Nintendo Power magazine had a knack for pushing upcoming video games that its mothership company, Nintendo itself, wanted to be overwhelming critical and sales successes. One of the titles that enjoyed the extra coverage boost was 1992's Mario Paint for the Super NES which took the cover of Volume 39 of the magazine and sported eight pages of coverage which explained the point of the "game" (more a creativity tool than a proper game, really), how to control it with the new mouse controller, the best way to use stamps, the wonders of the Undo Dog, a basic animation primer, introduction to music composition, and much more. Fan site SuperLuigiBros.com has the Mario Paint coverage from that issue for you to see. Marvel at the era when video game enthusiasts had to be taught the concepts behind of frames of animation. Today we see that same target demographic vehemently arguing over how many frames per second a game outputs with such values measured down to the decimal. These truly were simpler times.
UPDATE: The magazine archive has been deleted. Lawyers strike again.
Like every Nintendo console-owning kid in the 1980s and 1990s, I had a subscription to Nintendo's in-house review/strategy/propaganda publication, Nintendo Power. I came onboard the magazine with Issue 5 in March 1989 (Ninja Gaiden on the cover!) and for over ten years I read each issue cover to cover multiple times to guide me through the games I owned, help me choose the games I wanted, and help me look like a gaming superstar on the playground with secret codes and tips. I purged my collection when I left home after graduating high school, but the memories live on at Archive.org which earlier this year quietly put up a scanned collection of the first 143 issues which will take you from the days when Super Mario Bros. 2 was taking North America by storm though the launch of Super Mario World past the dawn of Super Mario 64 into the heady days of Super Mario Advance's impending arrival for the Game Boy Advance in 2001. Seeing each cover again after all these years takes me back to specific moments in my life: laying in the family recliner and tracing a path through the maps for Mega Man 3 in Issue 20, reading Issue 50 while waiting for a haircut, reading Issue 61 in the backseat of the car... I intended to list a few "greatest hits" issues as recommended reading, but as I browsed the collection I found myself marking down each and every issue, so let me just say to pick a magazine and start reading. You really can't go wrong.
This review was originally published at Kombo.com on September 5, 2005.
Several years ago Sega stuffed the best that Sonic the Hedgehog has to offer into the compilation title Sonic Mega Collection. The title sold well enough on the Nintendo GameCube to prompt the release of a Plus version for other platforms, but one highly demanded title of days-gone-by eluded both iterations: Sonic the Hedgehog CD. Fans clamored long enough and loud enough that Sega has finally brought Sonic CD back to the store shelves along with several other seldom-seen Sonic titles with Sonic Gems Collection. Considering that Sonic Gems Collection is a compilation disc, it would be inappropriate (and unfair) to review the collection taken as a whole. Instead the parts that make up the sum must be showcased separately, highlighting the bright spots and briefly dwelling on the disappointments.
The localization industry is a fascinating business. There's more to bringing a video game from one country to another than just running the text through Google Translate and then knocking off early for bowling and cheese fries. It's not enough to translate the script; localizers must tweak and tune all kinds of game elements to better fit the target market. Sometimes that means rewriting dialogue to change cultural references. Sometimes that involves altering graphical elements or sound effects to fit into a culture's frame of reference. Sometimes it even means that the developers had a little more time to work on the base game and can improve aspects of it that they felt still needed improvement. Today's modern games have the benefit of decades of localization best practices and history to fall back on, but during the Nintendo Entertainment System era, localizers did sort of just outright translate the script (often poorly!) and call it a day. Yacht Club Games recently brought its NES love letter Shovel Knight to Japan which meant that they needed to localize the game for that market. They split the difference between the modern and the 8-bit era with their process resulting in a Nintendo Famicom-type version of the game that is professionally altered, but keeps the 8-bit era localization effort intact. Check out how far they went with localization studio 8-4 to get it just right.
So when we went about localizing Shovel Knight, we wanted to recreate some of the fun differences you might find between regions. We even went through the process of trying to “reverse” localize it. That meant to us, asking what features Shovel Knight would have had if it started out as a Japanese game. We had a few rules in all our changes though: 1) We wanted the gameplay to remain consistent 2) We didn’t want any significant change that made you feel like you missed out by not playing the original version 3) We didn’t want to do something that was traditionally considered bad localization. To us that meant, no typos or bad English, and nothing that would diminish the quality of the game. We also didn’t want to change too much! In the end, we wanted create a great localization by today’s standards. But we had to add a little fun! So we made a few subtle changes here and there that we think really made a big difference!
