Raise a Glass to … N64 Magazine

The first in a potentially regular(ish) column where I glug some wine and go gooey eyed about various aspects of the games industry, before ordering a kebab and falling asleep face down on my keyboard. This week the magazine that started it all for me.

Do you remember the first time?

I do. It was awkward and over way too soon. Embarrassing for all concerned. I’m not even sure of its name anymore. Nintendo Official Magazine, I think it was called. Or was it Official Nintendo Magazine? Those days were so long ago…

December 1997. The nation was going mad over the Spice Girls, Cool Britannia and some film about Celine Dion falling off a big boat (or something like that). The only thing on my mind, however, was the rather large, nondescript box sitting wrapped up under the Christmas tree in my living room. I’d seen the box sans wrapping paper, in the secret back drawer under my parents’ bed (natch), and so knew the riches that lay within its cardboard shell. Discounting a beat-to-shit second hand Mega Drive, it was to be my first proper games console: a sparkly new Nintendo 64.

A week to go until the big day (OHMYGOD ENNSIXTYFOUUR!) and — in keeping with the decadence of the times — my mother took us on a family trip to Pizza Hut. Displaying an adroit perception for how my sister and I interacted during every family event ever, the mother-bot bought us magazines to read while waiting for food. Perusing the shelves in the newsagents I hit upon the games section. “Hey, why not get a magazine to compliment my new console?” I rationed. “What’s the worst that can happen?” If I’d known then what it was the start of, I’d have probably plumped for Loaded.

The magazine had to be Nintendo based, obviously (ENNNSIIIIXTYFOUUUR!!1!). I chose one that said “Official” on the cover. That meant best, right?

Sitting at the cheap, lacquered table in Pizza Hut, the mag spread open on my lap, I was enthralled. I recall a preview of Zelda 64 — the best thing I had seen in the history of the world ever — and a feature of 100 Reasons Nintendo Rocked, or something. I laughed at a joke it made about the “Sony Greystation”. I was twelve. Quit touching me.

Christmas happened, Mario 64 changed my life, and my fling with Nintendo Official Magazine/Official Nintendo Magazine continued. I was young and naive, the mag catapulted me into a world I’d not known before, enticed me with its shiny pages. And such high review scores! Sure, we had our problems: it didn’t say much, the staples came loose with time, and I had a nagging worry that beneath its glossy exterior we didn’t have enough in common. But no relationship is perfect.

Then one day I got chatting to a friend in the schoolyard. I was desperate to share my secret passion with someone. This friend had once come to school in a bumbag, I knew he would not — could not — judge me. Blushing slightly, I told him of my illicit rendezvous with NOM/ONM.

His smile faltered. A pained look swept across his face. Yeah, he’d known NOMONM, and that bitch had hurt him bad. He read a different magazine now, a renegade unofficial one, beholden to no man, telling it like it was. NOMONM was for kids, he said.

Yeah, well screw him. This chump, this wearer of actual bumbags, was trying to tell me what I should or shouldn’t like? To hell with that. I didn’t need him, I had NOMONM. My beautiful NOMONM. As long as we were together nothing else mattered. Except, the nagging voice in my head was growing stronger. The seeds of doubt had been sown.

Then a month or so later it happened. I was in WHSmiths and I couldn’t find NOMONM on the racks. Things had been strained of late. I was angry over a review of a blatantly crap racing game it had awarded 85%. I couldn’t trust it anymore. Frustrated, bitter, confused, I did the only thing that made sense to me then. I strayed.

My friend’s mag was in front of me — the laconically named N64 Magazine. I picked it up tentatively, my heart thumping from fear and anticipation. The spine was so sturdy after NOMONM’s flimsy staple work. The cover was bold and inviting. Issue 19, Banjo Kazooie reviewed inside. I flipped to the review and began reading. The outside world went quiet. Jostling consumers faded out of existence. Christ. NOMONM had been fun and all, but this was different. This was love.

N64 Magazine and I stayed together every issue after that. It changed me. I turned from someone who played games into a gamer. I didn’t so much read the mag as digest it, snacking at first, going back later to gorge on the big stories, finally picking over the carcass for remaining tidbits. The process was akin to osmosis — gaming knowledge moving from the mag’s area of high concentration to the low concentration of my brain.

As the months drifted by I filled up. Knowledge began to spill over. I would discuss elements from the mag with Friend With Bumbag on the walk to school. I started to dissect the games I played, to analyse their component pieces and peel back the layers to reveal the glowing embers at their cores. I wanted to know what worked, and what didn’t, and why. It was the birth of my inner critic, and N64 Magazine was to blame.

