Posts from the ‘Magazines’ Category

A Howard & Nester “Tribute”

Some background info: A while back on Facebook, Howard Phillips of Nintendo Power fame held a contest for artists to submit tribute comics about the magazine’s most fondly remembered feature, Howard & Nester. So, as I’m wont to do on occasion, I gathered my Micron pens, scrawled on some Bristol board, and submitted this. It’s not quite a tribute in the traditional sense – aside from being nicely illustrated and stodgily written, my lasting impression from the original H&N was that this full-grown man wouldn’t leave this prepubescent alone because of his lousy NES skills.

 
I didn’t win first place, and deservedly so.

An Ode to Nintendo Power

Don’t get your hopes up, Dear Reader. The Zelda nonsense will be back in full force once I finish the crimson half of the Oracle series.

During the halcyon days of print media, the newsstand was lousy with videogaming publications. From Bill Kunkel’s Electronic Games (God rest his soul), to the studied, in-depth Next Generation; from the mainstream’s Electronic Gaming Monthly to the dual paste eaters that were GamePro and GameInformer, we’ve had magazines catered to every videogamer’s taste.

But none quite had the sizable cult that Nintendo Power has endured throughout the years.

The origins of Nintendo Power can be traced back to two sources; the Nintendo Fun Club and The Official Nintendo Player’s Guide. The former was a free newsletter sent out to new owners of the NES that mostly erred on the side of advertisements for new games than tips and tricks proper. Strangely enough, that was reciprocated in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, where Doc told gamers to subscribe to the Nintendo Fun Club.

The latter, however, was a behemoth of exhaustive guides and walkthroughs for about twenty of Nintendo’s better early games. Games like Metroid and The Goonies II were given the white glove treatment with full colored maps (scrawled in what looked like art pens and markers). I find it difficult to relate just how essential this black tome was to a videogamer of that era, but hopefully anyone who’s lost their head in Kid Icarus’ obnoxious last dungeon can sympathize. The writing was a bit poor (pot to kettle, pot to kettle…), clarified by the fact that the masthead contained nothing but Japanese names.

The back of the Player’s Guide featured a quick writeup of every game released on the NES up to that point with a preview of things to come. It’s interesting to note (at least for losers like us) that the guide was being written while Nintendo was preparing to bring Zelda II stateside, as the box art was just doodled in. Also, in the preview section, an unreleased sequel called Return of Donkey Kong was mentioned.

I can’t leave the Player’s Guide alone without featuring this awesome photo in the back of the book. I want to live in that photo.

So, born of these efforts to inform players of games to buy and how to beat them so you can buy more came the inaugural edition of Nintendo Power, sent out to any child smart enough to send in for the newsletter, and on the front, splayed in clay was Super Mario Bros. 2. Ho-lee-shee-it. No longer were children content to read 3-2-1 Contact and Highlights if they wanted something to flip through at the newsstand. Nintendo Power was actually interesting!

The magazine was lousy with everything Nintendo. Within the first few pages was a letters section, where children and sad grown men with mustaches could send in photos of themselves, posing next to a Zenith strobing a faint image of Mario. There was a section where equally sad grown men and women (called “Counselors” to save face) gave tips to little Jimmy on how to defeat Medusa in Castlevania. And of course, the standard high score tables, brief walkthroughs and previews of upcoming games.

In hindsight, it’s easy to see the huge bias Nintendo had slanted in its favor; Nintendo Power was a 30+ page advertisement for its wares, and everything got the red carpet treatment. Even the worst game got some sort of attention, and though they never slammed them directly, you could always tell in reading the reviews that they at least wanted to you purchase ten copies of it. But like a puppy with a bladder control problem, or your octogenarian father with the same affliction, it’s easy to overlook this relentless gushing.

In honor of this great/”great” magazine, I’d like to present some of the more memorable moments of its history.

Now, I wouldn’t say that in the early days of NP, the whole thing was thrown together, but the art direction was a little blinding at times. Bright neon colors and creatures with phallic probosces teemed the pages. And although this sounds pedantic, as a kid I distinctly remembered charting the colors of Mario’s clothing throughout the magazine to make sure I wasn’t crazy and that he did have a blue hat at some point.

