Goodbye Nintendo Power

The news earlier this week that Nintendo Power would cease publication hit me pretty hard. For many gamers who grew up in the days of the NES and the SNES, Nintendo Power holds a special place in their hearts. While it was blatant Nintendo propaganda and the strategies found within were frequently not ideal, the amount of love lavished on the games found inside was made the magazine eminently enjoyable. NP made each and every game seem like a classic. Yes, it existed to sell more games, but in those pre-internet days information was not that easy to come by. The loss of Nintendo Power feels like a big step away from gaming as I grew up with.

I wasn’t always subscribed to NP. I was for about two years around 89-91. I bought the magazine occasionally for the next decade before resubscribing a little before publishing switched over to Future. The magazines fortunes mostly followed its namesakes. In the 8 and 16-bit days Nintendo Power was amazing. There was always tons of excitement and plenty of games to cover. In the N64 and Gamecube days the excitement didn’t flag, though there was a lot less to be excited for. It sometimes made the magazine a depressing read. When it switched over to Future, it immediately got better. I’m not trying to bad mouth it from just before, but Nintendo Power over the last 5 years has been the best video game magazine on the shelf. I am disappointed that I let my subscription lapse in the last year. I have saved most of the issues I ever received and have spent plenty of time over the last week looking over them. It is truly sad to see it go.

In many ways Nintendo Power helped shape my gaming tastes, even when I wasn’t able to find or play the games it covered. I had no idea what an RPG was before I read the NP that covered Final Fantasy II. I didn’t play that game, at least not for more than an hour, until it was ported to the GBA but still I know that game front to back just from pouring over Nintendo Power. It made the game seem like such an amazing adventure that I had to play, but I was never able to find it. Then there was River City Ransom. Another game that just captured my imagination but this time I was able track it down. For once, at least, a game was everything Nintendo Power promised it would be. It was the usual beat-em-up with some RPG mechanics. Seeing those two games helped me realize just how many different kinds of games were out there, and seeing all the maps and screenshots in NP helped me visualize exactly how those games worked.

The loss of Nintendo Power is kind of forcing me to realize just how far from the mainstream I’ve become when it comes to gaming. I don’t think my tastes have really changed, but gaming has. I still like the same kinds of games I always have, but they are apparently not popular anymore. In the last year or so I’ve got so many new games that cater almost perfectly to me, games like Xenoblade, the Last Story, Solatorobo and Rayman Origins, but still this seems like an aberration rather than a trend. Most of the games I’ve really enjoyed have not enjoyed much in the way of sales success. The few interesting games that Japan is able to produce often have a hard time making it to America. I’m never going to be a fan of shooters and I’m never going to want more than one sports game for any system. It’s not that I think they aren’t good games, they just aren’t games that interest me. I’m not saying I am going to quit playing video games, but things like the shuttering of Nintendo Power show me that the current gaming industry doesn’t support the kind of things I like. Still, I have nearly 25 years of great gaming memories to look over and there are still plenty of great games I haven’t played.

The 20 Best SNES Games

For the last of this week’s celebration of SNES’s 20th year of existence, I have resorted to best and laziest of ideas: a best games list. Since this is the 20th anniversary, I am picking my 20 favorite Super Nintendo games. As this is a list spun entirely from my own mind, I’m sure you disagree with some parts of it. To preemptively reply to any such complaints I say “neener neener neener.” Also “maybe you should go make your own list, with blackjack and hookers.”

Let us begin.

20) Actraiser

In what will be a theme for these early entries, I haven’t played Actraiser quite enough, so it might either deserve to be higher or not on the list at all. Based on its reputation and limited time playing it, I say it is the systems 20th best game.

19) Donkey Kong Country

Though DKC is one of the most successful games of the generation, I have barely played it. I liked it, but I have since played its reputedly better sequel and found it perfectly frustrating. I’ll give DKC the benefit of the doubt of being the better game and therefore being worthy of this list.

18) Super Street Fighter 2

I don’t know which version of Street Fighter 2 for the SNES is the best, I’ll leave that to the Street Fighter scientists. I do know that any discussion of 16-bit gaming must include talk of Street Fighter 2. Super Street Fighter 2 is the game I played as a kid, so that is the version I chose.

17) The Lost Vikings

This is a great little puzzle platformer from those who would be Blizzard. It is on par with the quality of their later games. I never beat this game, but I had a lot of fun.

16) Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

Another game I have not played near enough. The graphics alone make it worthy of this slot, though.

15) Super Mario RPG

I hate jumping in this game. Other than that, it is great. The mix of Mario and Square works better than Disney and Square.

14) F-Zero

The original futuristic racer is no longer the best (F-Zero 64 is better) but this is part one of the proof of mode 7 in action.