What is there to say about that tome that I loved so much? It made me laugh. Every word got read. They were good words, too — informed and sincere, lacking affectation or pomp. The magazine was written so a child could understand, but it was never childish; only clear and enjoyable. Reviews made sense. Dense copy was balanced nicely with diverting box outs, showing an appreciation for how readers’ minds work. The art style was cheerful and vibrant. Layout served the content rather than drawing attention to itself — pages were full of information but not daunting to look at, regular features were so familiar as to be comforting. And the in-jokes — ahh the in-jokes!

It was the personality of the staff that really attracted me to the mag, though. None of Edge’s self conscious dourness, nor PC Gamer’s elitism. Just grown men and women messing about. The staff were perhaps a touch militant in their fanboyism, but it was mostly good clean fun. Wil Overton’s FuSoYa, Jes Bickham and his brilliant reviews (don’t ever want to hear about that Ocarina piece again though), the murderous gaze of Martin Kitts, sweary, sweary Tim Weaver (who’s just written a crime thriller. For real) — they all came together to create a publication that felt like one big party, and you were invited along because they liked you. However hard they worked — and they did — you were aware they were having a Good Time. That kind of enthusiasm can’t be faked.

Of course I’m rose tinting my memories somewhat. The N64 release schedule went through some pretty fucking barren patches as the years passed, and you often got the sense the staff were scraping the barrel for “exclusives” — a curse that was repeated come the mag’s next incarnation as the Gamecube focused NGC Magazine. And though the writing wasn’t as staid as Edge, it didn’t have that publication’s depth, either.

But fuck it. To risk sentimentality — and I never want to be too cold not to risk that — N64 Magazine was special, at least to me. It was the one constant in my life at a time when everything else was in flux. I read it on the train to my dad’s after my parents divorced. Coming home from school, feeling dejected and worthless because I couldn’t throw a basketball like the other kids and the girl I loved thought I was a moron, the mag would be there, waiting to envelop me in a world of Grackler Cams, Brogue Leaders and Bonus Letters. Jes, Wil, Tim, Martin, Andrea and the rest felt like my friends, and they wrote in a way that made me feel included, like the relationship was important to them as well. It never bothered me that I paid them for the service. They worked long, hard hours to entertain and inform me, and I gave them a couple of quid each month to help with their rent. Either way you looked at it, it was the least a friend could do.

So, here’s to you, N64 Magazine. Cheers.

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18 Comments

Filed under Ramblings

18 responses to “Raise a Glass to … N64 Magazine

  1. Wood

    My, N64 magazine is certainly well remembered. A google search finds plenty of tributes on forums and blogs.

    I was seven when my dad got us a ’64 for Christmas. I think me and my older brother bought the occasional Official Nintendo Magazine but we rarely missed an issue of N64. I loved the in-jokes and the banter between the staff- in fact I remember the style and the humour far more than the reviews. No other mag did back pages that were as funny as N64’s, although some of PC Zone’s came close. I couldn’t imagine why people sent such strange, one sentence letters for the Bonus Letters section. It took me a few years to realise they were single sentence excerpts from normal letters.

    Our copy of the first issue is hallowed, kept in a box in my brother’s room (God, we might even have the tape that came with it somewhere). We stopped buying them around issue 55 when the local Safeways stopped stocking them. Sniff.

    My mum has unfortunately since thrown most of them out, while I’m at uni. But coming back to the few we have left (and many NGCs, which were just as good for the first few years) it’s great to understand the jokes and references that I missed as a child. I plan to start buying some online to relive the memories.

  2. Rob

    My Mum chucked all mine when I left for uni as well, but she kept a single N64 Pro, thinking that was the important one. It had a review of San Francisco Rush in. Suffice to say, I came home and went flipping /mental/.

  3. James

    I loved this magazine, it was the only gaming magazine to ever make me laugh. I still have most of my issues up in the attic

    • itchy tastyurr

      scan’em!
      i only got one left- the zelda oot review #21. i cut out a couple of articles zelda mm, sin & punishment etc and binned the rest. it was a lot of money for me but the weight of it all was leathal (win one for digital-still don’t beat print). i preasantly have to deal with the same issues (i have issues with my issues) with 3d world.

  4. sporkhead

    A brilliant read that had me nodding my head all the way through as I could relate very much to it. N64/NGC/NGamer magazine will always be remembered by me as the best videogames magazine “series” I’ve read. You really felt like you were with the magazine team when you read through it, and you formed a connection between yourself and the team. Brilliant stuff.

    Nice to see Kittsy at NGamer too. Hope Greener returns to the fold one day.

  5. Jareth

    Loved this magazine as much as you did. I converted from the dreadful Official Magazine to N64 in early 1998, having got around 6 issues in ’97 when Johnathon Davies was editor.

