Nintendo Player’s Guide Retrospective

This is a set of books made by Nintendo in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. The books changed format over the years. They started as supplements to the Fun Club Newsletter, latter named Nintendo Power, and eventually turned into Strategy Guides. I had no idea these books existed when I was younger. I wish I had because they look awesome!

These books were sold in bookstores eventually. I don’t remember seeing them anywhere. Granted, I wasn’t really in a lot of bookstores in the late 80s and early 90s. I’m not sure how many people remember, but there used to be days at school where some company would bring in a bunch of books and you could buy them.

I don’t remember what these days were called. I remember getting Goosebumps books during these sales. What I should have looked for were these books. It would have been the perfect time to see these and get kids to buy them. Nintendo probably didn’t need to do this since they were making so much money.

I think that’s probably enough of a tangent. Let’s get into the books!

Where it Started

The series started in 1987 and was called The Official Nintendo Player’s Guide. This had reviews of 90 NES games. It was a little misleading. There were two types of reviews in the book. There were 24 in-depth reviews, and the rest were much shorter. This was still a good resource for the games you might not have heard of.

The 24 in-depth reviews take up the bulk of the book. These reviews are very detailed and have a lot of valuable information. This includes tips, tricks, maps, and other stuff you might need to get further in the game. The last 30-40 pages are a list of all the games. Each game gets a paragraph of information, a screenshot of the game, and, most importantly, a picture of the game box. You needed this so your parents would know what game to buy! Assuming your parents bought your games outside of Christmas and your birthday.

At the time, there wasn’t much of a magazine presence for Nintendo, and there wasn’t as much news about video games as there would eventually be. In 87, this book covered all of the games released at the time. This was another form of advertising for Nintendo.

Looking back at this book, you can see what games were being sold and made for the North American audience. This was still the arcade era. Developers were still trying to bring the arcade experience to the home console.

After this first book, Nintendo would publish several one-off books which worked as strategy guides and marketing material. We would see the NES Game Atlas, Top Secret Passwords, Game Boy, SNES, and Mario Mania.

Second Run of Books

I have no idea what order these were released in. Even the books don’t say much aside from a year. I think they were released from 1990 to 1992, but I can’t be sure. My NES Game Atlas is missing several pages, and I can’t tell what date it was published.

These were given away as gifts for a Nintendo Power renewal, Mail order, and in the video game and bookstores. These five books were the bridge between the first being for marketing and the later strategy guides. The Player’s Guides would be Nintendo’s official strategy guide for most of their life.

Back to the second run of books. The first book in this series I learned about was the NES Game Atlas. I saw it on an episode of the Angry Video Game Nerd and wanted to know more about it. I think it’s the most interesting one of these books.

Back in the early 90s, this book would have been excellent! Seeing maps of all of these different games would have been extremely helpful! I wish Nintendo had done more than this one. Several of the games released at this time needed maps. I think back to Metroid, Final Fantasy, and Dragon Quest as confusing at times.

The game that needed a map was Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. Unfortunately, the map in the Game Atlas doesn’t help much. They tried to lay it out, but it doesn’t line up with the locations in the game.

The Game Boy and SNES Player’s Guides are more like marketing material than anything else. They don’t go too in-depth into any of the games. At the time of their publication, I think they have all of the games out at the time. They would have been awesome to have when they came out. We didn’t know how many games there were back then.

These guides put all of this stuff together. When they switched over to strategy guides, the artwork got a lot better. With these, you didn’t need that. You had nice screenshots. It makes me wonder how they were taken back in the 80s and 90s. It’s easy to do it today, but back then, we didn’t have all of the tools we have now. A lot of things were different back then.

It wasn’t like today where you can go to the internet and find things. Books like these, Nintendo Power, and other gaming magazines were the only real source. These remind me of the VHS tapes that Nintendo would mail out with Nintendo power. I miss weird stuff like that. I’m sure you could find those videos on YouTube. I remember having the Star Fox 64 and the Mari 64 VHS tapes.

