Article 6—My Christmas Gift From Tecmo (1990)

Click to View: Book Letter Order Form Envelope

By 1990, the Nintendo Entertainment System was a runaway hit in North America. Book publisher Scholastic capitalized on that success by introducing a new series of novels for young adults: The Worlds of Power books told tales of adventure that were based on popular NES games like Blaster Master, Metal Gear and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. Their history is better detailed elsewhere on the Web, but I thought that NES fans would be interested to see how I came into possession of Worlds of Power: Ninja Gaiden, the third book in the series.

Most game publishers maintain mailing lists with the home addresses of consumers who fill out warranty cards or write letters requesting information. For example, I was added to Taito’s mailing list when I wrote to request a replacement for my lost Renegade instruction manual, and I got on Sunsoft’s list by calling them on the phone to ask about Xenophobe’s release date. These lists were pretty important in the days before corporate Web sites were commonplace, since direct mail was a relatively inexpensive—and far more focused—alternative to TV and print advertising. I wish I had been more actively communicative in the early ’80s, because I missed out on acquiring some rare Atari 2600 collectibles…like Video Life, a game that was only offered for sale to consumers on the mailing list of its publisher, CommaVid.

Anyway…in December of 1990, Tecmo spent 85 cents in postage to send me a “FREE!” copy of the Worlds of Power book based on Ninja Gaiden. It just showed up in my mailbox, out of the blue, along with a direct-mail NES Game Pak order form. I don’t know if Nintendo’s third-party licensing agreements allowed publishers to sell their games directly to consumers, but Tecmo wasn’t the only company attempting to circumvent traditional retail channels in this way. And I do remember thinking that $45 for a copy of the two-year-old Tecmo Bowl wasn’t exactly my idea of “HUGE SAVINGS,” even if “all shipping, handling and local taxes [would] be paid by Tecmo!”

The accompanying letter makes a passing reference to the “Tecmo Theater Series,” a reminder that Tecmo’s claim to fame in the NES era was its pioneering use of cutscenes to tell a game’s story. It wasn’t the only company to include cutscenes, nor was it the first. But nearly all of Tecmo’s games had them…even the sports titles! Today’s cutscenes have become bloated, overproduced interludes that are often frowned upon by hardcore gamers—and Tecmo is now better known for making games that feature well-endowed, objectified female characters.

And the book? Well, it’s not exactly Pulitzer Prize material, but it does echo the game’s plot fairly closely. There is a significant twist at the end, though. If you need a reason to exclude the Worlds of Power story from the NES Ninja Gaiden canon, you need look no further than the last page, in which Ryu’s father explains how he survived Jaquio’s attack. The fact that Dr. Ken Hayabusa died in the NES game is conveniently ignored in favor of a feel-good ending, which was probably more appropriate for young readers.

© 2010 Chris Bieniek. Certain video game images, characters and logos on this Web site are copyrighted or trademarked by their respective publishers.