['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which covers video game magazines from the late '70s all the way up to right now.]

It's post-Thanksgiving in the US and I'm sure everyone's still feeling too sick to move, so I thought I'd spend this weekend with less text for you to read and more pictures for you to look at.

This week I want to talk about newsletters, a concept that's likely completely alien to people who began their game careers anytime after the SNES. During the classic era, and especially during the NES years, free newsletters were a common way for third-party software makers to build a mailing list and advertise directly to consumers. The Nintendo Fun Club News started out as a newsletter in 1986 before ballooning into Nintendo Power two years later, and Atari Age is one that still attracts big bucks whenever issues appear on eBay.

Lesser coveted are the NES-era company newsletters, of which there were approximately a billion. Nearly all the top NES licensees (and quite a few of the smaller ones) had some form of newsletter, ranging from low-budget to what amounted to mini-versions of Nintendo Power. Let's take a look at a few I have in the file cabinet...

[Click through for more.]


Acclaim's newsletter is an example of a mini-Nintendo Power. This issue covers pretty much everything Acclaim put out in 1989, including Kwirk, Knight Rider, and those dinky little LCD handheld games. There are screenshot-maps of Double Dragon II and profiles of super players like "Iron Mike Arkin" and "Jenn -- Mistress of the Games" and everything.


Taxan's is similar in style, but instead of being stapled together, it actually unfolds into a full poster packed with game info, screenshots, and articles. Particularly notable in this issue is "Notes from the Gamemaster," a behind-the-scenes look at game development. Who's the Gamemaster? None other than Nintendo and Microsoft game designer Ken Lobb, as it turns out -- it seems he got his start as a product manager for Taxan:

"My main job is to work on new product development. I work with the programmers to make games that I feel are the best. I also design game concepts. For example, I came up with the idea for Low G Man...Anyway, I got this job because I know a lot about games. I've been playing arcade and home games for ten years. I own just about every game system ever made, and just about all the games for each, and I've beaten them all!"

Ken Lobb vs. Lucas Barton in a Super Mario Bros. 3 shootout -- who would win?


Sunsoft Game Time News is probably best known for the Blaster Master comic it ran from 1989 to 1990, complete with a storyline that suggested Jason was fighting a "mutant Mafia" and appears to have been drawn by someone during study hall. Later issues, sadly, are far less counter-cultural, featuring editorials from CEO Joe Robbins and selling videotapes of people beating all the levels in Lemmings.


Here are two newsletters for the more cerebral among you -- first, FCI's Screen Play, basically a four-page strategy guide for The Bard's Tale complete with gred maps and the whole bit.


Even more brainy is ASCII News, which came out around the time the company was flogging Wizardry to no end in the US. This issue has two whole pages on Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, complete with a monster gallery and character profiles sent in by fans. Sheesh! Go outside, guys!

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Finally, I thought I would share the two issues of Natsume's newsletter I own in their entirely, because they're just so darn endearing (and they're also a single page each). The first issue in December 1990 appears to have been done with geoPublisher on the Commodore 64, which I heartly approve of.

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And moving ahead a couple years, we have the Office Cat talking about how awesome Pocky & Rocky is. Awww! I wish Natsume still put out a newsletter today!

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He's also an editor at Newtype USA magazine.]