Now Youre Playing Without Power: The Demise of the Strategy Guide

“Now
you’re playing with power!” Remember
that little jingle? Neither do I, and I
don’t blame you. Admittedly, that
particular marketing campaign happened a bit before my time, but if you add in
the clarifiers “Nintendo Entertainment System” and “1984,” you can start to
picture the context in which that phrase was used.

Still
don’t get it? Allow me to explain. All throughout the 1980s and even into the
early ’90s, Nintendo ran an aggressive marketing campaign entirely themed
around “power.” It was a specific ’80s
variety of power, moreover—the type that manifests in large hairdos, electric
guitar solos, neon, jagged font and garish lightning bolt symbols. You know… the kind of “power” that many of us
are all too happy to sweep under the rug and forget about in the comparatively
“enlightened” year of 2012. Dated lame
factor aside, however, the Nintendo “Power” campaign was one of the most
successful advertising efforts of its day, as it somehow managed to turn
blurry, ham-sized pixels into exciting, imagination-sparking worlds of
immersion—not an easy feat, when you think about it.

Perhaps
the most famous element of the “power” campaign was both the most nefarious and
the least creatively titled. I am of
course referring to Nintendo Power—the kids’ magazine to die for in the late ’80s. Relatively new gamers who tuned in
after the advent of the N64 and PS1 may not know this, but the idea that games
should follow a cohesive, logical narrative, was not necessarily present in the
industry until post-1996. Quite the
contrary, in fact—games were puzzles. Not normal puzzles, mind you, where the player has all the pieces and
relies solely on their intellect to arrive at a solution. No indeed, the solution to these puzzles
always lay in your wallet—that most virtuous of capitalist possessions. With the advent of the Internet and sites
like gamefaqs.com, it’s easy to forget how incredibly difficult it was to
follow some games of the NES era, including renowned classics like The Legend of Zelda and Castlevania. Even with the infinite amount of free time
that children are always assumed to have, some of the puzzles in these games
just could not be solved by mortal logic.

One particularly egregious example from Castlevania II, for instance, had you kneel at the seemingly
dead-end western wall of a specific level for ten seconds while holding a red
crystal, which would summon a magic tornado that would whisk you away to the
next part of the game. What? How could anyone ever figure such a puzzle
out?  Enter Nintendo Power, the fount of
all knowledge for obscure video game puzzles. Any kid with a subscription to Nintendo Power ruled over middle school
with an iron fist, as they were the only ones who could dole out dozens upon
dozens of obscure gaming secrets, without which it was impossible to proceed. Thus, Nintendo Power secured itself in the
hearts and minds of gamers as an invaluable resource, without which it was
dangerous to go outside.

Oh,
who am I kidding?  Both the magazine and
the mentality were utterly ridiculous.

To
be perfectly honest, it’s an encouraging sign that games have evolved to the
point where Nintendo Power and other strategy guides are no longer necessary
elements of the gaming experience. Modern games are not without their gouging vices—downloadable content
(DLC), for instance, represents a huge money sink that many developers love to
push with unfaltering assiduity—but the reality of the situation is that we now
pay to enhance our games, rather than to complete them. Instead of having to break the flow of
gameplay to look up the game’s logical train of thought in a magazine, gamers
are usually given a narrative cohesive enough to follow in one immersive sitting. Plus, unless you’re playing the free version
of Angry Birds, the gaming experience is not interrupted by advertisements
every five minutes like it used to be in the past. Nintendo Power was, after all, about 25 percent strategy guide and 75 percent flashing billboard, and given the amount that most games
required you to refer to the mag, it certainly affected the gaming market’s
spending patterns.  Case in point, anyone
who bought a Virtual Boy.

Most
importantly of all, however, the shift away from obfuscated puzzles to cohesive
plots means that modern gamers are encouraged to make
more gameplay decisions on their own, as opposed to having to cite a reference
book every other time they press a button. Thus, while the gaming world may have lost a fun and wacky magazine that
will always be remembered as a staple of the ’80s, it has also decided that
increased interactivity is the way to go when creating and marketing a gaming
experience. Fancy that for a medium
which has always been, by definition, inherently interactive.

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