There and Back Again, a Gamer’s Guide: Part 3 – A Newb’s Walkthrough for History

Strategy Guide Image

Welcome back! I know you’re tired. The last part of this miniseries was a rough read, and I’m sure it left your heart aching (Unless of course, you don’t have a soul because of some unfortunate run-in with Shang Tsung). We’re coming to the home stretch. In Part One, I told you about my favorite loose-logic puzzles from a select few games from Sierra On-Line. Part Two was all about those video game quests that required some real-world actions in order to complete.

For this third installment, we’re going to start an informal exploration of the history of strategy guides. Grab a pen, flip to the note section in your manual that you never use, and write this shit down, because there will be a test at the end of this.

I can’t tell you with any ounce of confidence when and where the first form of the strategy guide was officially published (maybe The Official Nintendo Player’s Guide in 1987?), but I’d be willing to bet that the earliest memories most millennials and previous generations have of video game guidance comes from the pages of Nintendo Power.

Strategy Guide Nintendo Power
Sonic the Hedgehog runs too fast to be a proper platformer. Nintendo Power!

First published in 1988 by Nintendo of America, Nintendo Power was a monthly magazine that focused on video game news, reviews, previews, and…STRATEGY GUIDES! The publication ran until the end of 2012, and later returned in 2017 as a podcast.

The birth of Nintendo Power came after the short-lived Nintendo Fan Club News, a free magazine sent to Nintendo Fan Club members, that mainly focused on news and previews. Nintendo Power initially launched as a bi-monthly magazine. For a brief time, off-months were supplemented with a spin-off series called Nintendo Power Strategy Guides, which would cover a single game such as Super Mario Bros. 3 or Final Fantasy. Unfortunately, this format proved to be ahead of its time, and the series was quickly discontinued in favor of Nintendo Power releasing on a monthly schedule.

So Nintendo Power makes it into the hands of over a million gamers, and the world becomes a better place, right?

Do you see what’s wrong with this picture? Of course you don’t, you coin-collecting, Plummer-loving, mushroom-munching—need I go on?

As the name implies, Nintendo Power only covered shit from Nintendo!

What’s a Sonic kid to do?

I’m not sure if it’s been made painfully clear yet by all of our articles here at Late to the Gamers, but the Co-Op Kid and I grew up on the Sega Genesis. At the time, we really didn’t give a shit about Mario and Zelda. Not when we had Sonic and…Vectorman?

Strategy Guide Vectorman
How did this weird collection of circles not become a cultural icon?

But thank god for GamePro!

First published in 1989, GamePro magazine was a dominant source for video game news, reviews, and previews, across multiple platforms. GamePro had it all, including lengthy sections on codes, tips, and tricks. Code Vault (initially known as C.S.A.T. Pro) was chock-full of great content to guide gamers. Hidden secrets and proven tactics weren’t just provided by GamePro staff either. Readers could submit their own discovered tips and tricks to have published in the Code Vault, fostering a helpful community pre-internet forums. Even the slowest months of video game news was made exciting by the Role Players Realm section, which often featured multi-part walkthroughs for popular RPGs.

With GamePro’s final issue released in 2011, not a month goes by that I don’t miss getting the latest copy in the mail. I can still vividly remember, long ago, looking through an issue featuring a strategy section on Street Fighter 2, and using Guile’s picture as a reference for a sketch I was working on. What? You thought 16-bit me was ready to graduate from button-mashing tactics? Oh, no. I could barely read at the time, much less execute a Hadouken! But goddamn, did I love flipping through those pages, making poor attempts to recreate all of those colorful images with paper and pencil.

Okay. Sorry for gushing a bit over GamePro magazine. I just have a lot of fond memories of sitting on the couch with the Co-Op Kid every month, going through the latest issue. I’m sure there’s a bunch of people out there (probably not though, because that would require a bunch of people to actual read this article) who are yelling at me right now about Electronic Gaming Monthly.

I know EGM was founded and first published around the same time as GamePro, but it wasn’t until their spin-off magazine, EGM2 in 1994, when they dove deep into providing readers with extensive guides and cheats. Unfortunately, EGM2 would only run until 1998, briefly rebranding as Expert Gamer, before shutting down all together in 2001.

There were a number of other video game magazines that began circulating around in the early 90s as well. It would be a crime not to mention what is probably the biggest (only?) video game magazine today Game Informer (just kidding, PC Gamer. I know you’re still out there).

Strategy Guide PC Gamer
Just cool it on the Master Race stuff

What originally began as a six-page magazine published by FuncoLand (later to become GameStop), Game Informer made its debut in 1991 and has since become one of the largest magazines published in the US. Game Informer has been able to maintain its success in large part to its connection to GameStop’s customer loyalty program, but in no small part due to all the stellar content that Andy McNamara and company create month after month. With a solid and responsive understanding for their readership, coupled with a strong relationship to leading video game publishers, here’s to hoping that Gamer Informer can continue for another twenty-something years.

Now, ‘91 wasn’t just a big year for FuncoLand’s soon-to-be magazine mega-hit. There was something special cooking over at Nintendo of America that would have kids saved, and parents enraged.

After the launch of the NES, Nintendo established a customer service phone line to answer technical questions regarding console setup. However, people began calling up with questions regarding the games themselves. Due to the growing demand for video game help, Nintendo launched a separate hotline known as the Nintendo Power Line, which was solely dedicated to relieving stress and frustration from stuck gamers. What started as only a handful of phone operators, quickly grew to over 400 people!

Strategy Guide Power Line
Sir, for the last time, I will not tell you what I’m wearing

The downside to the Power Line was the long-distance chargers, which I know you really didn’t care about, but your parents sure as shit did! I’ve heard so many stories about kids racking up hundreds of dollars in phone bills. Although the hotline has long been disconnected, between exceeding data plans, loot boxes, and micro transactions, parents must be more vigilant than ever these days about their children’s expenses!

With massive magazine circulation and the Power Line HEATING UP, Nintendo (according to NBA JAM physics) was just one shot away from becoming ON FIRE! And to ignite that status buff, their next basket would be coming FROM DOWNTOWN! “Downtown,” serving as a loose metaphor for “the past,” sticking with the theme of this paragraph… Shut up. It works.

Nintendo decided it was time to take another crack at strategy guides, rebranding them as Nintendo Player’s Guides. The first few volumes saw a return to the original format of the first Official Player’s Guide, covering a collection of titles in a single issue. Although successful, Nintendo found fans to be hungry for a more narrow and in-depth scope for their video game coverage. Nintendo quickly adopted the format of their previous limited series of Nintendo Power Strategy Guides, with each book focusing on a single game.

And thus began the long-running series of Nintendo Player’s Guides, ushering the world into the Golden Age of strategy guides!

But what about us Sonic kids?

Don’t worry, two weeks from now, we’ll see that this was only the beginning!

I know, I know… I said this was only going to be three parts. But there’s much more history here to explore than I originally planned for. So, come on! You’ve already come this far! Don’t you want to see how it all ends…? Please?

If you decided to tap out now, let me know why in the comments!