Playing With Power: Nintendo NES Classics (Book)

NINTENDO1The 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System was literally a game changer.  It helped bring the video game industry out of a slump in the mid-80’s.  And for many children at the time (myself included), the NES was a household name.  You didn’t just play video games, you played Nintendo.  To honor that excellent time in gaming, Prima Games has just released a new book: Playing With Power: Nintendo NES Classics.  It features games published by Nintendo for the NES, as well as strategies for select games, probably to coincide with the NES Classic Edition (a smaller NES shaped device with 30 games inside) which was recently released as well (sadly, as of this writing, I have not been able to find one of those).

I’ve read that this book comes in hardcover and paperback editions.  I got to review the hardcover version.  The cover looks like a NES cartridge.  It’s even textured in the places where you think it would be.  That had to have been expensive to make.  I did printing at a place I used to work, so I know how much that stuff costs.


But here’s the surprise!  That’s actually not the cover.  It’s a case for the actual book, which is also a hard cover.  The actual book has an image of the NES controller.  Here is a shot of the case and the real book.


The first part of the book introduces the NES and the technical power it had.  Although it doesn’t get so technical that it’s hard to understand.


Most of the book is split into three sections.  Early, Middle, and Late periods of Nintendo’s game releases.  For each section it goes over strategies and maps of certain games during these times.  Most of the games that have strategies are also on the NES Classic Edition.  Here’s a shot of one of the pages featuring games in the Early Period.


Here’s a page featuring Donkey Kong, one of Nintendo’s first big successes as well as one of the first games on the NES.  You’d think they could’ve found a better piece of artwork for the Donkey Kong Classics game other than a chewed up instruction booklet, though.



One of the things I liked about the old Nintendo Power magazine is they used a lot of maps.  They’d make the maps directly from the screenshots of the game, and I wonder how they did it and made it look so good.  This book also uses maps like that.  I’m not sure if they lifted the map images directly from the old Nintendo Power magazines or not, though.  Games like Super Mario Bros., Kid Icarus, Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, and Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link all have maps in this guide.  Here’s a sample page from Zelda.  Although I will say this guide could’ve used a bit more editing.  On the top right page, it says “The Overworld” and the text under it even says, “Here is a map of the overworld.”  But as you can see, there is no overworld map, they just go straight to the first dungeon.



Speaking of Nintendo Power, I have to say that while it was definitely propaganda for Nintendo’s games, systems, and other products, it certainly had a lot of ‘firsts’ for video game magazines, and I have a lot of respect for that publication.  I enjoyed reading it all through my childhood.  In fact, Nintendo Power was one of the reasons why I majored in Magazine Journalism in college.  Looking back on it now, that was probably a mistake, but at the time, it seemed like a good idea, especially since I was already writing for The Dallas Morning News.

OK sorry to go off topic there.  Another thing I like about this book is it uses a lot of artwork that I have never seen before, or art that I had only seen in Nintendo Power.  Case in point: when Nintendo Power first featured Super Mario Bros. 2, they had a different artist draw some of the pictures of the characters.  I remember that to this day, because it was (and still is) unusual for Nintendo to have different artists draw their Mario characters in a different style.  I don’t know if this guide lifted text directly form Nintendo Power (my memory’s not that good), but I know some of the artwork is from that magazine.  Here’s a shot of the Mario 2 page with some of the artwork I was talking about.


Here’s further proof that they used art from Nintendo Power.  At first, Nintendo Power was a bi-monthly magazine.  Before it went monthly, they would alternate between a magazine and a strategy guide each month.  Some of the strategy guides included Final Fantasy, Ninja Gaiden, and Mario 3.  I remember the Mario 3 guide in particular because when they would introduce each world, they had a full-page picture with Mario in that world.  Those pictures stuck out in my mind for some reason, and they’re in this guide as well in the Mario 3 section.


Hey wait a minute, is this an ad for Nintendo’s current products?  This guide really is a lot like Nintendo Power!


Another cool thing this guide does is in between some of the game pages, they break things up with other sections that were also in Nintendo Power, like “Classified Information” (game codes), or “Counselor’s Corner” (game hints).  On one of the final pages, they show all the Nintendo-made accessories.  I’m glad they had the NES Advantage joystick in here.  I actually hated the classic square Nintendo controllers as a kid, so one of the first things I did when I got my NES was get the NES Advantage.  They also had the NES MAX, which my best friend swore by.  I’m also impressed they had the “Hands Free” controller, which people who couldn’t move their arms or hands could use.  You controlled the game with a chin joystick and inhaled and exhaled for the A and B buttons.



And that’s the whole book!  It’s a pretty decent book, and at only a little over 25 bucks, not a bad price either.  It has a few flaws and could’ve used some more editing, but that’s all the problems I could find.  I read that some people complained about some of the images being lower-res, but I didn’t notice anything, (although I do have low-res eyes).  Some may say they were a little lazy by using assets from Nintendo Power, but I personally thought that was kind of cool.  I’m surprised they didn’t use some of the Howard and Nester comics, though!  Maybe Prima Games should make a collection of the Howard and Nester strips!  I actually met Howard Phillips in person as a kid at the Nintendo World Championships in 1990.  He gave me his business card and signed it, which I still have somewhere.  He was pretty trusting to give his business card to a kid he never met before.  I could’ve called him at work for all he knew (but I didn’t of course).

While on the subject of the NES, I thought I’d share a few of my own NES memories.  I actually didn’t get a NES right away.  Super Mario Bros. was the big game for a while, but it didn’t get me to want a NES.  Sure it was a great game, but I had already played it in arcades first, and I was perfectly happy playing Pengo on my Atari 5200.  I didn’t get a NES until after The Legend of Zelda came out.  That game really impressed me, especially how you could save your game and come back to it later.  I do wish this book covered more than Nintendo’s published games, but I can understand why they did that because otherwise this guide would’ve been several volumes long.  But as a kid I didn’t really get into many of Nintendo’s own published games.  Sure I enjoyed stuff like Mario 2 and Zelda, but I mostly played games like the Adventures of Lolo series and Capcom’s Disney titles and Mega Man series.

As of this writing, I still haven’t been able to get the NES Classic Edition, and I’m pretty disappointed about that.  But like I said, it doesn’t have all the games I enjoyed as a kid, and I think it still uses those square controllers, which I never liked (I wonder if I could hook up my old NES Advantage to it).  If you were lucky enough to get the NES Classic Edition for you or your kids, you could get this guide to go along with it, and show your kids how WE used to have to get our strategies and tips for games before the Internet came along!

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