Back in the 8-bit days, Nintendo did Player’s Guides right.  Unlike a modern game guide that covers only ONE game, this thing covers EVERY Nintendo game available at the time of publication (90+).  Talk about a deal!  Sure, sure; you might say that games had a lot less depth back then, and sure, it doesn’t have the awesome comic book interludes of the Perfect Dark Player’s Guide, but the Official Nintedo Player’s Guide of 1987 delivers.  It features in-depth reviews (completely unbiased, of course), strategies, maps, and tips for 24 big hit titles, and then lesser information for every other game in Big N’s catalog at the time.  Plus, it came with stickers!

Scan of Game Advertisement in Nintendo Player's Guide

The player’s guide is organized by “series” (more like the ‘type’ of game), with each given a different color.  The series are Adventure, Sports, Action, Light Gun, Programmable (this term is loosely used – Lode Runner and Excitebike both qualify), Arcade (also a fuzzy term, since a lot of arcade ports are qualified under other series), Robot (all 2 of them!  go R.O.B!), and Educational (just one – Donkey Kong Jr. Math).  These match up to the colored badges that can be found on all old black and silver box games.  Outside of this Player’s Guide, these badges only served to alert the Mom’s of the 80’s that Spy Hunter, was in fact, not an educational documentary game about the prosecution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Scan of Color Game Guide in Nintendo Player's Guide

What strikes me the most reading through this, is that it really is pretty light on actually walking you through the games.  Sure, it provides full maps and hints, but compared to modern strategy guides the spell out in gory detail how to defeat every boss or puzzle, the 1987 Player’s Guide still leaves it to you to figure some things out through the game.  For example, it tells you where to go (in game) for a hint on how to beat Dodongo in The Legend of Zelda, but not what the hint is or how to actually beat Dodongo (alright, so it wasn’t exactly Majora’s Mask here in terms of puzzles, but still).  To the same point, the Legend of Zelda section doesn’t show you anything beyond Dungeon 6.  I kind of like this approach, but also realize that this was in the days of the Nintendo Hotline, so there was a financial incentive to leave you somewhat in the dark still.

Really, this should be viewed as an advertising catalog rather than a Player’s Guide.  Yes, it functions as a guide (and quite well for some games), but let’s look at the real point here.  Nintendo has gathered, all in one place, an advertisement for literally EVERY game available for the NES at the time, and remember, this was before Nintendo Power existed.  I can remember, as a kid, reading about games I had never played, or would ever own, memorizing tactics for bosses I would never fight.  I have never played Rush’N Attack, Chubby Cherub, or Deadly Towers, but I know what they are and still remember those names to this day, thanks to this guide as a child.  How’s that for advertising?

Scan of Metroid Enemies sheet in Nintendo Player's Guide

Also interesting of note, is how many tips center around ways to improve your point score.  ‘Do X to get 5000 points’ or ‘Find this secret room to increase your score’ – it is very clear the arcade mentality of high scores is still very much dominating the games covered in this guide; standing in stark contrast to pretty much any player’s guide that would come later in Nintendo’s history.

Favorite Excerpts from the Player’s Guide:

  • “…and the NES Advantage Joystick, which gives you the power, handling, and performance just like arcade joysticks.” – Are they selling me a car or a gaming peripheral?
  • Not an excerpt, but it is really clear how all the LoZ dungeons fit together like a tile puzzle when you see them all laid out together (ostensibly due to storage requirements on the NES’s constraining hardware)
  • Also with LoZ, HOLY SHIT never realized the ‘rivers’ in Dungeon 5 and onwards where BLOOD.
  • From the Mike Tyson’s Punch Out Section – “Doc [your coach] was a “heavy-weight puncher” in the heavyweight division, but began drinking and ended up in poverty.”  Man, what a crushing origin story Nintendo.
  • From Ghosts’n Goblins “He [the Forest Ghost] appears in the air and throws a spear made of green onion at you.” – Man, wouldn’t think that would knock your whole suit of armor off….must be a hell of a scallion.
  • From Ghosts’n Goblins “While jumping, shoot him [Lucifer] ten times with the cross.  If you succeed, the ending will be impressive!” – Impressive my ass.
  • From Double-Dribble “If you shoot from near the basket, the shot will be a dunk shot and the screen will become ultra-dynamic” – And here I was settling with just super-dynamic screens this whole time.
  • From Metroid “A terrible incident takes place in the year 2005” – LOL the future is so crazy!
  • Also from Metroid ” A cosmic warrior, Samus, must find ten different items.  Then HE [emphasis mine] will have to destroy the Mother Brain…” – Hrmm, even the Player’s Guide isn’t willing to spoil that bikini-clad reveal.
  • From Excitebike “Let fly with a super jump.  You too are Supercrosser!” – Enough said.
  • From Rygar “When a warrior destroys the enemy monster, a physical strength target comes out.  If you get this target, the tone and last of the subscreen will increase, and you can use its hidden abilities” – lol wut?
  • From Track and Field “Soon enough, you’ll know the score when Jocular Pig, UFO or the Mole come into the competition” – What is this, a track meet for horrendous super villains?
  • From Star Voyager “So adjust your warpmeter, fasten your safety belt, and prepare for warp speed.  And may the Force be with you” – If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of the Lucasfilm lawyers mobilizing 26 years ago.

All and all, a great read.  It completely transports me back to my childhood to flip through this book.  You can likely find scans of it online if you don’t want to pick up a hard copy – but it does provide a good read and solid insight into how ridiculous some of the old NES games were.