Tag Archives: NES

I wonder if Fred Savage ever conquered Bad Dudes?!

4461391534_02cce86892_oA little over a month ago I was farting around on Archive.org when I stumbled upon something magical.  In the magazine rack section some amazing soul had uploaded over 100 issues of the now defunct Nintendo Power magazine.  I was so excited about this I started sharing the link to the collection on twitter and facebook, and then next thing I knew everyone and their brother was also sharing the link.  Sadly it looks like all this attention potentially drew the ire of Nintendo, and all of the issues seem to have been removed from the site which is a real bummer.  Luckily I managed to snag a bunch of these and I’ve been able to dive back into the pages of one of my all time favorite magazines.  As a quick aside, even though it shouldn’t, it endlessly amazes me how news is reported inaccurately online.  Two days after I shared the link to the Nintendo Power archive and I started seeing sites report on it, about 75% of them assumed that either a) Nintendo uploaded them, or b) that the “internet archive” uploaded them.  First of all, do people not know how the Internet Archive works?  Second, hell no, Nintendo did not upload them, and three seconds of fact checking at the destination link would have shown them that.  I think a bunch of these articles were just “me too” pieces that basically plagiarized whatever larger/loud source got it wrong first and no one bothers to fact check or do any research.  I often wonder when something like this hits, do people even care about the actual news, or are they just interested in sharing it for likes, follows and clicks?  Sigh.

Back to the magazine, I’m not sure where I stumbled on the first issue as a kid, but I vividly remember starting my collection with that very distinctive issue with the rad claymation cover back in 1988…


Like most kids my age I was addicted to the Nintendo Entertainment System and spent endless and afternoons and weekends perfecting my skills in games like the Super Mario Bros. trilogy, Bad Dudes, Section Z, Excite Bike and Final Fantasy.  I used to pour over the pages of this magazine looking for tips, tricks and codes that would help me find my way to the negative world or get a hundred lives in Super Mario Bros., how to perfect the Konami Code, or how to navigate the murky world of Final Fantasy (via the amazing Strategy Guide in issue 17.)  At some point I lost my sizeable collection of the magazine (I’d bet that my parents chucked them in one of our moves), and I haven’t dug into an issue since at least 1994.  Flipping through these digital issues has been a blast and I absolutely love how “of the time” the graphic design is in all the ads and articles.  I mean just take a gander at these two amazing slices of late 80s fun…

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I kind of want to live in that surfing advertisement.  Then there’s this third ad that details all of the Nintendo branded food products that were available back in the late 80s.  I totally ate my weight in the official Nintendo cereal from Ralston, well, at leas the Zelda side of the box.  I wasn’t much of a fan of the Mario Bros. cereal…


I totally do not remember the Nintendo juice boxes at all, but I vaguely remember some ice-cream novelties and those candy bars seem very familiar.

Scanning back through these I was a little surprised how formulaic the first 40 or so issues were.  Each one featured a bunch of the same regular columns in the same layout from issue to issue.  That’s not really a complaint mind you, just an observation, something I noticed when I realized that almost all of the first 42 issues featured a celebrity profile of an NES addicted superstar.  All sorts of folks were featured in the pages of Nintendo Power, from actors and comedians like Fred Savage and Jay Leno, to sports stars and commercial icons like Ken Griffey Jr. and Joe Isuzu (of all people.)  I thought it’d be fun to share a bunch of my favorite celebrity profiles from the first few years of the magazine.  Though a bunch of these are from the ’88 & ’89 issues, there are also a handful from the ’90 to ’92 issues as well.  I typically don’t dip much into the 90s here at Branded, but I thought for the sake of completeness that it would be worth it to make an exception this one time.  So here are 20 of my favorite profiles…

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I might as well start with the first issue from August of 1988 which featured a joint profile of those crazy Cameron kids, Kirk and Candace (from Growing Pains and Full House respectively.)  Since I’m starting with Growing Pains I figured I might as well as throw in the Jeremy Miller profile from issue 23, April of 1991.  While Candace had mastered Super Mario Bros. and was (at the time) totally stuck in the middle of the Legend of Zelda, Kirk was more of a Gradius man who was having such a hard time with the Amoeboids he was seriously considering placing a call to the legendary game counselors.  Jeremy on the other hand was a huge fan of Star Tropics and Tetris and was really proud of hitting 289,000 in the infamous block clearing game.


