulk of the publication as a new generation of gamers picked up their controllers for the first time.
I subscribed to NP from 1989-1997, leaving the magazine behind as I grew older and began to see through the kiddie slant of the magazine. As the years went by NP began to aim lower and lower on their core audience age. Pokemon became god. The Nintendo 64 release Conker's Bad Fur Day, for example, received no press in the magazine at all. In 2002 I ordered Super Mario Sunshine from Nintendo and wound up with a free one-year subscription to the magazine with my order. Leafing through a recent issue I received it was obvious who NP's key audience is now. The November 2002 issue features a brief preview of Metroid Prime and an extensive preview of a Game Boy Color game called Hamtaro which seems to be a cross between Pokemon and hamsters. Plus the magazine now sports advertisements in all places for a variety of gaming products. Due to this NP is noticeably thicker now. I'm in for a year of these magazines, so I'll glance through them but I won't be rebuilding my massive NP archive of years past. Maybe it's because I'm older, wiser, and more cynical now, but the new Nintendo Power seems even more transparently Nintendo-centric than the early years were. So long, NP, and thanks for the memories.