Anyway, these books felt like they were an extension of Nintendo Power. They grouped all of the games into one place where you could see them and get some information. They don’t give you much of a walkthrough, or a strategy guide, on the game in the books. One that does give the reader a bit more is the Top Secret Passwords.

This book reminds me of the VHS tapes made at the time or the Game Genie codebooks. Top Secret Passwords has passwords and codes for dozens of games on the NES, SNES, and Game Boy. It covers over one hundred games. Not in any great detail, but that isn’t the book’s point. It’s just here to give you the passwords to make it farther in one of the games in this book.

One thing I wish I knew was how they selected the games. There is a nice mix of first-party and third-party games. At this time, there were many NES and Game Boy games for sale. The SNES was still early in its life. If I had the exact date of publication, I would have a better idea of how many SNES games were available.

Because these aren’t reviews, Nintendo doesn’t have to do much to either hype them up or ignore the faults in the games.  This gives you the passwords. It does what the cover says.

This was usually information you would get from either playing the game, reading Nintendo Power, finding the password in the notes section of a rental game’s manual, or from a friend on the playground during recess. I remember scribbling these down and then losing the paper because I was too young to care about that stuff, or I would clean my room and forget what the letters were supposed to represent.

Mario Mania and Switching to Strategy Guides

This is where the Player’s Guide turned from marketing material to be a strategy guide. The Mario Mario Mania book seems to be getting people ready for Super Mario World. I think it also went by a different name at some point. In the back of Game Boy Player’s Guide, you see an advertisement for the Game Atlas, SNES Player’s Guide, Nintendo Power, and The Complete Mario Player’s Guide. The last one doesn’t appear to exist, and I think it was renamed Mario Mania. This is also where you could have found out how the Super Mario Bros 2 we got in North America was just a reskin of Doki Doki Panic.

The Mario Mania book gives the reader a history of Mario up to Super Mario World. I think it’s a great addition to a book like this. At the time, you didn’t have many Mario games, at least games in the Super Mario series. You had the Donkey Kong games, the Mario Bros arcade game, and the three Super Mario games.

The history section also goes over the cameos that Mario made in other games. It’s just a nice collection of Mario stuff. It also gives you a couple of pages on the licensed Mario collectibles from the time and the cartoon shows.  

The artwork in the book is great! You get to see how Mario was portrayed during the 80s, and you get some cartoons of the different levels in Super Mario World. They include drawings of the enemies, the new power-ups, and the bosses.

Most of this is a walkthrough of Super Mario World. I like it, and it shows where Nintendo would go so it could compete with Brady Games and Prima in the strategy guide game.

The Strategy Guides

From here, Nintendo would turn them into a line of strategy guides. They would make one more book in the style of the first few books. This one was on the Super Game Boy. This book just explained what you could do with it.

I remember being confused by the Super Game Boy at the time. I didn’t get it, and my friend, a die-hard Nintendo fan, didn’t do a great job of selling it to me. Looking back at it now and what you can do with it, the Super Game Boy is an interesting piece of hardware. You don’t need it anymore, but it’s a part of Nintendo history.

These strategy guides were published until 2007. The internet killed them off for the most part. Nintendo partnered with Prima to publish new strategy guides after they discontinued their own. Eventually, Brady and Prima would merge, but they were being phased out. It was easier for people to turn to the internet for what the guides used to provide.

I don’t miss strategy guides that much. Some of them are fun to look through, but I never used them when I was playing a game. I would ask a friend, try to figure the game out on my own, and if it got too frustrating, I would move on to a different game.

Looking back at the Player’s Guides, I think the early ones are interesting. These books are a nice piece of Nintendo history, and I think they are still fun to flip through. I’m kind of a sucker for books, and these older books are an interesting footnote in Nintendo, and Nintendo Powers, history.

Published by Paul Werkema

Hi! I'm here to share my hobbies with all of you. I love video games and books, so I write about the books that cover video games or are novels about video games.

One thought on “Nintendo Player’s Guide Retrospective

  1. They remind me of the prima strategy guides I went mad for in the 90’s for games like Pokemon Yellow and Command & Conquer Retaliation. They are really fine pieces of retro history, thanks for sharing your collection!

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