Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bizzare Nintendo Power Star Fox 64 Preview Video Showcases Gameplay, Murder Attempts

In the late ‘90s, Nintendo Power, the one-time leader in gaming magazines, slid from its  sky high alter, just as its parent company began its mighty decent past the upstart newcomer to the console market, Sony. The early days of Nintendo Power were a love letter to the industry, sparkling with a childlike innocence and the love of the game. By 1997 however, NP had grown up a bit, and like a teenager, it was suddenly all about the attitude. “Play it Loud!” exclaimed Nintendo’s new marketing campaign as longhaired Nirvana groupies graced the grunged-out pages of NP. Nintendo had turned into everything they used to stand against – they had become just like early ‘90s Sega. But by then, the “extreme” shtick had already been done to death by a certain blue hedgehog.

Play it loud? “Played Out!” was more like it. The Silver Age of gaming had officially come to an end.

I quietly allowed my subscription to Nintendo Power to expire. It was a lot like euthanizing a terminally ill family pet: Even though it hurt, it was the right thing to do for everyone involved. It was finally over.

But not before this little gem found its way into my mailbox:


If you were a subscriber to Nintendo Power in 1997, you came home one day from school or work to find a curious VHS tape in the mail spotlighting the upcoming Star Fox 64 for the Nintendo 64 console. But this wasn't just any preview – the damage it caused to the viewer’s psyche was going to require hours of therapy to overcome.

The tape begins with a man in an orange flight suit parachuting into the parking lot of the Nintendo of America building in Redmond, Washington, so it was pretty much a normal day at Nintendo HQ. A creepy bald man who looks like he ought to be working at an adult video store instead of wearing a Sony sweatshirt watches intently from a “Diaper Service” truck across the street. He then radios to another man in a red Sega sweatshirt, informing him that “the eagle has landed.” As Sony distracts flight suit man, Sega comes up from behind and USES A CHLOROFORM RAG ON HIM.

Evil laughter ensued. Note the dead guy at the bottom.

While I was watching this for the first time, I wondered, “What does this have to do with Star F- HOLY CRAP HE JUST KILLED THAT GUY!”

Cut to the evil lair (read: abandoned warehouse) of the deadly Sega-Sony alliance! Flight suit man, whose name is apparently Peter, is tied up in a wooden kitchen chair obtained from the side of the road in a quiet Midwestern community. Sony is screaming at him though a bullhorn, demanding information about Star Fox 64 while Sega looks on devilishly. It’s a lot like my eighth birthday party, only it had less to do with Nintendo games and more to do with the money I owed to the Mob.

At first Peter’s iron will and sophomoric attitude seem to have Bulk and Skull, er, Sony and Sega on the ropes, but then the duo’s second captive is revealed: A Super Mario doll with its stupid plastic head in a vice grip! As Sony and Sega start SQUASHING MARIO’S HEAD, Peter spills the beans about Star Fox 64. Watching the gameplay footage, everyone knows it would have looked and sounded better on a PlayStation (as well as taking a scant 6 hours to load), but no one says anything about it.

Also, for some reason, Sega sounds like Sarah Palin. Apparently in the ‘90s, Sega of America was located in beautiful downtown Alaska and didn’t know much about foreign policy.

For a company that previously on X-Men wouldn’t allow a for so much as a sing drop of blood in its games, this is a pretty huge turnaround. Here’s where that attitude thing I was talking about earlier comes into play: Nintendo was trying so hard to be edgy and cool that they were seemingly willing to shed the family-friendly image they had worked so hard to achieve for the last 12 years.

Here's Peter, ratting his friends out.

When Peter stupidly reveals that Bob, Nintendo’s chief scientist (?), knows more about Star Fox 64 than he does, Sony and Sega dress up like mentally challenged pizza delivery guys, knock Bob out with a pizza box filled with death gas (??), and abduct him from what appears to be either Nintendo’s secret underground stronghold or Michael Jackson’s old bedroom at the Neverland Ranch (???). How these two know the location of either is beyond me.

