Let's Read: Nintendo Power #5
Ninjas didn't just suddenly become popular with the arrival of Robert Hamburger's "Real Ultimate Power" website, that was more just the icing on the cake. For the real birth of the ninja power lovefest in the western world, you have to go back to the 1980s, when ninjas were sort of like the Nazis of film and video games. You could have them commit all sorts of heinous crimes (like kidnapping presidents or hijacking arms shipments) without anyone in the world batting an eyelash over improper stereotyping, and you could massacre them by the hundreds on-screen without anyone raising a single word of objection. Well, there was the problem of the BBFC over in the UK deciding that "ninja" was a dirty word and banning it from public usage (which is why TMNT was known as "Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles"), but aside from the Brits, ninjas were pretty much everywhere and fair game for anyone or anything to use as they saw fit. Enter Tecmo, who made an arcade game called Ninja Gaiden. They decided to translate it for the home market, and completely revamped the whole storyline into what has become one of the best-known and most-difficult NES games to ever roll off the conveyor belts. And that's the cover story for issue number 5 of Nintendo Power!
While last issue might have stuck Mail Box towards the back of the mag, this month's issue brings it straight to the front again, where we hear about the NES being used as a means of bribery...er...incentive...for three boys to get good grades in school and perform their chores in a timely fashion. We've also got a picture of a woman showing off a Zelda box from the top of the Great Wall of China, an 83-year old man at a retirement home who bought the NES and started his own gaming club there (how freakin' cool is that!), some clay artwork with a Super Mario 2 theme, and a teacher who is concerned that Nintendo games aren't helping kids learn more than just hand-eye coordination, but goes on to defend both Zelda titles as great learning experiences. Okay...
Picking up from where Issue 4 left off, there's another seven-page Zelda II feature that shows how to navigate and beat the fifth and sixth palaces, and the sequence required to enter the seventh and final palace. Anybody who hadn't slaughtered the game by this point was now well-equipped to do so.
Before there was E3, there was the Consumer Electronics Show (or CES)! Nintendo's own Nester takes us behind the scenes in a four-page tour of the Winter show, including preview reports showing that Mega Man 2 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, among other games, are on their way. The fifth page of the feature is a combination ad for the Power Glove and an entry form for a contest to win a trip to the Summer CES. Howard Phillips is there to whet everyone's appetite in a little cartoon where he offers the idea that a little title called Super Mario Bros. 3 might, just might, be revealed there. Talk about incentives to cut up a magazine...
After that excitement, it's time for the meaty cover story: Ninja Gaiden is here! This eleven-page feature gives you a run-through of the first half of the game, as well as teasers for what to expect in the last three Acts. The between-level cinema sequences are highlighted as one of the strong-points for this title, giving the game a way of telling a story that would eventually evolve into the FMV that we all recognize from games today. There's also a discussion of some ninja tools of the trade and special training that ninjas went through in order to become the feared foes of the day, and Real Ultimate Power would be proud to learn about the ninja's ability to set entire mountains on fire to cover his escape.
Hudson's Adventure Island gets a short review next, with a four-page write-up of the first stage, and a fold-out poster that gives the full map of all four areas of the first stage. The back of the poster features some excellent Strider artwork by Kazunori Aihara, showing the protagonist in the act of "beaming down" to Earth at the start of a mission.
The poster segues nicely into the brand new Previews section, which showcases not only Strider, but Cobra Triangle, The Adventures of Bayou Billy, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as well. Strider gets a three-page feature, including a map of stage one. Cobra Triangle gets a two-page, hand-drawn map of the first stage and a plethora of screenshots. Bayou Billy really comes out ahead of all the rest, with a six-page feature that not only gives previews of the first seven stages, but also manages to put a spoiler image from the credit roll right on the first page of the feature (thanks a lot, Nintendo Power...)! The four bad boys of shell get four pages devoted to their quest to stop Shredder, including maps of the game's first two areas as well as a map of the underwater sequence in Area 2, where the Tutles have to disarm eight bombs, that shows where all the explosives are placed; a fabulously useful little thing for anyone who was every frustrated by this sequence.
It's on to Counselors' Corner to provide frustrated gamers with some much-needed assistance for the likes of Bionic Commando (finding the machine gun, bypassing the barriers at the start of certain stages, and finding the helmet), Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (how to get to Brahms mansion, and where the daggers can be found), Blaster Master (beating the bosses of Stages 3 and 4), Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (because apparently two features in the last two issues of Nintendo Power aren't enough to tell you how to do everything), and Mickey Mousecapade (how to get out of the infernal woods area of the game by finding the secret door). Brian Ullrich, one of Nintendo Power's own editors, gets his picture at the end of the section as well.
Howard & NESTER manages to be fairly amusing this issue, with Nester venturing into a library in search of a book to help him write a report, then getting thrown out of the building when Howard turns up in his daydream to ruin his Zelda fantasy. Yes, it's formula, but it works.
Classified Information gets eight full pages this issue, with hints on bionic arm usage and level building in Bionic Commando, a stage select code for Golgo-13, a continue code for Milon's Secret Castle, some bonus stage and continue information on Hudson's Adventure Island, tips for getting a larger financial reward from the President at the end of Operation Wolf, a full-power code for Spy Hunter, a stage select code for Zanac, a glitch in Wizards & Warriors that lets you rescue the princess without actually killing the evil wizard, a way to glitch the weapons in Double Dragon so you can retain them even when the game thinks you shouldn't get to keep them, a couple strategies for dealing with Ironknuckle in Zelda II and a way to transfer thousands of experience points to a newly-created character once you've beaten the game, the trick to making the invisible platform appear in Berkeley Mansion in Castlevania II (as well as a plea for information on how the different endings are obtained), a quick tip on turning strong enemies into weaker ones for Legend of Zelda, some hints and strategies for Skate or Die, and finally some extra shortcuts one can take during a game of Super Mario Bros. 2. Whew!