13) U.N. Squadron

There are tons of shooters on the SNES, but I say U.N. Squadron is the best. Keep your R-Types, Axelayes and Gradiuses, I’ll take U.N. Squadron. Actually, I’ll take those others, too. But U.N. Squadron first.

12) Secret of Mana

I may not be this games biggest fan, but it looks nice and sounds terrific. I get annoyed with the gameplay at times, but even I won’t say it’s anything but great.

11) Super Mario Kart

The other proof for mode 7. This is the original ingenious use of the Mario franchise, and it is still one of the best. Really, do you need me to tell you that Mario Kart is fuck awesome?

10) Super Castlevania 4

I bow before this games mastery of a gameplay style that I don’t really like that much. Super Castlevania 4 does just about everything right. Despite its intentionally stiff controls, it is loads of fun.

9) Final Fantasy 2

The immortal adventures of Cecil, Rosa and Kain. Like some other games in this series, FF2 is one of the most influential games in the genre. The story may revel in the melodramatic, but it is still riveting.

8) Kirby Super Star

The best Kirby game? I think so. This not quite mini-game collection was a near perfect platformer.

7) Mega Man X

The Mega Man series needed a shot in the arm after 6 quick NES installments, and Mega Man X was it. Too bad its energy did not quite carry on to its sequels.

6) Earthbound

Quirky, weird and under appreciated, except but its consistently rabid fans, Earthbound is a tragically unique game. I wish there were more like it.

5) Super Mario World

Mario, still the best after all these years. Every single mainline entry in this series has been wonderful. Super Mario World may be the most wonderful.

4) Super Metroid

This is a constant atop best ever lists. Many believe it to be the perfect game. I don’t necessarily disagree, but I like the games above it slightly more.

3) Final Fantasy 3

The cast is arguably too large, the style change at the halfway point may be too great, but all of this game’s parts fit together perfectly. All the best Final Fantasies are multiples of 3.

2) The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

This is not my favorite Zelda game. But even my least favorite Zelda game is still among my favorite games. Not that is my least favorite either. More than even the original, A Link to the Past established what a Zelda game should be.

1) Chrono Trigger

My personal favorite game ever. I love every part of Chrono Trigger. There is nothing this game does that isn’t great. The closest thing I have to a complaint about it is that for a long time I had an irrational hatred for Lucca. No reason, just screw that bitch. She ain’t so smart.

The RPG Machine

Anyone who reads this blog should know that I am a pretty big fan of RPGs. A large part of my love of the SNES is due to it being probably the best RPG console to ever exist. The SNES library is glutted with great–and not so great–RPGs. More so than anything else, the SNES is great for RPGs.

That is not to say that subsequent consoles haven’t also had great RPGs. With the exception of the N64 they all have and I guess even the N64 had Paper Mario and Ogre Battle if you squint to make it count. The SNES, though, has an overabundance of all-time great games from the genre.

By my reckoning, there are 4 categories of SNES RPGs. The first are the “disputed” ones. These are the games that aren’t widely considered classics, but so have supporters, often vocal ones. This group covers most of the SNES’s RPGs. Games like the Breath of Fire or Lufia series. These are the games that you know one person who swears they are amazing, but most everyone else could take them or leave them. Some have tried to tell me that Breath of Fire II is a classic on par with the systems greats, but this is just not true. BoF II is too grindy and the translation it too mangled for the game to be anything but mediocre. My personal hobbyhorse in this category is Secret of Evermore. Despite longstanding hatred for not being Secret of Mana 2, I’d say that Secret of Evermore is a damn fine game. In fact, I like it more than Secret of Mana. I realize, though, that I can’t change the established narrative that they are the classic Secret of Mana and Secret of Evermore is its bad, or at the very least misguided, semi follow-up. That is how the disputed group works. History has already judged these games and found them wanting, but there will always be those that claim Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is the “secret best” SNES Final Fantasy game. It makes all the games I’ve mentioned, and many more, worth a look, though you most likely find many of them to be not to your taste. However, there is the chance that you might find one of them to be a hidden classic.

The next group are the “great, but” games. This is a much smaller group than the one before it. These are the games that would be truly great, save for one flaw (or several small flaws). Like Secret of Mana and the fact that you can almost see the seams where large parts of the game were removed and the surrounding part sewn together. Or Super Mario RPG and its goddamn infuriating isometric platforming sections. Or Final Fantasy 2 and the fact that it is not Final Fantasy 3. My experience with FF2 really is a tragedy. After spending years wanting to play that game, I didn’t end up getting the chance to until after I had played FF3 and Chrono Trigger and next to them, it felt primitive and shallow. All of these games are definitely worth playing, though.