Now that there's so much information out there about classic NES games and their Famicom counterparts, it's easy to see that, for instance, Nintendo was able to animate the water on the overworld map in the Japanese version of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link while it's static in the international versions. Likewise, Shovel Knight's Japanese version has animated grass. Just like when I learned about the Zelda II water, I found myself thinking "No fair! Japan has a better version!". That's how authentic this localization process is and I commend Yacht Club Games and 8-4 for their dedication to the craft. Of course, unlike the differences between Zelda II in which the international version has extra bosses, improved music, and other cosmetic upgrades compared to the Japanese original (so overall I did experience the best version of the game when I first played it), in the end I think that the differences in Shovel Knight do not detract from either version of the game. It doesn't feel like anything is missing that would notably impact the game which really is the right way to go about things. They really did follow their own rules. Bowling and cheese fries all around!
The one thing I always think of first when I recall the Nintendo versus Sega console wars of the 1990s is that whatever one company did first, the other would follow up with their own version soon after. Nintendo Super Scope? Sega Menacer. Super FX chip in Starfox? SVP chip in Virtua Racing. Pre-rendered graphical style for Donkey Kong Country? Pre-rendered graphical style for Vectorman. While Donkey Kong Country went on to spawn two direct sequels during the 16-bit era, a Game Boy side series, and so much more over the years up through Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for the Wii U in 2014, Sega's answer to the gorilla in the room went on to star in a single sequel in the Genesis era and then a couple of aborted relaunches. Hardcore Gaming 101 has the story of Vectorman's rise and fall.
What Vectorman lacks in consistent difficulty and compact level design, it more than makes up for in its presentation, which is where all of BlueSky Studios' offerings shine the brightest. Proclaiming that the SNES is graphically superior to the Genesis may be a tired cliché nowadays, but it's an undeniable fact that most titles of the time looked better on Nintendo's 16-bit console than they did on the competition and that Donkey Kong Country deserves praise for stuffing all of its then-high-tech graphics and timeless soundtrack in a single 32-meg cartridge with no special chips inside despite its bland gameplay (which the sequels greatly improved upon). In comparison, Sega's console had a much paltrier VDP/PPU and less access to large ROM sizes, but its lightning-fast and easy-to-program-for Motorola 68000 processor could easily trump Nintendo's choice of CPU (the unique, yet terribly slow Ricoh 5A22) in every aspect imaginable if in the hands of a talented programmer, and this is what makes Vectorman's unique graphical style look good up to this day.
By the way, do you know Vectorman's dirty little secret? It doesn't use vector graphics at all. That doesn't stop it from looking impressive on Sega's 16-bit hardware though. It was the unique visuals that first drew me into wanting to play the game. When I was in high school in the mid-to-late 1990s, a friend had the game and we spent too many weekend afternoons trying to clear the second level. We were absolutely terrible at it; poor Vectorman may as well as been a magnet for incoming enemy fire.
It's been a big week for Nintendo fans who like excitement thanks to the arrival of the Pokémon Go mobile sensation and the announcement of a new small classic Nintendo Entertainment System packed with HDMI output and thirty of the best games that the NES era had to offer. We're talk about both of these on this week's Power Button, so join us for a conversation that spans from Pikachu to Punch-Out!!, Meowth to Metroid, and Zubat to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.
Today's announcement that the Nintendo Entertainment System is coming back to stores as the NES Classic Edition mini-console featuring a wired classic NES controller and thirty games built right into its internal memory has sparked a lot of excitement online as gaming fans cheered and prepared to preorder. However, I've also seen plenty of questions pop up on social media about the news and while I'm not a Nintendo spokesperson, I am a long-time customer and consumer of the company's products, so perhaps I can be of help when it comes to answering these queries. Allow me to condense the questions down to the basic generalized sentiments I've seen all day today and respond with my thoughts.
Q: What is this NES Classic thing? Are they making new NES consoles? I have all the old cartridges in my attic.
The NES Classic Edition is a small, new version of the Nintendo Entertainment System that physically resembles the old NES from 1985, but sports a smaller form factor. It features thirty games such as Super Mario Bros. 3 and Mega Man 2 built into its memory, so there isn't a cartridge slot on this console. It only plays those thirty games, but they are some of the best games in the console's library.
Q: So how do I play Duck Hunt without my old Zapper light gun?
Duck Hunt isn't one of the thirty games, so you won't be playing it at all on a NES Classic Edition. Besides, the old Zapper and today's modern HDTVs don't work well together at all. See, when the trigger on the Zapper is pressed, the game causes the entire screen to become black for one frame. Then, on the next frame, all valid targets that are on screen are drawn all white as the rest of the screen remains black. The Zapper detects this change from low light to bright light, and determines if any of the targets are in the zapper's hit zone. If a target is hit, the game determines which one was hit based on the duration of the flash, as each target flashes for a different duration. After all target areas have been illuminated, the game returns to drawing graphics as usual. The whole process is almost imperceptible to the human eye, although one can notice a slight "flashing" of the image. Although the Zapper just detects light, it can only be used on CRT displays. It will not work on LCDs, plasma displays or other flat panel displays due to display lag. Moreover, the NES Classic Edition uses special controller ports like those found on the Wii remote, so your old Zapper wouldn't plug into it anyway.
