Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Nintendo National Challenge Tour 1990

What is the what here?
Bigger, better, more exciting than ever...
Canada has never seen anything like it before. We may never see anything like it again!
It's the most exciting, most incredible, most humongous Nintendo event ever, and it just wrapped up.
The Nintendo National Challenge 1990, sponsored by Nintendo and Game Boy, is what it was called, but the thousands of Nintendo fanatics who took part just called it outstanding. It was a chance for many to try out Super Mario Bros. 3 and the amazing Nintendo Game Boy for the first time.
The challenge to players across the country was to reach their highest score possible in 4 minutes of Super Mario Bros. 3. These are some of the top scorers in the country:
[insert boring list here]
Congratulations to these and all our other daily winners. The 3 top scores from each region -- East, Central, and West -- had been invited to an all-expenses paid trip for two days to Canada's Wonderland, outside Toronto.
other prize winners
It's during that trip they took part in the Nintendo Challenge Championship -- with a chance to win all the (electronic) marbles.
Hope you joined us for the grand finale to one of the year's great events -- the Nintendo Challenge Tour 1990! See you all next year!
I'm not going to remark on the copy here, except to note that: wow, Canada warranted a separate tour of its own (US tour touched on here), sponsored (look closely at the truck) by CanTel? Also, "East, Central, and West" == Quebec, Ontario, and Alberta? Were there no worthy Nintendo gladiators to be found in Saskatchewan an Manitoba, or did this tour just consist of occasional northward border raids of a tractor trailer covering the northern US route of their tour? (Even so, Alberta doesn't make sense, its two cities of note being Canada's grand exception to the conventional wisdom about our populace clustering within 50 km of the US border like a string of pearls.)
So, the truck. On the left I see disembodied hands operating the Nintendo Advantage, their in-house enhanced joystick model, beneath a GAME BOY logo and something illegible in a corner starburst. Then, in the middle, the tour announces itself. Underneath: Mattel logos. ?! Off to the far right, we see Super Mario himself bursting from an old TV (remember when they looked like that?), Kool-Aid-Man style. (Wario emerges more like something from Videodrome.) Even if the advertorial text didn't boast of the opportunity to preview Super Mario Bros. 3, Mario's presentation here gives it away, slinging a Doki Doki Panic turnip with which to feed Wart, somewhere down the line. (His glowing "Iron Fist" gloved hand is a bit misleading, since while he uses it to smash bricks by the pallet-load in SMB1, their only interaction in SMB2 is to pick the bricks up and then throw them to smash elsewhere. Or is this a premonition of a return to the Super Mario with canonical powers (and, well, many more) awaiting us in Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario Land for the Game Boy?
At the bottom right of the puff piece we see the logo for the new Game Boy product, with the subtitle: "COMPACT VIDEO GAME SYSTEM". Soon it would be a fixture, a household name, but they still had to awkwardly describe it here (really, "compact" and not "portable"?) Try to imagine a time when the iPod would have been qualified with a phrase like "MOBILE MUSIC PLAYBACK SYSTEM" as though we weren't all fully aware of what it signified?
I don't know what to say. Just what was that truck filled with? That's a lot of Game Boys. Heck, that would be a lot of arcade cabinets. Maybe its interior is just one long deluxe rumpus room, filled with beanbag chairs, pop machines and (neglected) foosball tables as well as a row of thrift-store teevees and fervently overheated NES units with sticky, tangled controllers. Do you think the truck actually drove across this great land like a magnificent billboard on wheels or was it just posed here for photo-ops before being dismantled and its puny load shipped from city to city?
There was no "next year", was there? A 1991 tour? Like any kid alive in the free world at that moment in time, even though I didn't own a NES, I was fully aware of the approach of SMB3. To some extent the movie The Wizard acted as a full-length feature film advertisement for it -- and though I was only aware of that flick second-hand as well, the ledgers of the rumours grew and grew, compounding and cumulatively pointing to something fully legit. But as far as massive mothercorp promotions go, this must have been the end of the line for the NES -- and the end of Nintendo's run as uncontested king of the coop. Sega took the prize for the next generation with the Genesis, Sony the next two with their PlayStations 1 and 2... and Nintendo was never again in a position to represent the whole exciting future of video gamedom in the back of a semi trailer. This brings to mind Michael Moore's bit a few years later in his television show "TV Nation", where he paints a big rig red with a yellow hammer and sickle on it and takes Communism on its farewell tour through the Deep South. But that's a digression if I ever heard one!
A couple of years back I saw a minibus parked at Chinatown's outdoor Night Market, offering demos of Nintendo's new 3DS, units physically tethered to their handlers. I could not pass up the glimpse into the future-present (ask me sometime a conversation I had with my neighbour recently about living in the future, where society and individual's habits have not yet "caught up to" technological development -- I countered that I was not only not living in the present, I was pointed in the wrong direction and gaining speed, hatching schemes for elaborate MS-DOS trickery and even devising a free, but slow, reinvention of the telegraph, piggybacking on the phone system -- transmitting letters in that "use frequency" ETAOIN SHRDLU sequence that ruins Wheel of Fortune -- counting and loging unanswered rings to a remote phone. And then there's the time I tried to implement error-correcting packet switching through the postal system -- very expensive in stamps. But this boldly tresspasses beyond even digression.) That game's bizarre demonstration (zapping 3D Space Invaders patterned after a scan of my own face) would have been beyond the wildest imaginings of those champions in 1990, but here in 2011 I dismissed it as a distracting novelty before getting back to business: hunkering down for further serious analysis of the classic games from the golden age of ... 1990. Huh. They didn't know how good they had it!

(Update, 2017: this post has sparked some discussion and debate!) (Updated update, later in 2017: the other shoe has dropped and my Nintendo Power stash is being divided into lots and sold on ebay. But happily, while poring over just what I had here, I found the source of this scan -- the back page of the Fall 1990 issues of Nintendo Power Flash, a Mattel-circulated Canada-exclusive "here are some NES games we can sell you" periodical of some four to sixteen pages. Here, shortly, you'll be able to find some related images from the back pages of the Spring and Summer/Fall 1989 issues:)

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