Special: Bring back the clay model cover shots!
Ever since it's 1987 debut as the Nintendo Fun Club newsletter, Nintendo Power has been viewed as something different. There has always been it's focus on maps and walkthroughs. Large cartoonish images dotted it's pages and the magazine lacked a coherent color scheme, opting instead to decorate the pages after the game they featured. The utter scarcity of reviews (outside of each game receiving a 5 point score) and any meaningful features are what caused most people to label it a "kid's magazine".
It was this last item that stuck deepest in the Big N's craw and prompted the completely overhauled magazine that landed at my local library on the first. Sure, NP has been redesigned in the past, but this is a top to bottom complete makeover. I didn't want to say how NP has grown up with this redesign, but managing editor Scott Pelland did it for me in the first few pages: ?The fact is that many of you grew up with Nintendo Power and it was time for NP to grow up a bit, too.?
The logo has been redesigned so it doesn't quite have that 80s look (and it wasn't 80s retro chic), but it still retains the famous three bars. The cover art itself is a very ?grown up? image of Zelda: Twilight Princess that we'll get to more in a minute. Not surprisingly, the magazine (like every magazine) still opens with a letters section. After that an expanded news section covers 14 pages of Nintendo news, more than doubling the news output from the old NP. There's more text, better text and just more games overall. Those 14 pages are packed thick with news including first looks at Pokemon XD, Metroid Pinball, Chibi-Robo, Screw Breaker, Touch Golf, Prince of Persia 3 and Gunstar Super Heroes.
That's one of the things that Nintendo Power has always done right is get the word out on all things Nintendo first. The Game Watch section is particularly fun as it used to be just an alphabetical list of every game known to be in development for every Nintendo system with no release dates beyond vague groupings. Games that you'd never heard of before would just appear in this list and get people talking. Why a few months back Nintendo Katamari Damacy DS showed up in this list and Namco still hasn't admitted it's in development yet. This month's Game Watch didn't have any surprises but we now have a progress report for each game based on how close it is to being released (1 for Just Announced, 2 for In Development, 3 for Ready For Release).
Next we have a huge feature on some of the biggest games Nintendo systems will see at E3. Now I know E3 was over by now, but there is a lot of good stuff here. Gone are the cutesy graphics and drawings of concept art, replaced with lots of screenshots and what's known so far about all of the games featured. Then came the games everyone wanted to read about: a ten page feature on Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and 3 pages on all of the new Mario games.
NP has never done a feature like this Zelda feature before. Ten pages of an in-depth article dissecting the design of the game this new adventure will take Link and his friends on. Almost full page screenshots complement text that reads like it would be at home in EGM or Play. Closing out the feature is a very long interview with LoZTP's art director, Satoru Takizawa wherein he very passionately discusses his influences, history with Nintendo and where he wants to go with LoZTP. The feature finishes with another look at that cover image without the NP logo and various news blurbs getting in the way. All I can say is that it is a work of art and would great hanging on a wall in print-sized glory. I'm even half considering scanning it into my computer to use as wallpaper.
Rounding out this rather large preview section is a feature on upcoming games based on movies. It's a standard stunt that most magazines/sites pull out every so often (the newest GamePro includes a similar feature and I wrote one myself attempting to roundup every licensed game coming to the PS2). It's not bad and includes a nice bit on King Kong comparing a piece of concept art for the movie to a final screen shot in the game. Let's just say they look really really similar.
The old NP is still somewhat kicking as a strategy section takes up the next twenty pages of the magazine. Strategies for Killer 7, Pokemon Emerald, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones and a two page cheats section reside on these pages. This is the most disappointing section of the new magazine as it looks like Nintendo didn't really revamp the strategy section at all. The Pokemon Emerald pages are even bordered with cheesy looking bushes, hurting the ?whole magazine" look NP has going for the rest of its pages.
But I guess it's not terrible as the strategy pages are still white and not some weird game inspired pattern like they used to be and I'm sure someone will get some use out of these pages but not me. It's the same old standard complaint everyone has about every strategy section; I think the Internet has made them pointless. Then there's the other standard complaint; I have no plans to purchase or play any of those titles. But it should be noted that nobody does maps better than Nintendo Power.
The totally new review section is next and it has undergone the most drastic change in the whole magazine. Honest-to-god reviewers are finally able to write honest-to-god reviews that are longer than the sentence or two they were given in previous volumes of NP. Smaller games clock in at roughly a hundred words while bigger games (Killer 7, Star Wars Episode III and Fire Emblem) get close to a thousand. Each reviewer is individually bio-ed at the start of the section to give you a taste of their tastes and the scoring range has been bumped up to 10 to ?further separate the duds from the elite". Fire Emblem even has a short second opinion review attached to it for even more thoughts on the game.
Closing out the magazine is a Community section that gives some coverage to the Pokemon Emerald Ultimate Frontier Brain Battle (AKA the North America Pokemon Tournament for the Pokephrase impaired) and a few pages on musicians that use their Game Boys to make music. The Game Boy talks about geek music maestro Beck and his latest EP, "Game Boy Variations" and talks to Beck's collaborator's on that EP, Paza Rahm and the band 8-bit.
These are the kinds of articles (and that Zelda feature, I'm still mighty impressed) that journalists are always blabbing about when they believe we should ?go beyond" the normal barrage of previews, reviews and news. And make no mistake, they are very good reads. Nintendo always talks about being for the gamer and I have high hopes this Community section will be able to capture that on a month to month basis.
The Next Issue page featured a big surprise as well as Nintendo now plans to offer bonus DVDs. The inaugural disc will feature the Zelda: Twilight Princess E3 trailer and other stuff. NP has always had a nice little selection of bonuses to go with their magazines. Who could forget Nintendo Power trading cards? Of course, the one that always springs to people's minds is the Dragon Warrior giveaway in the early 90s that introduced a generation of gamers to the RPG. Nintendo has often boasted that it was the single greatest subscription push for a game magazine ever. They've even managed to partially keep the fanboy spirit of the old NP alive by including a contest that will make 25 winners the first people in the USA to play Zelda: Twilight Princess. One thousand others get the Zelda shirt that was a big hit at E3. Giving gamers something they didn't know they want is one thing I don't think Nintendo (and NP) will ever forget how to do.
Looking over the magazine as a whole you notice the biggest change Nintendo made to NP: the look of the pages. The new cohesive design that is used on every page makes NP finally look like one magazine. In the old days each article had it's own style and they often looked like they came from different magazines that Nintendo just stapled together and called Nintendo Power. It has a very professional touch now and the tone of the writing definitely seems to be shooting for the young adult Nintendo fanatic as opposed to the 9-12 years old the magazine used to be geared for. And I didn't find any of that "mature to the extreme" stuff that has infected most game magazines. When I say young adults I mean adults who are younger (18-25ish) who want to read about Nintendo porducts. It was refreshing.
The bottom line is that Nintendo Power is better in almost every way and gamers looking for a good read should give it a chance, although I still miss the reader-requested Top 30, even though it was dropped a long time ago. I never regretted reading NP back in the day, but it was always a second-tier magazine to me. Like many gamers, I let my subscription lapse in my early teens. Maybe it's time I started back up again. It won't supplant Play at the top of my video game reading list, but Nintendo Power has come a long way baby and it's finally grown up.