Nintendo hit the big time in the home video game console space thirty years ago with the beloved Nintendo Entertainment System and while the company has been re-releasing its greatest hits such as Super Mario Bros. 3 and The Legend of Zelda on the Virtual Console service for the Wii, Wii U, and Nintendo 3DS, there's a large startup cost involved if all you really want to do is play Mega Man 2. Nintendo is cutting through that expense this November with the release of a cute little micro version of the classic Nintendo Entertainment System control deck dubbed the Nintendo Classic Edition. Priced at $59.99 and packed in with thirty solid, popular games (no Urban Champion here!), the NES is primed to take over living rooms all over again. The new hardware offers HDMI out and even uses new NES controllers with Wii remote connectors on them so Wii and Wii U owners can use them for the Virtual Console service. Read the press release for all of the details. Here's the list of games that are built into the new console.
- Balloon Fight™
- BUBBLE BOBBLE
- Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest™
- Donkey Kong™
- Donkey Kong Jr. ™
- DOUBLE DRAGON II: THE REVENGE
- Dr. Mario™
- FINAL FANTASY®
- GHOSTS’N GOBLINS®
- Ice Climber™
- Kid Icarus™
- Kirby’s Adventure™
- Mario Bros. ™
- MEGA MAN® 2
- NINJA GAIDEN
- Punch-Out!! ™ Featuring Mr. Dream
- SUPER C™
- Super Mario Bros.™
- Super Mario Bros. ™ 2
- Super Mario Bros. ™ 3
- TECMO BOWL
- The Legend of Zelda™
- Zelda II: The Adventure of Link™
This is a phenomenal idea and I'm surprised Nintendo hadn't acted on it sooner. This product hits every basic type of gamer demographic: casual, lapsed, and core. It will be a popular gift this holiday season for sure. Even if you discount the cost of the hardware itself, you're paying $2 per game which is a much better deal than the Virtual Console's $5 per game. Just imagine all of the modern parents who grew up with the NES buying one of these to both play themselves and to share the fun with their young children. I still have my original NES from thirty years ago hooked up to my media room television, although the muddy visuals from running an old fashioned signal through coax cables and RF adapters looks horrible on my modern HDTV. I also own a variety of the built-in games on the Virtual Console for both Wii U and 3DS, but I can't resist the nostalgic draw of this mini console. I think it's time my bedroom TV had a NES of its own.
Somewhere along the line when I wasn't paying attention, my favorite video game music cover band, The OneUps, released a new album. Entitled Part Seven, this latest release includes songs from Final Fantasy VI, Double Dragon, F-Zero, Donkey Kong Country, EarthBound, and many more each performed in the band's unique jazzy funk style. Check out this version of Metal Man's famous theme from Capcom's classic Mega Man 2, "Saw VIII", and prepare to be impressed. You can download the entire album from many of the usual digital storefronts including Amazon. If this is your first exposure to the band, I highly recommend that you check out their complete discography. Fans of video game music from the medium's most beloved franchises will find so much to enjoy.
1990 was a hot time for Nintendo and its retail partners. This was the era when the Nintendo Entertainment System was king, when a third-party licensee could slap Mario on just about any consumer product to earn a healthy profit, and when games like Boomer's Adventure In Asmik World and Wall Street Kid were positioned as the next big thing. I remember those crazy days, but if you're too young to have been around for them, then you can vicariously experience the thrill of laminated wood displays and cartridge storage kits with the Official 1990 World of Nintendo Buyers Guide provided by Video Game Ephemera.
The Official 1990 World of Nintendo Buyers Guide was a custom-publishing project aimed at Nintendo’s retail partners, which included more than 6,000 locations with special “World of Nintendo” areas reserved for Nintendo-related products. The article on page 6 describes this type of installation as a “store within a store,” a neighborhood mecca for Mario maniacs.
In the pages between the product listings, you’ll find short articles about certain Nintendo licensees as well as paid ads from some of them. The articles are actually labeled as “advertisements,” so they were obviously paid for as well. Many of the ads speak to consumers, but several of them are written for the people who sold the games. It’s fascinating to see the soft-sell tactics employed by game publishers as they tried to convince retailers to carry their products in the early ’90s. Most of them promise “aggressive” advertising campaigns and dealer support while extending friendly invitations to visit their booths at the Consumer Electronics Show.
This guide and others like it are a peek behind the curtain at the layer of middlemen between Nintendo's licensees and your local retailer down the street. I remember seeing plenty of these store displays in the Kmarts of my youth when I longed to scarf down the licensed cookies and collect the cards and wear the t-shirts bearing Mario's smiling face. Nintendo was hot, Nintendo was king, nothing could ever possibly knock Nintendo off its pedestal. Nope, not at all. The days of officially licensed cartridge storage cases made of oak will last forever! Actually, those oak cases do look pretty sweet. I bet they'd look right at home next to my classic oak VCR cassette storage case. Not all family heirlooms are impressive or valuable.