Saturday, 1 September 2012

Goodbye to Nintendo Gamer (Worth £7!)

This morning I caught up with the sad news that Future have cancelled Nintendo Gamer magazine, making this month's issue their last ever. Though I'd heard this was happening a couple of weeks back, the official announcement still managed to catch me by surprise. After 20 years in various guises, and some of the best games writing there's ever been, it's hard to believe that I'll no longer have that monthly fix of Nintendo coverage flopping through my postbox every few weeks. I started reading it as N64 Magazine back in '98, drawn in, as only a ten year old me could be, by the heady promise of a review and tips for Ocarina of Time. Sure I'd dabbled in other Nintendo magazines, having picked up the odd issue of Nintendo Official, and been a long-term reader of the utterly dire N64 Pro. But N64 Mag was something special. With a loud and colourful cover, and perhaps the biggest title I've ever seen (how can a 3-letter name take up so much space?), it just begged to be picked up and read. And I haven't missed an issue since. 

The much-loved Super Play
Super Play kicked things off in 1992. It was well before my time, but is one of those games mags that people of a certain generation refer to in almost reverential terms, like Amiga Power, Digitiser, and CVG. It ran until 1996, before being re-launched as N64 Magazine. Many of the staff were carried over, and with them the style of writing and the irreverent, often absurd humour that readers found so endearing. As soon as I started reading I loved it. When I was a lad videogames were about the most important thing to me. Playing them, reading about them, thinking about them, I just couldn't get enough. My N64 was my most treasured possession, and getting any new game was like an event. Considering they cost about £60 each (bloody cartridges), I think my mum was more than happy to pick up a mag each month that told me which ones would be worth buying. That backfired on her though, since reading about them so often turned a hobby into an obsession, and suddenly there were about ten times more games, consoles, and assorted bits of tat that I just had to have. Er, sorry mum!

But what came across through N64 Mag was the sheer passion the team had for everything Nintendo. They were fans first, and so obviously enjoyed what they were doing. Through in-jokes, characterisation, brilliant writing, and a whole lot more besides, the magazine was dripping with personality. It seemed like it must have been as much fun to put together as it was to read. Tales and photos of office hijinks, nicknames, and just general humour made it feel as though the editorial team were a truly close-knit bunch. It was as if a load of friends who just happened to love Nintendo had decided to get together and make a mag. And that was important in developing the character of the magazine, turning it into something more than just a bunch of colourful pages put together by some names in Bath. 

Were magazine covers just better ten years ago or something?

Behind that though was a hardcore approach to games coverage that extended all the way back to Super Play. This was a magazine written by gamers, for gamers, and that was always clearest in their reviews. Nothing stoked my excitement for a game quite like a proper spread and a good score. Jes Bickham's definitive Ocarina of Time review has become famous, but the one I'll always remember is their wonderful 16 page deconstruction of Perfect Dark. With the wealth of preview space given over to that game in the months before I could not have been more excited for it. When I sat down and pored over the review, with all the information about the weapons, levels, and the sheer size of the game, my jaw hit the floor. It was the kind of review you could only really get in a magazine- no amount of metacritic surfing these days could generate the interest and excitement that those 16 pages did for me. The writer (and former editor) Martin Kitts put up the scans on his website, and reading through them made me feel like a wee kid again. 

But in a way, I used to look forward to their bad reviews more than anything else. Those were always guaranteed to be just about the funniest part of the issue, and showed off the creativity and talent of the writing team to great effect. They were particularly barbed, with a fantastically cruel use of language that still has me in stitches. Wheel of Fortune was "worse than accidentally falling off a cliff. And surviving." Playing Batman: Dark Tomorrow was "like having the skin flayed from your fingertips." If you ever spotted a copy of Carmageddon 64 in a shop, you were instructed to "take it off the shelves, rip up the box and throw the cart repeatedly against the wall until it breaks.", while Cruis'n USA was simply described as "dump." Daft as it sounds, this was the kind of thing that made me want to get into writing. I wanted to be able to put things in such hilariously simple terms, and make people laugh with it. I've been a subscriber to Edge for the same amount of time, and their po-faced verbosity (good as it is was) never resonated with me in the same way as Nintendo Gamer's reviews. There was always something much more... I dunno, human about them. In the way that I can genuinely imagine Tim Weaver going into a blind rage before writing up his Superman 64 review.