    Still have all my old issues from around 7 to 50 odd stored safely in a box. Every other year I tip them out and read them one by one.

    I think the magazine came from Super Play, where Overton used to do the artwork, too. Along with Teletext’s Digitiser, N64 was very special indeed. There aren’t really any magazines like that anymore. A shame, although Kitts is still working on the Wii version of N64 mag.

  6. Lee Morris

    Ahh I loved reading this Rob! I can relate to all of this. I think I’ve share the exact same sentiments here. This article has warmed my heart. Yes, a toast to N64 Magazine!

    I’ve still got issue 3 to 50 odd at my Dad’s house. I refuse to get rid of them. I tried to back-issue issues 1 and 2 as early as when issue 12 was released and they were already out of stock. I remember each issue’s front cover and each issue. I know 30 has Joanna Dark on the front, 11 has Link on the front. In fact, hit me with some numbers. I know the lot. I left my heart in N64 magazine. Your comment about your mum keeping N64 Pro thinking that was the important one amused me greatly. You have a witty writing style. I’d like to read more of your articles. You could have worked for the magazine yourself.

    It was a lovely swansong to buy N-Gamer in the months up to the Wii and Twilight Princess’s release with Greener as editor and Kitson still on the team. I more or less by-passed the NGC era unwittingly, having sunken my teeth into the PS2. PS2 magazine’s didn’t get it. The writers were image conscious wannabe cool kids. They weren’t down for a laugh like the N64 team. I stopped reading N-Gamer when the bald fella took over and it became apparent that I was reading a kid’s magazine and that the Wii wasn’t going to have many games worth snapping up on it.

    I owe my childhood to this magazine. N64 magazine, I LOVE YOU. x x x

    • Rob

      Cheers for the really nice comment. I never bought N-Gamer, though I heard John Walker (of RPS) did some work for it, and he’s consistently lovely. The NGC period was depressing, a real dearth of material and that horrible sense of Things Coming to an End. The N64 era is so nostalgic for me, the console at the back of my cupboard still has the Perfect Dark sticker plastered over the top that they gave away free with one issue. I put it over the remains of the Ocarina of Time sticker they’d given away a few years earlier, except I got air bubbles underneath and it came out a mess. Always regretted that move.

      The first half of my “Raise a Glass to Dicking Around” story covers similar ground if you’re interested.

  7. I’m willing to bet good money that the blatantly crap racing game was “Cruis’n USA”. An absolute turkey.

  8. Out of interest Rob, what was the annoyance with Jes Bickham’s Ocarina of Time review? I remember them harping on and on about something to do with a Zelda review.

    • Rob

      Ha, well to be fair it was the review that first made me want to write about videogames. They just did mention how brilliant it was rather a lot.

  9. Happy memories… I was an avid N64 fan up until issue 14, and I can assure you it was as much fun to work on as it was to read.

    • Rob

      Blimey. Nice to have you stumble across this, Martin. It was exactly the enthusiasm you talk about that made the magazine so special. I really should pick up NGamer at some point. Thanks.

      • It’s great that people still remember the magazine. I think it was a lucky combination of the right staff, the right product and the right time – I’ve done much better work since then but I’ve never been involved with a mag that’s even half as good as N64 was in its prime 😦

      • Rob

        I wouldn’t be writing this blog if it wasn’t for that magazine. In a small, and yet not inconsequential, way, it helped to form the person I grew up to be. Thank you for being part of that.

  10. James

    Fantastic read here, and you’ve even attracted the legendary Kittsy to the comments thread!

    N64 Magazine (and NGC, NGamer) too holds a special place in my heart – you couldn’t have summed up any better as to why that is, especially when it was entirely responsible for bringing me up to be the gamer I am now, goodness knows what sort of gamer I’d be had I grew up reading the Official Nintendo Magazine instead….

    I’m sad to see Kittsy leave NGamer magazine, it almost seems like the end of an era, but luckily the foundation Greener laid down at issue 1 of NGamer has lived on throughout the magazine, so here’s to N64 magazine indeed!

    *raises glass*

  11. Jon

    i want to buy issues when the score zone started up. i’m looking for a issue that i won a steering wheel, contoller and memory pak. i cant remember what issue number, i think #25 or 55, either way i was the only australian to win for goldeneye times. if u have copies or know where i can find them please contact me at

    pukem666@gmail.com

  12. Matt

    Wish my mother hadn’t thrown out all my copies. An incredible publication that is sorely missed on today’s shelves. It has left a nagging background itch that I should get involved in gaming journalism, somehow. But then that involvement could never be like the world of N64 magazine, a witty friend that never left you underwhelmed with its quality and warmth.

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