Nintendo Power: The End of an Era That Already Ended

It’s being reported today that long-running gaming magazine Nintendo Power is to cease publication. Editors and staffers were informed of this decision last week, when Nintendo opted not to renew their contract for a magazine that currently sees a circulation of about 475,000 subscribers.

Nintendo Power began as an in-house publication by Nintendo of America back in 1988, beginning as the several-page publication, Nintendo Fun Club News, available for free. In mid-’88, though, it was expanded to a full magazine, and rebranded as Nintendo Power.

Nintendo Power offered extensive gaming tips, including articles that provided detailed maps and walkthrough hints for various games. Also included were previews of upcoming games and reviews of recently released games.

What really caught people’s eyes with Nintendo Power were its really colorful pages. An inspiration for this was various manga publications in Japan, and this was carried over into page designs with lots of action, sketches, and bright colors. Issues also included pull-out posters designed after current video games.

Another thing that set Nintendo Power apart was its subscriber gifts. With new or renewing subscriptions, Nintendo offered various rewards. A famous reward was in the early years of the magazine, when subscribers were given a free copy of the first Dragon Warrior game on the NES. Nintendo had lots of unsold copies on their hands. Over the years, subscription bonuses ranged from soundtrack CDs to headphones, to player’s guides. My copy of The Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition on the Gamecube (a single disc that contained The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was as a subscriber’s bonus one year.

Over the years, there were lots of memorable features, ranging from sections that would come and go over the years, to short-lived special features. In the early years, there was the Counselor’s Corner, a section where phone operators for Nintendo’s gaming help line would respond to some of the more common questions for various video games. I remember, way back then, that’s how I found out about the invisible doors in the second quest of The Legend of Zelda. There was Classified Information, a section that provided cheat codes for various video games. (Cheat codes seem to also be, mostly, a thing of the past, and something I should write an article about). I remember the manila-envelope design for the Classified Information section in the early issues. For a while in the late ’90s, there was the PokeCenter section, for all the latest Pokemon news.

Eventually, Nintendo would start playing player’s guides, publishing books that encompassed multiple games, as well as strategy guides for single games. Many player’s guides were offered as subscriber bonuses. Of recent years, Nintendo outsourced these guides to Prima Publishing.

Nintendo Power was also known for their unique cover designs, featuring custom artwork for various games. The first issue featured a clay design of Mario, for Super Mario Bros. 2.

There was one cover in particular that Nintendo got a lot of angry mail over, and that was the artwork for Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, in which Simon Belmont held Dracula’s severed head.

Either way, NP usually always had very creative covers, a design concept that ties into the manga-inspired featured designs.

For years, NP was the go-to source for the latest Nintendo news, be it for upcoming games, or for upcoming consoles. This was a time when the Internet was not as prevalent as it is today, and Nintendo fans relied on Nintendo Power not only for news of these upcoming games, and hints of upcoming consoles, but also for their detailed strategy features on various games. It was an age of games that were comparatively simpler than today’s 40-hour plus games, an age when a magazine could feature prints of game world maps, hints at how to overcome obstacles.

That’s what made Nintendo Power such a cool magazine. It was a thing that tied Nintendo fans together. They could talk about having read a certain thing in the magazine. Fans could write letters, which were presented and responded to in the Player’s Pulse section at the start of each issue. Back in the day of snail mail, fans would design their envelopes with all sorts of cool Nintendo-related artwork, which would be featured in the Player’s Pulse section.

Each issue featured a “Player’s Poll” contest, which was really just a good way to get reader feedback on what games were popular. You pulled out a card, filled out a survey, and sent the card in for a chance to win that issue’s prize. These prizes ranged from games or t-shirts, to the occasional extravagant prize. Sometimes they offered trips to Nintendo of America. In early 1990, the top prize was a private screening of “the new TMNT movie”. In Volume 25, the top prize was a golf cart and 2 sets of golf clubs. Volume 38 offered a Super Mario Bros. pinball machine.

2007 ended with a major change of direction for the magazine, as Nintendo outsourced publishing rights to Future US, which is owned by Future plc, an international publishing company based in the United Kingdom. The Future US division alone owns quite an extensive list of gaming magazines, including PC Gamer, Official XBOX Magazine, and PlayStation: The Official Magazine. So, at that point, they owned the official magazines for the three home consoles. It was on 19 September of 2007 that Nintendo announced this change of ownership. From this moment, Nintendo would have an annual contract with Future US for Nintendo Power.

Future US’ Nintendo Power was not itself a sudden change, but the realization of what had already been subtly shifting for the past few years. Ever since the Gamecube was released toward the end of 2001, Nintendo Power had been phasing out the gaming maps and walkthrough features that had made the magazine so popular in its early years. This had to do with both how prevalent home access to the Internet was becoming at the time and how complex games were becoming. You could just as easily consult, say GameFAQs, for maps and walkthroughs, and such features would be too lengthy for a monthly publication. Monthly content saw a shift from walkthroughs to articles previewing the features of upcoming games.

It was when Future changed the magazine’s logo that this radical shift was complete. Since the beginning, NP had the logo you see at the top of the article. Sometimes it would be re-colored, sometimes it would be white, but it would always be that basic logo design. When Future took over, they replaced it with a new logo:

This logo retained some of the horizontal bars that so identified the original, but it was quite the new look.

But the magazine was seeing a shrinking subscriber base, following the popular trend away from the print medium to the Internet. The end was inevitable, really.

I read the magazine a lot as a kid. It was my favorite magazine. It was a magazine all about video games, whereas other magazines didn’t interest me with their subjects. The page designs were exciting, and each issue had a tear-out poster for a specific game. It was a really cool magazine. My mom had a subscription in the early years, and I still have some of those issues. I had a subscription of my own starting in 2001. My last issue as a subscriber was V262, which had a Kingdom Hearts game on the cover.

One neat thing that Future started doing with the magazine was offer subscriber-only versions of the cover. The retail version of the magazine would then feature its own design (sometimes a completely different image), heavy with text for articles and special features, whereas the subscriber version would offer a cover featuring a unique artwork completely devoid of any text, besides the logo. That was a neat idea, actually.

To this day, I still have all of my subscriber issues, lots of player’s guides, and some of my subscriber bonuses.

In the ’90s, Nintendo would run comic segments in NP, featuring various Nintendo characters. I know of Super Mario, Zelda (an alternate story to A Link to the Past), Metroid, and StarFox, and I’m sure there were others. Nintendo published some of these as their own complete editions, and I have the books for Super Mario Adventures and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. In the 2000s, NP ran a series of comics based on episodes of Kirby: Right Back at ‘Ya!.

So yeah, Nintendo Power was a great magazine, and a huge part of my childhood. I understand why it’s being shut down (it’s another casualty in the growing presence of the Internet). Though, for me, the magazine already began dying when it was outsourced to Future. There, it became a different entity to what it had been with Nintendo, existing in name-only from what it used to be.

One final note: if you have access to V217, the July 2007 issue, open to page 103 for that issue’s “Subscriber Profile” feature. That’s me. I’m featured in that issue of Nintendo Power.

Best wishes to the Nintendo Power editors and staff. You’ve still made a great magazine, even after much of your audience had shifted to the Internet and stopped subscribing.

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One thought on “Nintendo Power: The End of an Era That Already Ended

  1. Video Game Cinema February 21, 2015 / 00:12

    It’s a bummer that Nintendo Power had to go. They were a great magazine.

    I still have one of the shirts they sent me after I renewed my subscription.

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