Star Fox was released in 1993. To promote the game Nintendo partnered with retailers across the country to put on a Super Star Fox Weekend competition. I was 10 years old at the time, and to a lot of Nintendo kids Nintendo Power was a very influential magazine.1 Nintendo Power got us to do a lot of stupid things like see the Super Mario Bros movie in theaters, buy Virtual Boys, and go apeshit over The Wizard.
Nintendo Power promoted the Super Star Fox Weekend. I wanted to go. I thought I could win this thing. I don’t even remember the prizes. I think first prize got a Star Fox flight jacket and a Arwing replica or something like that. All I knew was that I played so many video games that I usually one when I played against friends. I must’ve been pretty good!
On a sunny Sunday afternoon my dad surprised my brother and me and took us to the nearest participating location…about a 90 minute drive away.
I expected a scene out of The Wizard: a room full of other kids my age, maybe some adults, all competing in a high stakes game of Star Fox. Instead, we arrived at a Saturday Matinee2 with a 13-inch television near the cash register.
Nobody else was there.
“We’ve had a few people already compete. Our top score is 95,000 points.”3
My brother and I took turns playing in the store. We played Star Fox together at home, but there was no multiplayer mode. He would play a little. I would play a little. But this wasn’t a normal Star Fox cartridge. Nintendo created a version specifically for this competition. You started the game on a modified version of the Corneria level and went to one of the space levels (Sector X?). There may be more to it than that, but I can’t remember it all.4
I don’t know when the transition happened when single player games stopped being about points and more about not getting killed, but I think it was somewhere between Mega Man 1 and Mega Man 2. Mega Man 1 is the only Mega Man game that had a points display centered at the top of the screen. I learned to survive in games instead of earning points.
But that’s not how this cartridge worked. It was completely about points, and you needed to play through a few times to understand what earned the most points. I think you got bonuses for not getting killed, not using bombs, and shooting chains of enemies.
After maybe a half hour of going back and forth my brother’s top score was around 50,000 points. I got around 85,000 points. I was beaten by somebody who showed up the day before5.
And on the way home I cried.
I know it’s silly, but I was only 10 and it was the first time I had lost at something I cared about. At 10 I wasn’t really a winner at much except videogames. I think it was the first time my dad gave me a talk about losing. I found it comforting. Whether it was because he saw an opportunity to help me learn a valuable life lesson or he felt “My god, what’s it gonna take to calm this kid down?!” I don’t know, but I don’t think it was the latter.
On the way home we picked up some chinese food for dinner.
I’ll never forget that weekend, not only because it was my first experience of losing, but also because the store clerk gave us a souvenir: The banner that stores hung for the competition.
I still have it around somewhere.
To understand just how big a deal Nintendo Power was check out the Angry Videogame Nerd’s Nintendo Power retrospective. This was before Gamefaqs, before the Internet, even before mainstream strategy guides. If you wanted to read about Nintendo games Nintendo Power was pretty much the only source. ↩
That may be the last time I ever saw a Saturday Matinee. I think they rebranded as FYE. ↩
I don’t remember what the top score at this place was. ↩
And we were all beaten by Jeff Hansen. When Nintendo Power sold Star Fox competition cartridges each cartridge contained a post card printed with the first place winner and his score. Jeff got 144,620 points. Also, holy crap – these things go for over $300. ↩