The idea that Jay Leno was not only playing the Legend of Zelda, but that he was invested in it enough to call the Nintendo counselors asking for help on level 7 just makes me feel all kinds of warm and fuzzy.  I know that celebrities are people too and the NES was huge when it hit, but I still can’t help but break out with a smile when I think of adult celebs getting video game thumb on the same games that I was playing as a kid.  Also, I wonder how Leno liked Ikari Warriors?  ‘Cause I loved it…


Speaking of adult celebs playing and loving the NES, this one from issue 10, Jan/Feb 1990 with Stephen Furst is probably my favorite profile of a “grown-up” by far.  I love that he went so far as to submit a review of Double Dragon II (he loves that cyclone spin kick!)  I also find it fascinating that Nintendo reached out to an actor like Furst.  I mean, though some 80s kids were probably hip to Animal House, how many of them were watching St. Elsewhere?!

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So, the above two profiles make way more sense to me in terms of the actors they were targeting.  Fred Savage and David Faustino were the perfect age at the time for Nintendo’s main target audience, not to mention that Savage was in The Wizard.  The Fred Savage profile is from issue 9, November/December 1989, while the Faustino profile appeared in issue 37 from 1992.

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These celebrity profiles weren’t just for actual actors or sports heroes, it was also for characters too.  Take these two that feature Bart Simpson and Freddy Kruger (well, Robert Englund, though from reading it, it’s clear he did the piece as Freddy) from issues 28 and 30 respectively. Though neither really talks about Nintendo per-se, I love the Power Glove jokes Englund delivers.  Also, years before there was ever a Freddy Vs. Jason movie, Englund talks about the concept in his profile…


I could go on and on about these profiles, but I think I should just let them speak for themselves…

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A Very T&C Christmas!

It seems like the older I get the more my collecting urges tend to focus on some weirder things.  For instance, you can file this under obscure ephemera, but one of my favorite 80s era treasures in my collection is this lone Christmas card released back in the winter of 1988 by T&C (Town & Country Surf & Skate company.)

TandC Christmas Steve Nazar 1988

I’ve mentioned before that I practically lived in T&C shirts as a boy growing up in central Florida between 1980-1989.  I was such a huge fan of the design of the characters Thrilla Gorilla, Joe Cool, the Caveman, the little Tiki guys, Cool Cat, and the weirdo, green 3-eyed alien with the huge head.  So back in ’88 my head nearly exploded when I received an NES and the T&C Surf and Skate game cartridge for Christmas.  Even though that game was stupidly impossible to play I loved it and would stick it in before school each morning in an attempt to master the ability to surf for more than four straight seconds, or to ollie without stumbling over cracked pavement.

It wasn’t until almost 20 years later that I would finally learn that Steve Nazar was the artist responsible for bringing these rad characters to life, and only in the past year did I stumble upon the above piece of amazing holiday-themed artwork.  If I had found this card back in the 80s it would have unlocked the mystery of the artist as this one is attributed with his signature right under the worktable where the Caveman is assembling skateboards.

If you’re a fan of Nazar’s work for T&C and want to check out what he’s up to these days, head on over to his Instagram profile and check out the fun pieces he’s been sharing recently.  And tell him Branded sent ya!

8-Bit Christmas is the Fruitcake of 80s Nostalgia Novels…

This is the first year in a long time when I’m doing my best to get into the holiday spirit for the Christmas season. For a good portion of my life Halloween has basically been my “Christmas”, and for all intents and purposes the period between November 1st through to January 1st is usually a time when I duck my head down and try and run as fast as I can through the rest of the year trying my best not to knock down any family and friends along the way. It’s a mixture of being burnt out after celebrating a month-long Halloween, and trying to fend off the insanity that comes with trying to find the perfect gifts, visiting with a modern fractured family and trying my best not to go broke in the process. But this year? I’m going all out by letting go of my worries and embracing the holiday.

So I was pretty stoked when I was approached by DB Press to take a look at the first novel from scriptwriter Kevin Jakubowski titled 8-Bit Christmas. Being described as “…A Christmas Story for the Nintendo generation…” (by author James Frey), 8-Bit Christmas tells the story of one kid’s epic quest of Super Mario Bros. proportions to secure a NES for Christmas. Amidst flaming wreaths, speeding minivans, lost retainers, fake Santas, hot teachers, snotty sisters, “Super Bowl Shuffles” and one very naked Cabbage Patch Kid, Kevin’s book vividly weaves a nostalgic tale of Christmas magic and 8-bit glory. Honestly this book being touted as packed with 80s era Christmas nostalgia sounded like just what I needed to kick off my own attempt to embrace the holiday again.

