Tuesday, 19 May 2015

ReMEMBeR: October 1998, Nintendo Power

ReMEMBeR : Retro Magazine Examination, Musings, Belittling & Ranting

Magazine: Nintendo Power
Cover Date: October 1998
Country of Origin: USA

Nintendo Power was the quintessential in-house video game rag of the 1980s and 90s.  Being published for most of its impressive run by Nintendo itself, it was the go to place for strategy guides and tips, as well as new release information for all of Nintendo's systems.  The magazine of course had limited coverage of general gaming industry news and was even a bit snobby in the heyday of the NES

It's easy to be mouthy when you own 90% of the video game market. 

By late 1998 though, the situation had dramatically changed.  The halcyon days of Nintendo supremacy had long passed.  The N64 was finishing off its second year on  the market and it was clear for everyone to see that cartridges were no longer going to be able to control the market.  Sega had already discontinued the Saturn and the PSX now had a market share very similar to that of the NES in its glory days, only with a much more lucrative business model (CDs) and an older, more affluent target market (teens staring at Lara Croft's bum).  Nintendo Power couldn't stop the downward trend and the magazine's tone reflected this.

The magazine's news section is all the way on page 114.  Apparently it wasn't as important as promoting the current games already out on the market at the time. 

We get a preview of the soon to be released Game Boy Color, which apparently in 1998 is amazing with 54 colors (guess they never saw the Game Gear or TurboExpress).

Body Harvest, a game that had originally been slated as a launch title for the N64, will finally see the light of day.  It was a fun title ultimately living up to its ambitious design.

Other games talked about are Space Circus, VR Pool, Lode Runner 64 and Hype (a Playmobil licensed game).  The legendarily terrible Yoda Stories port for the Gameboy is also announced, Duke Nukem Zero Hour is coming from the masters of amazing game design, Eurocom (yes... that should be read with a heaping of sarcasm) and Castlevania 64 gets delayed a month... I guess they still had some camera and jump mechanics that still worked in the game and were in desperate need of destroying.

In the letters page, the editors promise us that GBC carts will run on all Gameboy models just not in color... this proved, thankfully, not to be true.  Imagine if all the games had to have had lower powered monochrome editions included on them.... no Shantae, no Scooby Doo and no FMV Dragon's Lair.

The big selling point of Nintendo Power had always been the strategy guides, and as the number of monthly releases for Nintendo systems dwindled in the late 90s (only to take off massively again with the Wii, of course), the strategy guides got longer and longer and were no longer limited to the most important releases.  This issue has a whopping 8 pages dedicated to Turok 2, ten pages dedicated to the awesome Space Station Silicon Valley, seven pages to the, at the time of publication, unreleased Twisted Edge Extreme Snowboarding, eight pages explaining all the ins and outs of WCW/NWO Revenge and finally  six pages go to Nascar 99 (yes EA used to make yearly updates of "turn to the left" simulators) for the N64.

Gameboy gets a four page guide/preview of Disney's Mulan with the wonderful line "Only THQ could make a game that features both full-speed snowboarding action and a a bit of modest skinny-dipping".  (the double "a" typo is in the mag) Why are they:

A. praising THQ for anything... they were the Acclaim of the late 90s mostly
B. talking about the mix of levels like its amazingly innovation... remember Cliffhanger?  Well maybe its good you don't...
and ...
C. Why is there skinny dipping mentioned in a game clearly targeting the youngest kids, on a monochrome screen?

A four page preview of Fighting Force, nine page comparison of the upcoming Madden '99 and NFL Quarterback Club 99, four pages for Buzz Bumble and written like a news paper article, as well as three for Bomberman Hero make up the coming attractions section.

A six page preview of Zelda: Ocarina of Time makes the bold claim that it "will redefine gaming."  While I can appreciate good hyperbole as much as the next guy, my god were these guys stretching!  Final Fantasy VII had been released almost two years earlier, as had Tomb Raider.  Ocarina of Time was a good game but hardly did anything new, other than just having a consistently high level of quality throughout... except of course for the endless horse riding. 