Welcome now to the Top 30 where all kinds of moving and shaking have been happening. Super Mario 2 is still on top by a huge margin (over 22,500 points vs. the measley 5,600 points that Zelda II earned in the #2 spot). Contra, Castlevania II, and Bionic Commando all raid their way up the charts, and Metroid clings tenaciously to the #10 position. New on the charts this month include Blades of Steel (with a #8 debut), Blaster Master, Rampage, Mega Man II, Paperboy, and Bubble Bobble.
The Power Pad Playoffs '89 showcases a real match between two teams: the red-clad Power Pros, and the yellow-clothed Nintendo Nuts (I'm not making this up...). The competition starts off with World Class Track Meet, where the teams end in deadlock after four events. They move on Dance Aerobics, where the Red team inches out a victory to put them ahead. Finally, in the event to decide it all, Super Team Games gets a rollout, and despite some tough competition from the Nintendo Nuts, the Power Pros wind up taking the gold. Of course, this is Nintendo Power, so there's the obligatory reminder that everyone is a winner with the Power Pad.
Video Shorts starts off simple with California Games, then moves into the bizarre with Taboo: The Sixth Sense. Both Nobunaga's Ambition and Desert Commander get tapped for strategy games, Mappyland and Flying Dragon get some attention in terms of action-style games, and of course, what's a good game preview without some licensed titles? Airwolf and Predator fill that particular mold, with the latter getting just one screenshot. Those of you who actually played the game no doubt are aware that the Predator license was just dumped into a nearly-completed side-scrolling game that Activision was working on at the time, which resulted in a game that made nearly no sense (Predator ghosts? Military badasses who don't have any guns and run around punching spiders? Seriously, WTF Activision?).
But for taking the cake, there's just no topping this month's NES Journal feature, which reported on the development of Nintendo's own A.F.D. Reality Game System for the NES. These games would feature real-life situations, such as bathing dogs or job training simulations, including the outlandish Home Ninja Workshop which purports to teach people how to scale walls without ladders, conceal themselves under furniture, and other ninja-worthy skills. If the clues dropped throughout the article weren't enough to register on your radar, though, Nintendo gives up the gag by revealing what the A.F.D. really stands for: April Fools' Day. Good one, Nintendo! This is followed by some more tomfoolery involving a trivia quiz which is obviously a joke, a celebrity player profile of Shalane McCall (whom you will probably never have heard of if you didn't watch "Dallas" back in the 1980s), and a chance for all to see just how satanic Legend of Zelda really is with a quiz page featuring Link holding a shield with an inverted cross on it! (Don't tell Jack Thompson...)
Nintendo starts what will be an annual contest in the pages of this issue as well, with the Nintendo Power Awards '88. All told, there are 8 categories: Best Graphics & Sound, Best Challenge, Best Theme & Fun, Best Play Control, Best Character, Best Ending, Best Player vs. Player, and finally, Best Overall. The number of choices varies by category: most have 5 options, but Best Theme & Fun has six, Best Overall has 9, and Best Character has a whopping 10 options. Following all this is a feature that easily wins the "Should Have Been In The First Issue" award, the Rating System. This breaks down the different categories that Nintendo uses to rate games for Nintendo Power, and explains what each one means. While this may be a no-brainer for adults, for younger children this would have been a considerable help. There's also an ad for back-issues of the magazine available only to Nintendo Power subscribers that lets you acquire them for their cover price ($3.50) plus a buck for shipping, which isn't a bad deal at all.
Ahh, Video Spotlight...how we love to rag on you for showcasing the full frontal nerdity of the world. The vote is still out on whether or not being featured in this issue helped Brian Michaels of Rockford, IL get a date to his prom, but that's nothing compared to father Vance Evans admitting to the world that he named his son "Kelly." And no, he isn't confused about the gender...he enclosed a picture of his son to prove he really is a boy. Good on you, Mr. Evans...you have not only doomed your son to a life of ridicule but admitted it publically in the pages of a nationally-syndicated magazine. You, sir, are made of fail.
Pak Watch drops some tidbits about Capcom continuing its run with Disney properties, some whispered rumours about Bandai making an NES game out of the Star Trek V property (they're correct, but the game is cancelled before completion), the Power Pad only games Street Cop (which was released in Japan the year before as Family Trainer: Manhattan Police) and Athletic World (likewise released as a Family Trainer program in Japan earlier), some news about Chessmaster and Batman, four arcade games that are coming home (Bad Dudes, Super Dodge Ball, Guerilla War, and Thundercade), "junior" game versions of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy aimed at a younger crowd, and Stealth Eagle which is to be the first flight sim on the NES. Oh yes, and Dragon Warrior is coming really soon, we promise, and a ton of other titles like Guardian Legend and John Elway's Quarterback have likewise been delayed.
Next Issue wraps everything up by getting gamers stoked for more on TMNT, more on Ninja Gaiden, and...wait for it...Mega Man II! Sadly, there's no letter from Howard Phillips this issue because they had to finish printing out the names of everyone who won the Nov/Dec issue contest. Maybe next time?