It's weird the kind of impact Nintendo Power going under had. I don't remember it prompting nearly as much wistful reflection and nostalgia when EGM got shut down in 2008. It certainly wasn't from a lack of readership. But something about Nintendo Power has really lead everyone, it seems like, to take a moment and look back at those first however many issues.
Which ones those are varies from person to person. Some people go for that first years issues. I went for anything in the 90 to 94 area myself, mainly because one of my most fondly remembered things about Nintendo Power shows up in that time period.
Nintendo Power ran a number of episodic comics for different Nintendo series, all drawn by different artists starting in 91 if you don't count the Howard and Ness stuff. My personal favorites were the Legend of Zelda and Mario comics. Here's a little excerpt from the Mario Bros. comic. As you can see here, we've got Peach disguised as Luigi getting ready to go mess up the Koopa Kids' faces up because she's a loose cannon badass like that I guess.
It was interesting to look at how gender inclusive and not packed with big tits and offensively weak stereotypes those early issues are in retrospect. I mean, I remember on TV back then at least, every other commercial on Nick was trying to sell me gross, bug shaped slimy things to scare my sister with. There isn't even any of that to be found. I haven't even seen any Boogerman yet. Either people over there were doing a really good job of trying really hard not to cross any lines, or it really was a more innocent time back then. And judging by the celebrity interviews at the back of the issue, I'm going to have to rule out that first option.
I didn't even buy my Nintendo Power issues. My piano teacher's son loaded them off on me because he didn't want them anymore. He had almost all of the issues going back from like, 97 or so. It was practically an expedition in and of itself just to sort through all of them and get them in some semblance of order. But once I did, I read them from cover to cover.
I didn't exactly have a lot of money at that age. I wasn't in the habit of buying games, or asking for the for Christmas even, so those magazines really were a way for the child me to live out those games and those fantasy worlds vicariously by looking at all the artwork and the guides and articles. I still remember seeing Yoshitaka Amano's artwork in their Final Fantasy coverage and being completely floored.
I think everyone had that experience with Amano's artwork if you're old enough to have been around when the Jurassic Park movies were coming out. There just wasn't anything else like it out there back in the 90s. It's not that all that Frazetta looking art that was the norm wasn't rad to look at, it's just that Amano's work has an air of whimsey that is without rival, and that whimsey was the lens through which I viewed Nintendo Power as a publication.
I mean, as a kid growing up in a small town in Oklahoma, there wasn't a whole lot of opportunity for me to see much of the world or enjoy in modern amenities. As cloying as it might sound, Nintendo Power was like having a looking glass into the future or something, to a world far away from and foreign to my own.
I could experience the adventure of games I never actually got to play, like Final Fantasy or Blast Corps or Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero even. I didn't know the game was garbage. But I probably had about as much fun imagining what those Final Fantasy games must have been like from the art in the magazines as I would have had actually playing them. The same probably goes double for Mortal Kombat Mythologies, but then again, those cutscenes are still pretty mint now that I think about it.
It's really pretty weird how many of my childhood hang-ups Nintendo Power ties into though. I hated living out in the country like hell and those magazines were the greatest means of escapism from that life that I had sitting around. And I guess I probably didn't only identify with Link in the comic just because he was a kid like me and lived in a fantasy world, going on rad adventures.
I think the fact that Link didn't know his parents only furthered my attachment to him and the story as well. This scene still stands out to me, which probably says more about me than the comic itself.
If you haven't guessed already, this comic holds a pretty special place in my heart. You see, I wasn't actually any good at Link to the Past. I inherited my SNES and my copy of Link to the Past from that same piano teacher's son, and even with a save file right before Gannon, I still couldn't beat the thing.
Child me obviously wasn't very good at games. And so obviously that comic was the main way for me to enjoy the broader Legend of Zelda narrative. I would play the game and be in awe of the music and the sense of place and scope of the game, but when it came to actually playing it, or god forbid, going into a dungeon or going back and forth between dimensions, I was at a complete disadvantage. So the Zelda comic, and in a broader sense, Nintendo Power, let the child me who sucked at video games enjoy them vicariously from the sidelines.
Also, fun fact, evidently the creator of Cyborg 009, Shotaro Ishinomori, did the Zelda comic. I don't know how they got a hold of talent like that back then. I guess it was just a convenient perk from their connection to Nintendo.
Another thing I really liked about the Zelda comic was the way they portrayed Zelda herself. It's easy to get a damsel character wrong, what with them being all powerless and objectified and lacking any meaningful agency and active characteristics. Zelda plays a meaningful role in the story as a character though, with a personality that can actually impress itself on the audience, which is how damsel characters should work.
She is as much a stand-in for Merlin as she is for Cinderella or any other typical damsel in distress. She dispenses the guidance and wisdom which a young hero, early on into his quest, needs to keep from faltering, which is an interesting twist on the formula when you think about it. She's almost as instrumental in her own rescue as Link is, which goes a long way in making her seem more proactive than your typical, idle damsel.
She promises not only salvation, but also love. And not in the physical sense of the word, a well written damsel shouldn't just be a sexual pat on the back for a good job, but in that less easily defined sense of the word. In that way that all young boys away from their mothers need, for some motherly voice of guidance telling them everything is going to be alright. I suppose that too is something that young, motherless child me was looking for, even though I maybe didn't realize it.
Nintendo Power was like a dream in that reading it was a much needed retreat into fancy. That daydream-like escape into a fantasy world, be it Hyrule, or the Mushroom Kingdom, or whatever, has always been one of gaming's biggest strengths, and Nintendo Power was a fantastic surrogate for that back when I was a kid and didn't have money for actual video games. Even though it's leaving us now, I'll probably always remember the impact that goofy little magazine had on my life way back when.