Did Nintendo Power Ruin My Game Playing Childhood?

As a child, I had an Atari 2600. I didn’t know about arcades filled with the original Asteroids, Space Invaders, Pac-man, and Berzerk. My first encounter with any of these games was on the Atari, and since I didn’t know how horrible the translation was (apparently Pac-man wasn’t very popular on the Atari), I was happy. Heck, I even liked E.T., but I recently found out that I am not alone.

When the Nintendo Entertainment System first arrived, I didn’t even blink. I heard about it, and I saw some news reports on television about how the system couldn’t stay in stores very long. I distinctly remember one segment called “Nuts for Nintendo” on what I believe was the news program 20/20. I turned to my younger sister and said dorkily proudly, “I’M not nuts for Nintendo!”

One day, while visiting our cousins, something was different. They had an Atari, too, and I expected to play Baseball, Combat, or Circus Atari. Instead, I saw some of the most amazing visuals ever. They were playing Super Mario Bros, and I distinctly remember saying “Woooow!” as I walked towards the screen.

I visited my cousins a lot that month.

Then I got my own NES.

Months later, my father informed me that one of his coworkers had a son who loved Nintendo, and this complete stranger let me borrow his copy of an issue of Nintendo Power. It was issue #4, with Link looking at a sleeping Zelda on the cover for Zelda II: The Adventures of Link. All I was thinking was, “Holy cow! There was a magazine for Nintendo!” Throughout my life, I would substitute something else for “Nintendo” in that sentence. It seems that literally every possible field has a magazine.

Anyway, I got a subscription myself, and I had it for years. I accidentally let my subscription run out right when Nintendo Power celebrated it’s 5 years/50th issue, so I had to purchase that magazine at the store. Occasionally, I received free strategy guides, including one for Ninja Gaiden that featured a section that explained how to turn a square piece of cloth into ninja headgear! Best Halloween Ever!

I never did like getting strategy guides for games I played, though. I always felt it was cheating if you sat with a book and ran through a game as quickly as possible. What kind of fun could it be to already know beforehand all of the secrets?

Yet, I had no qualms about reading the actual magazine, which usually featured hints, tips, and maps. The secret 1UP in the first level of Super Mario Bros, the way to get a quadruple match in Dr. Mario, and the entire layout of Maniac Mansion (although the statue in the maps was never in the NES game) were just a few of the things I learned from Nintendo Power.

Today, without Nintendo Power and without something to substitute for it, if I play something such as New Super Mario Bros, I notice something different. I’m exploring an entirely new world. Everything is new. I had no foreknowledge of anything in the game.

And it was fun.

But wasn’t I having fun before? I avoided strategy guides, but I learned a decent amount about games before I played them. I still had fun, and it wasn’t as if I was reading about the end of mystery novels before reading the books. Still, wasn’t part of the fun supposed to be that you were exploring a strange new world? Wouldn’t Super Mario Bros 3 have been more fun to play if I didn’t already know where the warp whistles were located?

Today, players have access to game walk-throughs, cheat codes, and more from the World Wide Web. I’ll accept that some people prefer to blast through games as quickly as possible. I remember people in school talking about how they finished Super Mario World in a matter of days, only to be told that someone else finished it in one day. Well, yeah, if you knew about taking the Star Road straight to Bowser’s castle, you could easily finish it within hours!

In high school, I mentioned that I finished Super Mario 64 and obtained all 120 stars. Someone said, “Oh, you used a strategy guide.” No, I didn’t! Why would you say that?

“I heard that you can’t find all 120 stars unless you use a strategy guide.” That’s absurd! Of course you could find all 120 stars without a strategy guide! Otherwise it would be a crappy game!

My victory, my work, my efforts…they mean nothing to anyone else because anyone could do the same thing by using walk-throughs and strategy guides, and they will assume that you did, too.

It is well known that Shigeru Miyamoto was inspired to make The Legend of Zelda by exploring the area around Kyoto. He didn’t read a map, note the landmarks, and then start looking for those landmarks. He stumbled across things like lakes and caves on his own. Everything was a surprise and a lot of fun. And yet, how many people opted to play with a map, a walk-through, and some tips they learned from Nintendo Power? How many people essentially asked for directions before “exploring” the countryside near Kyoto?

Of course, people look up famous landmarks before going to experience them firsthand. Mt. Rushmore and the Leaning Tower of Pisa aren’t exactly things you happen to stumble upon. Still, isn’t it a lot of fun to walk the long way home from work and find out about a pizza place or small bookstore or a park that you didn’t know existed? It’s like finding a 1UP hiding in the sky before someone told you about it.

5 comments to Did Nintendo Power Ruin My Game Playing Childhood?

  • Come on! You did use that strategy guide for Super Mario 64.
    Everyone did. I had 119 stars, then i was forced to research in the internet.
    http://groups.google.com/group/rec.games.video.nintendo/browse_thread/thread/29a616e271359d4a/3b696673af271321?lnk=st&q=karl+hofer&rnum=27#

  • Heh, that link is great! I don’t know why, but I felt the game was pretty straightforward about the location of each one. In fact, at the start, you get to pick which star to go after, and they are each named appropriately. I wouldn’t be surprised if that star didn’t have a subtitle that said, “Slide!” or something similar.

  • Casey

    I haven’t read Nintendo Power in a long time but I remember how much I liked it back when I was younger. I still have the issue you mentioned with Zelda II and the Simon’s Quest II issue that I remember getting them a lot of heat.

    I try and avoid strategy guides whenever I can although I have a somewhat large collection of them from working at Gamestop. I used to get them when they were delisted. I don’t think that Nintendo is to blame as much as the stores who try and sell you the guides for each game you buy at a special discounted rate.

  • [..]It’s taking strategy guides to the next level really. The walk-through was something I never really got into in games (except with windwaker when a wrong turn had led me on a 4 week goose chase), even as a kid I couldn’t understand why people would get a game from santa only to play through it with a script beside them.[..]
    (love your blog btw – keep it up!)

  • Well, I indeed finished lots of games using guides when young. I even had a subscription of a Brazilian game magazine with lots of tips and walkthroughs. I think that, today, I might have a better understanding of level design because of these guides.

    I do love to play games with procedural-generated content, like Civilization or Sim City, that can’t have a “one-size-fits-all” walkthrough. I also love casual games, which have procedural content. Maybe procedural can offer players that exploration feeling that was lost (for some of them).

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