I’d say Mega Man bore the brunt the largest of Nintendo’s wonky artists. I got the clear impression that both Nintendo and Capcom were leery in revealing the Blue Bomber’s Astro Boy influenced origins, judging by their Americanized* efforts. So as a result, we got this:


And this:

And oh dear God, this:

Thank God the games were fantastic otherwise, cause I can’t imagine anyone buying this in the hopes of controlling a blue cybernetic dwarf with pretty boy lips and Down’s.

To be honest, that first cover I still think looks pretty boss, regardless of Mega Man’s Elephant Man appearance.

Hey, there’s a Robot Master for you, Capcom!

…oh wait, it’s been done.

A lot of the covers were really imaginative. Take the Ducktales cover for example. Can you imagine any magazine in this day and age using their time and resources to come up with anything half as clever as this? A seamless integration of clay models, traditional cel-art and gorgeous lighting.

I think I chubbed up there for a second.

In the early years (at least up through the SNES days), NP would included a folded two-age poster in the centerfold. Yes RBI Baseball fans, you can now impress your friends by plastering this goofy poster in your 80s cool guy room. Still, it could be worse. You could’ve had a poster of Jar Jar Binks reading RollingStone on your wall for months, until you saw the movie and had to shamefully remove it, denying that it ever existed to your friends.

Thanks a fucking lot, RollingStone.

This one is just hilarious. For Nintendo Power’s second issue, the cover story was Castlevania II. Just check out how they decided to advertise it on the cover.

Yessir, that’s Simon Belmont holding Dracula’s possessed severed head in his hand behind the creepiest backdrop this side of western Nevada. Unsurprisingly, Nintendo Power received a load of calls from angry parents about it. Hey, this is what happens when you forget your target audience is children from ages 4 to 30. Remember that.

Incidentally, there was a website that used to sell a t-shirt of this famed cover printed on the front, but the last time I visited, the sizes were – ironically – limited to XXL. As soon as they start selling this shirt in sizes I can wear, I’ll link them, but until then, nada. This is the power I wield with an expendable WordPress blog…

Steve Wozniak, he of glorious Apple ][ fame was a HUGE Tetris player, and would send in his high scores every month. The editors eventually grew tired of this, and stopped printing his scores. Steve did what any engineering genius would do and reverse engineered his name. I can’t find the issue it happens, but they did print a high score for a Mr. Evets Kainzow. Woz, you genius.

Speaking of C-list celebrities, Nintendo Power would routinely feature celebrity videogamer profiles every month. In hindsight, it’s sort of funny to see the winners they picked at the time.

Kirk Cameron

Once the star of the flaccid sitcom “Growing Pains”, later went insane when he found God and started using bananas to contest Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Favorite games: Rygar, Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda, Gradius, Pinball


Jay Leno

At the time a successful comedian before he screwed over not one but TWO inheritors to the “Tonight Show” throne, earning him a rightful place in Hollywood Hell. Counts millionaire headcase Jerry Seinfeld as one of his allies.

Favorite games: Legend of Zelda, Contra


New Kids on the Block

Euugh.

Favorite games: EUUGH


Wil Wheaton

This former child actor broke free of the shackles of playing a much-maligned know-it-all on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” to become King of the Nerds! He seems like a pretty nice guy by all accounts.

Favorite Games Favorite Game: Ice Hockey


“Howard and Nester” is probably the most remembered feature of Nintendo Power. Every issue would feature a comic adventure with the two taking part in games Nintendo really wanted to push at the time. The eponymous Howard was one of Nintendo Power‘s editors and chief gamemaster and would serve as a comic foil to the brash radish-headed Nester. A typical comic would involve the two embroiled in some game fantasy, where Nester would ignore Howard’s advice and bash his skull into a brick ceiling and things of that sort. The artwork was really fantastic, with well done watercolors and a clean style. Unfortunately, at some point they dropped the original artist and replaced them with some hack who apparently had a background in illustrating school books.