The third group is the “unimpeachable classics.” I say there are only three games in this group: Chrono Trigger, Earthbound and Final Fantasy III. Not only are these the three best RPGs on the SNES, I would say they are the three best RPGs, period. There are plenty of games on a similar level, but none that are genuinely better. Chrono Trigger is elegant. It is graphically stunning with a straightforward story and a deceptively complex battle system. Earthbound is truly unique (other than its Japan only sequel) with its modern setting and often absurd sense of humor. Final Fantasy 3 is simply bursting at the seams with game. The party has more than 12 members but never feels bloated, each with unique skills, as if they split each of the jobs from the previous game into its own character. There is a 20-hour game that climaxes before opening before another 20-hour game. All three of the games have terrific music. Everyone should play these three games, as often as possible. I make a point of playing 2 of the 3 every year.

The last group is the “not available” group. There are the numerous, numerous games that never made the trek across the ocean. It is lead by Final Fantasy 5, Dragon Warriors 5 & 6 and Seiken Densetsu 3 (Secret of Mana 2). Many of these games have since made it to America, but they will never be truly part of the SNES experience here. Many of them are great games; some have inflated reputations due to their inaccessibility. No matter the quality, the sheer number of games that we didn’t get–RPGs for the sake of this post, but there are many other games as well–is a tragedy.

Overall, there are so many great or nearly great RPGs for the SNES. I am not one to say that the genre has not evolved since the SNES days, but the games on this system were such a large part of shaping my tastes in video games that I cannot but consider it the best RPG console.

My SNES Experience

As I wrote the other day, though my love of the NES is unaffected, the SNES is my favorite video game system. The NES is certainly a console with some special personal relevance; its release date was within days of my own release date. I have lived my entire like in the Nintendo age of video games. (which of course began with the release of the NES, reviving the video game industry in the USA after the crash of ‘84.) Unfortunately, this means that the heyday of the NES was pretty well over before I was aware. The SNES’s release in August of 1991 occurred at a time when I was 6 years old and beginning to really get into video games.

My experience with the SNES did not actually start in 1991. I don’t think I scrounged up the cash to buy one (my parents refused to buy us another video game system) until sometime in 1996. But I was certainly aware of it before then. I had long had a subscription to Nintendo Power, (I think my Dad got it around the time of the Dragon Warrior give-away) so I had seen what the new system had to offer. I absolutely poured over the issue that covered Final Fantasy 2. My only experience with RPGs at the point had been the limited Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy 2 was a quantum leap above that. When I saw the original Final Fantasy on a clearance list at Wal-Mart, I jumped all over it. I loved Final Fantasy, but it clearly was not on the same level that I dreamed Final Fantasy 2 was on.

All because of this

I remember the first time I actually saw an SNES. It was my cousin’s; he showed it off by ruining his Dad’s A Link to the Past game. Okay, he didn’t really ruin it; he just smacked a chicken around until the flock of them attacked then paused the game, leaving it like a trap for his father to find.

The first time I played one for any amount of time was at my friend’s house in the summer of probably 1995. The reason I didn’t own one was due t a lost battle over a Christmas present with my brother. I wanted the SNES; (did he see those screenshots of FF2?!) he wanted a Sega Genesis. To play Mortal Kombat or sports games or some such nonsense. My friend had an SNES, but he didn’t have the coveted Final Fantasy 2. No, he had Final Fantasy 3! My 10-year-old mind was blown. Paying back years of his coming to my house to play Nintendo, I returned the favor all summer. (My friend also had an older brother somewhat meaner than mine, so it wasn’t all peaches and gravy.) Using Final Fantasy 3’s underrated two-player option, we played through that game together. Then we played Earthbound, then Chrono Trigger and other classics. That summer I became determined to own my own Super Nintendo.

That quest turned out to not be very difficult. Another friend had gotten a second SNES at Christmas and instead of returning it, agreed to sell it to me for a cool $50. From then on most of my money earned mowing lawns and from meager payments for doing household chores, went to buying new SNES games. I have always been nearly a generation behind on gaming, and with the usually cheaply acquired games, I found the latter days of the SNES were a Golden Age. Of course, not all games were cheap. I dropped more than a hundred dollars in one go on Final Fantasy 3 and Chrono Trigger, but they were easily worth it. There was also Super Mario World, Secret of Mana, Sunset Riders, Legend of the Mystical Ninja and many, many others.

The SNES was something of a Holy Grail console for me. For the longest time I searched for one, but could not get it. When I finally did own one, it turned out to be even better than I had imagined. You can make great arguments for so many consoles being the best ever: the sheer number of games for the PS2, the fact that most of the great SNES games are also available for the Wii or the combination of innovative brilliance and classics styles on the DS, but for me the best is and always will be the Super Nintendo.