Either Sega is really angry, or he has to use the men's room RIGHT NOW.

Back at the warehouse they’ve only got one chair, so while Peter chows down on the pizza that eight seconds before was revealed to be pink knockout gas, Sony and Sega grill Bob like an unfortunate shrimp at an Australian cookout. While an entirely mobile Peter does nothing to rescue his comrade, Bob reveals… The Rumble Pak!

OH CRAP! I just told you about the mighty Rumble Pak!

But Bob’s not going to leak any more sensitive information which at that point was common gaming knowledge, so Sony and Sega POUR THOUSANDS OF VOLTS OF ELECTRICITY THROUGH MARIO’S EARS VIA JUMPER CABLES AND A CAR BATTERY. The little Mario doll even convulses while they do it, just like in real life.

Mario, nooooooooooooo!

Okay Nintendo, that’s messed up. Remember how the cover of Nintendo Power issue #2 gave kids nightmares because it had Simon Belmont holding Dracula’s severed head? This is 100 times worse and it’s totally not what you should be teaching kids to do. Yet on the flipside, it’s kind of awesome. But I wonder what Nintendo of America’s Video Game Content Guidelines would have to say about all this.

To stop the torture, Bob whips out a Rumble Pak, which he just happens to have in his lab coat which Sony and Sega neglected to search.

“Hook it up. I want to feel this myself,” says Sony creepily. While a cheap “Teen Spirit” rip-off song plays in the background, they leave Bob tied up and Sega, Sony and Peter play some Star Fox 64. Then Sony is way, way too happy about the rumble feature for way, way too long.

“Whoa! I actually felt it!” says Sony. “This is incredible!”

We’ve got four guys in an abandoned warehouse with ropes, a couch and something that vibrates wildly when Peter asks, “Well what do you say, guys? You into a little multiplayer action?”

I... are you coming on to me? Even Sega is scared!

That’s where I stopped the video in 1997, because even at 15 years old, I could guess where a setup like that was going. Up until then, I had respected the Big N and thought of the company as a sort of paragon of video virtue, but after the kidnappings and murder attempts featured in this movie, I figured there was only way to top it. But recently, I screwed up my courage and decided to watch the rest of the video in the name of gaming knowledge, this blog post, and a strange new interest in hanging out with lots of men at once. However, my fears were allayed when Bob exclaimed, “Gentleman, welcome to versus mode!”


After seeing Star Fox 64’s four player capabilities and getting an eyeful of Nintendo’s line up for the future, including games like Golden Eye and Zelda 64, Sega says, “We just can’t beat you guys!” A more accurate statement would have been, “We just can’t beat you guys, unless you count the entire 1993 fiscal year when Sega products outsold and outperformed everything you came up with.” Then Sony should have chimed in with, “We’re beating the pants off of you RIGHT NOW with our CD format and will continue to do so through approximately 2007, and a single game about flying furries can’t do a thing to stop it.”

With Sony and Sega “defeated,” Peter and Bob jump up and, gloating, say some of the greatest lines in video game commercial history:

“Thanks for the pizza, GUYS!” Bob yells.

“See you later, BOYS!” Peter adds flamboyantly.

Hmm, where have I heard something like that before…

Hey Nintendo! I used to have a promo video like this...
Until my father got a job!

Oh yeah!

To Recap – Things I learned about Star Fox 64 from the 1997 Nintendo Power preview video:

1. It’s okay to knock someone out with chloroform and abduct them if you need information about a video game.
2. Kidnapping, restraints and torture are acceptable (and preferable) forms of persuasion.
3. All pizza men work for Sony and/or Sega.
4. Connecting one’s ears to a car battery is a fun and inventive new passtime.
5. The Rumble Pak is more fun than an adult toy.
6. “Thanks for the pizza, GUYS!”
7. Star Fox 64 is not nearly as entertaining as this preview video.

If you would like to subject yourself to this movie, here it is. I’ll understand if you don’t feel like watching it, but please, do yourself a favor and fast forward to the last minute. That pizza line is priceless.

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