On December 11, 2012, Nintendo Power, the legendary magazine responsible for decades of Nintendo-related content, stopped circulation. It’d lasted for 24 years and 285 issues by that point, making it one of the longest-running video game magazines in North America. It was also responsible for the formative years of many Nintendo gamers and fans, debuting at the peak of the NES’s popularity. And it was the first magazine I routinely subscribed to of my own volition, making its discontinuation feel rather personal.
“In the beginning…”
Nintendo Power first debuted in August of 1988, with its debut cover featuring a clay picture of Mario fighting Wart from the North American version of Super Mario Bros. 2. Initially meant as a replacement for Nintendo Fun Club News, Nintendo Power quickly became a staple of the Nintendo gaming diet. Its monthly issues always explored upcoming game releases, contained tips and secrets for current games, and featured the best in community artwork and fan letters. In some cases, it even allowed for gamers to give input in future titles, such as the legendary mystery room in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. For many, this wasn’t simply a magazine, but a chance to connect to other gamers pre-internet. And nowhere was this more apparent than its most bizarre TV commercial:
I didn’t grow up with Nintendo Power. My first gaming console, after all, was a Game Boy Color in 1999, and I rarely purchased any gaming memorabilia. But I did grow up knowing of its existence. Many of my friends and family members had magazine issues that I’d read when I slept over. It was one of those magazines that, like Macleans or National Geographic, I occasionally perused whenever it was available. And it kept me entertained when I did. It was only once I hit my teenage years, in 2005, that I actually ended up subscribing to it.
I may have arrived late to the party, but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t still useful to me. The first issue I owned talked about Super Mario 64 DS, its hidden secrets, and how to adapt to its control scheme. It also gave hints about Nintendo’s mystery console at the time, dubbed “Nintendo Revolution,” and kept the hype machine alive. From then on, I’d anxiously await each new issue of Nintendo Power like a kid awaiting Christmas presents, hoping that each new issue would give me new info on the world of Nintendo.
Unfortunately, I’d also subscribed to Nintendo Power during the beginning of its downfall. Two years in, Nintendo Power became a subsidiary of Future US, and its management changed. The first issue under its rebranding promised that Future US would “take good care” of the magazine. “Nothing would change”, they said, and I believed them. After all, it was still Nintendo Power. They still had everything that I loved in each issue, and that was enough for my 17-year-old self. Sure, the spinal art that they were attempting was immediately discontinued, making it look incomplete and awkward. But outside of some design choices, everything was still the same.
Too little, too late
Except that it wasn’t. Little did I know at the time that Nintendo Power’s monthly readership was declining, precipitating its buyout. Future US would spend the next five years trying to keep the magazine alive. They even introduced a special holiday issue each year. But it didn’t help. The internet was quickly making print magazines feel obsolete, and by the time Nintendo Power’s final issue debuted in 2012, the writing had long been on the wall. The magazine ended its 24-year run with less than 500,000 copies for its final issue, a mere shell of its original issue’s 3.6 million. There were attempts to replicate its success in the years since, including the bi-monthly Nintendo Force, but it wasn’t the same.
Honestly, Nintendo Power’s cancellation hit me pretty hard. I wasn’t gaming much by 2012, but I remained heavily invested in my subscription. It was a link I still had to the world of video games, and seeing it go was like saying goodbye to an old friend. Adding insult to injury was how little my entire subscription ended up being worth when I sold it on eBay two years ago, as I’d started collecting issues too late in the game. It was as if the magazine had made itself worthless by outliving its usefulness, and that hurt.
“What did it cost?”
But I also think something was lost in the magazine’s cancellation. I don’t normally like pulling out this card, since it makes me sound old, but as with the bankruptcy of Blockbuster, there was something special about Nintendo Power that couldn’t be easily replicated with online podcasts and game walkthroughs. Nintendo Power wasn’t merely a magazine, it was an experience. It was a conversation starter amongst friends. It was that little treat you waited for with bated breath every month, hoping it’d help you out with the latest video game you were stuck on.
Nintendo Power was a way to connect with people, a way the impersonal nature of the internet can’t easily replicate. True, it’s impractical to expect the printed word to survive in this day and age. Yes, we should be embracing the age of technology and what it brings to the table. But that doesn’t mean that the internet is a suitable replacement for the social interaction of real people discussing what Nintendo Power had to say about the latest Mario, Zelda, or Metroid game. It simply isn’t the same.
On the bright side…
Sure, it wasn’t face-to-face, but for all of the frustrations of losing an important part of my adolescence, that’s one thing I did get out of Nintendo Power: a sense of gaming community. There was a real sense of tight-knitted community to having a magazine that connected people all over North America. You could write in whenever you wanted, hoping your complaints, questions, or comments got answered. But even if they didn’t, you still could read about other people’s tips and did-you-knows. These often offered some perspective you might not have thought about otherwise. And that’s not even touching on the magazine proper, which did all of that, but tenfold!
It’s that early exposure to community that helped me through tough times. I wasn’t the most personable teenager, constantly putting my foot in my mouth because of my learning disability. I had a lot to say but struggled with how to say it. Yet here was this magazine showing me that I wasn’t alone and didn’t have to feel alone. That’s invaluable to me, and I still cherish it to this day.
But what about you? What made Nintendo Power special to you? Let us know in the comments below.