Features were often as creative as they were hilarious
The humour is what people usually remember. Brilliantly creative features usually hit the right note, and it was packed with inexplicably hilarious in-jokes and memes; from Nintendo themed Mills and Boone rip-offs, to Paul's Sense Talks, Lex Luthor's "Solve My Maze!", and even the more recent Iwata Asks, it was funnier than any other games magazine on the market. You could tell when it was a slow news month, since they seemed to pack in more enjoyably daft features and piss-takes just to fill the space. There are few things I find as funny now as I did when I was ten, but thumbing through back issues of N64/NGC can still reduce me to tears of laughter. Part of that seemed to be lost somewhere along the road. Whether that was down to the team members from the previous era heading to pastures new, or my own tastes changing, I don't know. But the tragedy is that as Nintendo Gamer it had started to recapture some of that previous magic, and that came right at the end of the Wii's life. With a new console right round the corner, we'll never get to see what the magazine would have been like in its prime.

I'm sure that I'm in the same boat as a lot of long-term readers are. We're of a certain age that means we've grown up reading these magazines, and in a very real way they've shaped who we are and what we want to do with our lives. I know that my desire to go into journalism, games or otherwise, was really driven by reading such a fantastic product, put together by people that seemed to genuinely care about their readership. One of the funny things is that having now done some work on magazines, I can appreciate what a stunningly well put-together piece of work Nintendo Gamer was, in all its forms. To reach that level of quality month in month out, even making the most of having no games to review or news to report, must take such a mind-bending level of skill and commitment. It makes me admire the various teams over the years all the more. What's gutting is that for a magazine that will have inspired a load of people to want to work in games journalism, its closure just highlights how much more difficult than ever that dream is.

The final issue, with a lovely Will Overton penned cover.
Finding out today, on my 24th birthday, that Nintendo Gamer was going to die on its 20th, is  the worst kind of coincidence. And with my subscriber copy arriving today, that'll make it simultaneously one of the best and worst things I'll receive this year. The best because I'll be reading through an affectionate final bow from an incredible games magazine. But the worst because I'll be entering a new console generation without Nintendo Gamer there to guide me through it. It's like a part of my childhood has died. What's worse is that I was there to see it happen. Last week I was down at Official Playstation for a work placement. Now as someone that's grown up reading these mags, the idea of going down to Future was like a dream come true. So on my final day someone across the office pops a bottle of champagne, and everyone gets up to see what the fuss was about. I didn't think much at the time, but now I know that was what remained of team Nintendo Gamer celebrating/commiserating sending the final issue off to print. 

The outpouring of shock and genuine sadness at this news has shown what a loyal following Nintendo Gamer enjoys. Their book of condolences is a lovely read, featuring an outpouring of grief from readers, writers, former and current staff, and a handful of stories much like my own. And we can be grateful that web editor Chris Scullion gets to keep up his stellar work through the website, though sadly flying the Nintendo Gamer flag solo from now on. It'll never really replace the magazine, but at least we'll have something. So goodbye Super Play, N64, NGC, NGamer, Nintendo Gamer. Thanks to everyone who worked over the last 20 years putting together what was easily the best games mag on the market. It may not be much, but I know that if I do end up in games journalism, I'll always be measuring my work against the job that you guys did.

1 comment:

  1. Very much of a similar age to you (24 and 3 months) and also started getting it back in the N64 days. Enjoyed reading your memories which gel with me. A real treasure of a magazine I loved taking part in, writing to and avidly read. Bought the last issue. Whilst I'm no longer a nintendo gamer it was nice to think there was still a magazine like this out there for people to grab, discover and love. Best of luck to all the team.