Did I mention that this was a publication owned and operated by Nintendo?

Finally an article that is both informative and fun to read!  Eurogames is a six page look at a series of "European" developers (limited to the UK and France actually... although Factor 5 does show up to answer some questions).  It is interesting to read some of the developer comments about their approaches and how they see the international market.  Granted big players of the time, like Core Design are missing from this profile because of their lack of N64 development plans.
Counselor's Corner, an answer section seems a bit anachronistic at a time where the Internet was already pretty omnipresent.  But here are four pages explaining how to beat scenes in GoldenEye, Mission Impossible and Legend of the River King on Gameboy... yes, that's a fishing game. 

So now we got through the exciting strategy guides and previews... what do the scores tell us! 

Well we get four pages of reviews with two reviews per page... yep that's right kids!  Four pages of actual opinion on what you should buy. 

Madden gets a whopping 8.3 out of 10, Space Station Silicon Valle 8.1, WCW/NWO gets 8.1 as well, Nascar 99 scores a 7.4 (the quip about "who has time to race 500 laps" was pretty good) and Mulan (the game that got all that praise and four whole pages earlier in the mag) comes in at a measly 4.6 with it being deemed frustrating and too short. 

The big deal though in this issue is the review of Pokemon.  Released in the USA almost two years after it was launched in Japan, the game gets a very basic score of 7.2 with the reviewers comparing it to traditional console RPGs like Dragon Quest.  There is no mention of the Red and Blue variants or the multiplayer battle modes trading, etc.  Oh, if they only knew then what was to come...

As the N64 got delayed and was outclassed by Saturn and PSX, Nintendo adopted the "where the hits keep coming" slogan for its SNES releases.  The echo of that slogan is evident in this Nintendo Power ad highlighting Banjo Kazooie and Conker (back then still scheduled for the kid friendly Twelve Tales: Conker 64 a game that would never be released but instead (d)evolve into the amazing Conker's Bad Fur Day) and touting the systems upcoming titles which in all honesty are just shadows of glories past (Ken Griffey, F-Zero and Zelda).
Is this ad telling me to be a weiner?

Nintendo Plushies... oddly look like flat low poly N64 models....

Knife Edge: Nose Gunner, a game pretty horribly panned for being terrible and not just for the poor Engrish used in its title, gets an appropriately bad ad that looks like it was drawn by a ten year old on the back of a notebook during a really boring geography class.  And just ten pages later we get a proper ad for the game.  So three pages for basically one game?  Given how much space most ads get in this mag they must have been giving away two page spreads like they were candy.

The official pros guide to the Gameboy Camera
Really, do I have to say anything more about this?

SCARS was a slightly amusing racing game and its ad shows us how happy we are that the 90s are over.

And finally... the rebirth of Nintendo in ad form:  Pokemon.

In Conclusion:
In 1998, the once great Nintendo empire was crumbling.  The N64 was suffering from a dearth of titles and 3rd party support.  A handful of innovative titles were trickling onto their systems but not enough to stem the hemorrhaging.  The Gameboy was in its last throws, but let's face it, it was already 9 years old at this point and was yet to give birth to its greatest franchise, Pokemon.  Gameboy Color and 3D Zelda would keep the Nintendo going until the Wii would introduce casual gaming to the masses a few years later.

A dark moment before a new dawn for the big N, that Nintendo Power didn't see coming.  But that didn't stop it from being the shill fanzine it had always been. 

Yes, I admit, never cared for the rag and this review hasn't made me any more of a fan...

1 comment:

  1. Easy there Karl, easy does it :) Great post. I actually never heard of the Turbo Express. That sounds like an intriguing piece of kit. I'm not really in to handheld gaming, but I alwaty admired the early "color handhelds". I had a GameBoy back in the day...