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First and foremost, 8-Bit Christmas delivers on the nostalgia. Set in the late 80s and centering on Jake Doyle, a nine year-old who covets a neighbor’s NES to the extent where it borders on single-minded stalker-level obsession, the book makes reference to practically every major pop culture aspects from the decade. The Super Bowl Shuffle, baseball card collecting, Showbiz pizza and the Rock-Afire Explosion, the Pizza Hut Book It program, KangaRoos zipper pocket shoes, Max Headroom, Members Only Jackets, Moon Boots, as well as a litany of bands, cartoons, movies, TV shows, and toys way too numerous to name. Karate Kid references? Yup, there’s more than the entire Cobra Kai can battle. Star Wars? G.I. Joe? Transformers? Go Bots? Strawberry Shortcake? Cabbage Patch Kids? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Much like Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One before it, the novel is an outlet to celebrate all of the stuff we 30-Somethings loved so much about our 80s childhoods, and all of our hyper-collective shared experiences. If there’s one thing our generation does well, it’s bonding over the insane level of pop culture awareness and merchandising from that decade. Jakubowski does an admirable job of shoehorning in so many references, and touching on so many aspects of what it was like being a kid during that time that I’d be hard-pressed to imagine any rock he left unturned. Well, he does skip over the mentioning branded lunchboxes when comparing and contrasting packed lunches versus buying the hot tray at school. Is every reference accurate and researched? No. He fudges release dates (mentioning the Karate Kid cartoon as a favorite even though it didn’t debut until a year after the winter of ’88 when the book is set) and mashes together experiences (like listing cartoons that only aired during the after school animation blocks or on cable like Inspector Gadget, Transformers and G.I. Joe as Saturday Morning cartoons.) But when you consider the sheer volume of nostalgic references, nit picking the errors and decade blending is pretty pointless.

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Where the book sort of falls apart for me can be summed up by James Frey’s pull quote from above which evokes the film A Christmas Story; Jakubowski doesn’t just shoot for ACS‘s tone, he basically uses it as a point-for-point outline. Whether it’s aping the aged and slightly sarcastic narration of the main character reflecting on his youth, the plot device of a kid yearning for that one specific Christmas gift and then dealing with parents that basically tell him he’ll shoot his eye out with the NES Zapper, being forced to wear an item of goofy, girly clothing, reminiscing over the old man’s curmudgeonly ways, dealing with an annoying and whiny younger sibling, battling the town bully, or using the exact turn of phrases that seem uniquely in the voice of A Christmas Story, the book starts to feel a little hollow when you get past 80s homages. This is amp-ed up by a sort of ridiculous conceit that in 1988 only one kid in an entire Illinois county has a Nintendo Entertainment System, and only because his parents are filthy stinking rich. Having grown up in a decidedly middle class family with plenty of friends on both sides of the financial spectrum, I’m having a hard time remembering many kids who DIDN’T have an NES. Amp the story up even further with a Footloose-level county-wide ban on both owning AND selling Nintendo after the system is blamed for the accidental death of a yappy dog and all the reader is left being able to relate to is the plethora of 80s references. I think the problem lies with Jakubowski slavishly relying on A Christmas Story for inspiration. He riffs on Ralphie’s obsessive daydreams in that film as a jumping off point to tell Jake Doyle’s story, but forgets that with the exception of an all out attack by a pack of wild neighbor dogs on the family’s beloved turkey and an outlandishly sexualized leg lamp, that film is pretty firmly grounded in a very believable reality. 8-Bit Christmas has its head in the clouds and packs the book so full of wacky adventures in addition to Doyle’s Nintendo obsessed daydreams, that for me it was hard to relate to the story. As a film it would probably be easier to get behind, with only an hour and a half’s investment, but spending 8 or so hours reading a book it just sort of left me a little cold. It also doesn’t help that the singular obsession with obtaining an NES overshadows most if not all of the Christmas spirit in the book. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that instead of helping me get into the mood the book kind of reinforced a lot of insanity I’ve been trying to avoid for the past 15 years.

When all is said and done, even though the story didn’t resonate with me as much as I’d hoped, I can’t help but recommend 8-Bit Christmas purely on the richness of the 80s pop culture experience. There are enough obscure observations to balance the obvious references and that alone makes the book a worthwhile read.  It’s so literally heavy and densely packed, it’s like the fruitcake of 80s nostalgia novels…