I just recently did something I haven’t done in years and years. I subscribed to Nintendo Power. I guess what’s more amazing than the fact that I’ve elected to subscribe to Nintendo’s premier propaganda rag is the mere fact that it’s still around to begin with.

Specifically, I’ve decided to subscibe to the magazine is the Zelda Classic disc bonus which you can get. This disc contains the NES games The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link as well as the Nintendo 64 games The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. I’m hearing mixed reports as to whether or not the emulated NES games obey the sprite limitations of the original NES (too many sprites on one line require a “flicker” to get them to work – think back to the cemetery sequences to see what I mean) or whether the emulator ignores it. Ocarina of Time has had its resolution bumped up (something the previous release of OoT on the GameCube didn’t do – they saved that for the Master Quest game), as does Majora’s Mask, though the jury’s out on whether or not that game looks better as a result (the game even has a disclaimer warning gamers that some sounds are screwed up as a result of the N64 to GC conversion).

Nintendo Power has been around since 1988, so it’s roughly fifteen years old. It’s fascinating to me to trace it back to its origins. It was back in the day when Nintendo’s dominance was far from a given. True, the NES at that point was rising as a force to be reckoned with, but it looked to be more of a “Tickle Me Elmo” type fad. Plus this was the era in which the videogame industry was still recovering from the throes of the 1982 crash. Nintendo had been publishing a small newsletter called the Nintendo Fun Club for several months and then decided to ditch that in favor of a new, full-blown magazine. They treated all of their Fun Club subscribers to a free copy of the first issue of Nintendo Power.

I’d go into detail about that first issue here, but it’s already been done here better than I could hope to. That article brings a hell of a lot of flashbacks to me. The guy down the street had it (I may have had it too) and I think I must have read that issue cover to cover a million times. I think at the time the only magazines I really ever read were things like Ranger Rick, so to have an entire magazine on my favorite subject was pure gold.

Of course back then we didn’t care that it was basically a commercial. Hell, it worked. I wanted all the games in that magazine (especially the then-hard-to-find Super Mario Bros. 2). Nintendo knew how to cater to their target audience and lure them in. Reading the Castlevania 2 walkthrough just made me want Castlevania 2. We didn’t care about objective reporting – as far as we knew or cared, there wasn’t anything to be objective about. Nintendo was (more or less) the only game in town and that’s all that mattered.

Plus, Nintendo Power had some cool bonuses. They had these little gold pins you could get with differing numbers of wings on them depending on how many years you renewed your subscription for. They had bonus strategy guides for their games (which told you everything since they made the game as well). They even offered renewers Dragon Quest for the NES one year, still hailed by many as the best bonus ever.

Nowadays it’s a different story. The game industry is competitve now. Nintendo doesn’t command a 90% market share. The median target age has moved up considerably and Nintendo has been slow to adjust to it. Most of the time when I see people refer to Nintendo Power, the words “propoganda rag” aren’t far behind.

Now, I haven’t seen the magazine in years (though I think I did pick up a Zelda related issue in 1998) so I can’t vouch for it. Still, when you make games and then make a magazine rating games from yourself and other people, the word “objective” is a hard one. Even if Sony made a magazine it’s not like Sony personally develops their own games.

Since Nintendo makes Nintendo Power, they won’t grant “official” status on any other third party magazines (since Nintendo Power is the official magazine), so this is why publishers are reluctant to make Nintendo-specific magazines. For some reason whenever a third party publisher gets an official magazine status, other publishers want to make unofficial magazines. Imagine had the Official Dreamcast Magazine, so Ziff-Davis decided to make DCM: Dreamcast Magazine. ZD’s Official PlayStation Magazine spurred PSM: PlayStation Magazine from Imagine. I don’t think there are any competitors to Official Xbox Magazine, since pretty much every single Xbox gamer mailed in their subscription out of their Xbox box.

“Official” magazines are odd beasts. On the one hand they’re objective since they’re not owned by the console maker. On the other hand, it’s not like they want to make the console maker mad, either. The Official Xbox Magazine will never label anything Microsoft does as “fucking stupid”, for example. The main thing that bothers gamers though is how official magazines usually take high profile games and give them rave reviews. Perhaps the games truly deserve it, but sometimes even stinker games get the star treatment. The concern here is not that someone outside influenced the review, more that it’s as if the magazine has a vested interest in presenting every high profile game as worth having, and thus the console worth buying. It’s not that the magazine feels it must play a crucial role in moving hardware, but rather that it feels like it needs to help its console “win”.

And this all goes back to the “who wins” debate. Ultimately it’s the latter day incarnation of the “mine’s better than yours – you’re stupid for liking yours” argument from the elementary schoolyards of the world. Don’t get me wrong – it’s fun to pick on other systems, but when professionals do it, it’s another story. I get the Official Xbox Magazine and usually the cross-platform title gets some digs for not having enhanced Xbox graphics – they decide to ignore the economics of development every single time.

But Nintendo Power’s been there through it all – through the debacle that was the Virtual Boy, through the sluggish N64 years, through the change from cartridge to disc media, through 14 years of the Game Boy, everything. I’ll read the issues as they come in the mail, since it’ll be fun. Actually the real test will be to see whether or not the magazine holds up better than GamePro, a platform agnostic magazine I currently subscribe to because I spotted a free subscription on FilePlanet dealie and got in for a year. GamePro’s alright, kinda fun actually, but it’s not really aimed at intellectual gamers – it’s more fluff. When I read PC Gamer I see white pages with paragraphs on them and nice descriptive reviews. When I read GamePro it’s all images, all colors, all flash aimed to keep the younger demographic interested. Oh well.

Like I said, I’m interested to see how Nintendo Power holds up. But all I really wanted was the disc.