Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Consumer Guide to Nintendo's Space Dragon Baseball

Nintendo conquered the second half of the 1980s with video games, but the publishing industry certainly helped. Nintendo Power stands as the company's most effectively crafted propaganda, but there were countless other books and magazines that sliced off a piece of the Nintendo Empire and sold it to eager children over and over.

An early series of Nintendo-centric books, Consumer Guide's Strategies for Nintendo Games was a minor player in all of this, as it never drew in as many kids as Nintendo Power, GamePro, or any other magazines. But the Consumer Guide collections were technically books, and that gave them an advantage. Like Jeff Rovin’s How to Win at Nintendo Games volumes, these Consumer Guide tomes sneaked in where magazines couldn’t, showing up in school book clubs and dodging the disdain that parents and teachers might have for the likes of Nintendo Power. A few children even found these guides to be their first good look at the whole Nintendo craze.



The guides were also a good look at how artists could distort popular Nintendo games. The cover of the first Consumer Guide Strategies for Nintendo Games is an abstract collage of game imagery, pairing a baseball player from Bases Loaded with vegetables from Super Mario Bros. 2 and a dragon, two planets, and an astronaut bird from I Don’t Know What. And then there’s a dwarfish, possessed Link squatting in the corner.


The book is far more mundane in its descriptions of notable first-generation NES games. Each writeup covers the basics of a particular title, with a big red suggestion that ranges from helpful (“SHOOT THE WALLS” for Gauntlet) to the confusing (“PRACTICE” for Skate or Die). Each screenshot is accompanied by some sort of tip, and one can easily tell when the writers were weary of penning one bluntly obvious caption after another and just wanted to finish up the page and move on to writing about printers or the new Honda. That’s how the Contra section stumbled across some very interesting advice.


Other volumes of Strategies for Nintendo Games followed. The second one sported a “More” prefix, a copyright notice to assuage Nintendo’s lawyers, and another bizarre amalgamation of artwork. Iron Tank, Wizards and Warriors II, and Stealth ATF are all represented on the cover, but I still have no idea as to the origins of the blue dinosaur, the aliens, and the suggestively positioned fruit creature.


More Strategies for Nintendo Games covers fewer games, but the profiles go into much greater detail, walking players through a good section of each title. A few writeups give away the final bosses, which is a shame when it comes to Ninja Gaiden’s gigantic Gigerian embryo. Some of the book’s advice also misses the mark; the Mega Man 2 guide describes the Leaf Shield as “a useless weapon” that should “rarely be used.” The descriptions are approachable, written for children but comprehensible to adults who might be confused by this whole Nine-tendy thing. Of course, the books try to find the upside of every game, no matter how dull it might be.



Consumer Guide’s books didn’t make much of a mark, but they were successful enough to last for another volume or two, covering Game Boy games and, with them, the last big year of the NES. The earlier books were even reissued with a cover that pasted everything together.


Perhaps that’s the best way to remember Consumer Guide’s chronicle of the Nintendo era: flying fruits, dragons, dinosaurs, bubbles, wizards, tanks, and Big Bird on a hover-scooter.

1 comment:

Fyrebrand said...

I have a few of these books still kickin' around! As you mentioned, I found them through school book fairs -- and though I was too young to realize it at the time, they were pretty terrible.
Still fun to leaf through and read about weird old games, and the even weirder descriptions and "tips" written by people who probably had no business writing about games.