['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which documents the history of video game magazines, from their birth in the early '80s to the current day.]

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How popular did Nintendo's Family Computer become after Super Mario Bros. was released on September 13, 1985? So popular that, as it turns out, a third-party Super Mario Bros. strategy guidebook was the top selling non-manga book in Japan for the entire year of 1985. And 1986.

Super Mario Bros.: The Complete Strategy Guide (スーパーマリオブラザーズ完全攻略本, pictured at left) was produced by the editors of Tokuma Shoten's Family Computer Magazine, the highest-circ game mag in Japan until Famitsu hit it big in the late 1980s. Simultaneous day-and-date guide releases alongside games didn't really happen until later, so this book didn't hit shops until October 31 -- and still it managed to sell 630,000 copies before the end of the year. What's more, the 10th best-selling book of 1985 in Japan was another SMB strategy guide -- Futami Shobo's Super Mario Bros. Secret Tricks Collection (スーパーマリオブラザーズ裏ワザ大全集, pictured right).

(In what was perhaps a sign of the times, the book that Tokuma's Mario guide beat out to be #1 in 1985 was the Japanese translation of Iacocca: An Autobiography.)

Mario Mania didn't truly take hold in Japan until 1986, though. In that year, Tokuma's guide was again the top-selling book in the nation, with Futami's getting bumped up to third place. What's more, those two books were joined by five other guides in the top 25 -- strategies for Twinbee, The Goonies, Spelunker, Ghosts 'n Goblins, and Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken. In 1986, you could sell anything Famicom-related and rake in massive profits, basically -- and then it happened all over again in America two years later. I knew I was born too late.

Sadly, the guidebook boom faltered in subsequent years as competition increased. From 1987 onward, the only strategy guides that made Japanese bestseller lists were Enix's official guides for whatever Dragon Quest title they most recently released. (There has been a bit of an uptick in recent years, though, thanks to the massive influx of Pokemon guides that hit with every new game release.)

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Do you want to read Tokuma's guide? You can toady, even if you don't know Japanese, because Nintendo of America translated it verbatim into English and sold it via the Fun Club News and early issues of Nintendo Power under the name How to win at Super Mario Bros. (This book was never sold outside of mail order and is now extremely uncommon, but .cbz scans are available on the net thanks to Retromags.)

The book was entirely written and designed in house by the editors of Tokuma's Family Computer Magazine in Japan. The first half of the book was largely recycled from coverage originally printed in the November 1985 issue of the mag, while the writing and screenshot-snapping for World 5-1 through 8-4 was handled by Naoto Yamamoto, who was a part-time writer that mostly worked for Technopolis, Tokuma's computer hobby mag, at the time.

Here's a word or two on the '80s Japan game-mag scene from Yamamoto, courtesy of his weblog:

"We had planned to launch the guide in Japan with a run of 130,000 copies, but we already had plans for subsequent printings before the book was even released. Tokuma Shoten at the time held itself up to a very refined and literary image as a publisher, so it often divided up publication into several divided releases so it could produce a large number of printings and claim that as a status symbol for the book.

Famimaga continued on with strategy guides for Pac-Land, Mach Rider, Twinbee and Spelunker, but there was no such thing as a specialist strategy guide writer at this point. They would get written by production outfits that dealt in children's magazines, or by part-timers hired by those outfits if they had no previous game experience. I moved on to Pac-Land right from Super Mario, and I remember that the sample ROM Namco gave me to work with had a completely faceless Pac-Man in the game.

They told me it was in order to keep the ROM from leaking out somewhere in the middleman process, but of course I couldn't take any screenshots off of that thing. I wound up having my bosses go through these tense negotiations with Namco in order to get me a usable ROM, and ultimately the schedule got so tight that I had to spent four straight nights staying in the office."

If you think spending four straight days playing the FC version of Pac-Land sounds like fun, think again.

"I wound up passing out in the office, I guess because of all the fatigue that had accumulated since that summer, and I was taken to the hospital by ambulance. The hospital was really close by, to the point that the rest of the editorial staff arrived before I did, which became a funny story at parties afterward. I received some gifts and new clothes and such, and ultimately I rested up for about four days.

Thus, the release date got delayed. Afterwards -- and not that I was the reason for it or anything -- but subsequent guides were written by outside production firms. They still had me running around for them with the Twinbee guide, though, since they had trouble finding anyone to play through the game's 'second quest' and they needed screenshots."

How much money did Yamamoto earn for co-writing the most successful book in Japan for two years running?

"The Mario guide was done entirely in-house, so I received no royalties for it outside of my hourly salary. My writing fee, in other words, was zero. Outside of physical production, [Tokuma] spent zero yen making the guide and sold such a vast number of copies of it. I did receive royalties for the English version, though, which arrived in my bank account a long time later -- a grand total of 5,555 yen [about $37 in 1987 dollars]."

[Kevin Gifford owns over 8000 video-game and computer magazines. Despite this, he is capable of sustaining a conversation with a woman for at least three minutes per go. He runs Magweasel, a really cool weblog about games and Japan and "the industry" and things, and in his spare time he does writing and translation for lots of publishers and game companies.]