Nintendo Power had a nice little racket going for a while there.
Back in the early-to-mid '90s, I was an elementary-school kid with a Super Nintendo. Like so many of my classmates, I wanted to do well in the games I had, and I suffered under the oppressive weight of a parental regime that limited the number of hours I played. The solution? A subscription to Nintendo Power, which each month came packed with secret codes, walkthroughs, and previews.
You see, back then we didn't have the Internet. We didn't have third-party game sites putting together polished walkthroughs, unauthorized guides ran the risk of lawsuits, and we didn't even have an easy way to look up cheat codes. In this environment, each issue of Nintendo Power felt like a gift from the heavens; each magazine provided so much value that a subscription was a no-brainer. And at that age, even if you don't own any of the games being discussed, you can still pore over every screenshot and every word, imagining what it will be like if you score some more cartridges for Christmas.
But as fondly as I remember Nintendo Power, I'm glad to be living in a world where it's no longer needed. Essentially, the magazine took advantage of the fact that information traveled slowly in those days, and it provided plenty of advertising for its parent company in the process.
Just think about the concept of a "cheat code." Developers were programming undiscoverable secrets into their games, and then Nintendo Power charged people to access them, secure in the knowledge that gamers—the people who'd already paid for the games—couldn't get this information anywhere else. Fighting games were the worst; sometimes the instruction books wouldn't even include all the special moves, to say nothing of fatalities.
The same was true for many of the other tips. Back in those days, it wasn't uncommon to play a game and love it for a while, only to get stuck at some hard part with no sign of how to proceed. If you didn't have a friend who'd beaten that particular title, Nintendo Power and official guides were your only ways to find the solution. The magazine even operated a hotline you could call and ask an expert about your gaming problems. For a fee, of course.
Next time you play a game from those days, count how many times you turn to the Internet for guidance, and ask yourself what it would be like playing the game without any help. That's the hole Nintendo Power used to fill—a hole created by bad game design.
And what about those "previews"? Even today we game journalists get flak for our glowing pre-release coverage, but Nintendo Power previews were thinly veiled ads published by a company with a direct stake in the games' sales.