Ooh, Annie, where’d you go, baby? I’m guessing the reason Annie never appeared in any of the strips proper was that having two people take the wind out of Nester’s sail in every issue was a bit much.

Around the late 1980’s, RPGs had become a HUGE success in Japan, thanks to its progenitor, Dragon Quest. Nintendo was very keen on repeating that success and creating future business in that genre with a much larger American audience. So for what seemed like ages, Nintendo Power prominently displayed their newly translated version of Dragon Quest, now called Dragon Warrior in their magazine. There were features that explained, in the most simplest of terms what an RPG was, and how you were supposed to play, with maps and detailed enemy charts.

The art was thankfully westernized from Akira Torionlydrawsangryeyesbigforeheadsandusestoomanylines’s God awful designs. Just look at the Dragon Lord in OUR copy of Dragon Warrior. You’re telling me Akira’s version is better? Fuck you! Everything he draws ends up looking like Goku, anyway…

Unfortunately, sales for Dragon Warrior were a smidge underwhelming. I surmise the reasons being that, again Nintendo was short sighted in realizing its audience were primarily grade school tots who couldn’t read, let alone read ye olde English and the steep learning curve in what amounted to a graphic version of a pen-and-paper RPG. I give them credit though. They did introduce the RPG to western audiences pretty well. When they realized how much backstock of Dragon Warrior they had, Nintendo promised new subscribers to their magazine ONE FREE COPY! Presumably, they ran through their stock and gained new readers in the process.

Incidentally, this is how I managed to finagle a copy of Dragon Warrior. I was about five at the time, barely able to read, and absolutely mystified by a videogame that would deny me my God given right to play it. This and Faxanadu were games that I was more-or-less not allowed to play because I didn’t know what the hell was going on. Mario and Zelda were more my bag. But being somewhat discouraged from these games at an early age really rekindled my interest, and twenty years later, I finally finished Dragon Warrior on an actual NES… clone.

Jesus what a slog…

I’ve polled friends and they all seem to agree that this was probably the freakiest advertisement they ever used in the magazine. Remember, I had trouble separating a Tetris 2 commercial from reality, how do you think I reacted to this?

The magazine went through many transmutations, and starting with the SNES era, just didn’t seem the same. Once all the game publishers saw the crappy artwork Nintendo was using to promote their games, they started hiring their own art staff to sell their games. Gone was Howard and Nester. Well, first Howard when he left for LucasArts, then Nester when readers realized how lame he was without his bowtie counterpoint. That certain kitschy (I use that word too much on this site) 80’s kid’s magazine style left as the magazine became more contemporary.

For whatever reason, the magazine got a second wind during the N64 era, possibly thanks to the advent of the Internet at the time. I can’t really explain it, but the N64 issues seemed as sweet at those first ones.

They also started issuing out some sweet swag at the time. Nintendo would routinely send out promo tapes for its biggest releases. By now, I’m sure you’ve seen them all through viral videos on the YouTube. By far the best one is the Banjo-Kazooie promo tape. Nintendo hired actor/comedian/film critiiiIIIIC! Jon Lovitz to narrate, and it’s pure bliss.

Now, I actually have a piece of art that I sent in to Nintendo Power that was published. I was reading the latest issue at the time, saw the artwork and for the next five minutes, couldn’t shake the strange sense of Deja Vu I was feeling, until it hit me. Really speaks volumes about how dense I can be. I won’t say what issue or even what era. I’ll invite you, Dear Reader to find it and report back, for a prize!**

In recent years, Nintendo Power nearly gave up the ghost, but thankfully, it was rescued by Future US publishing. The writing and layout is more contemporary, influenced by the Internet’s unrelenting diction. There’s still the classic Nintendo bias, but it’s toned down significantly and reads more like EGM-lite I suppose. I’d recommend it, not just because magazines – let alone gaming magazines – are having trouble keeping footing in this world, but because Nintendo Power just needs to be around. It’s one of those constants that, without, would throw the world’s chi out of whack.

God bless you Nintendo Power!

*”Americanized” means “shitty”

**Prize will not be good