Batman vs. Tarzan
The slow decay and eventual downfall of video game magazines was not a particularly pleasant experience.
In ye olden
days, they were the definitive means of learning about the latest games;
which titles were crap and which were worthwhile, and also as a source of
increasingly bizarre advertisements for second-hand
game stores. However, by the era of the PlayStation 2, not many people were
interested enough to spend £3 every month just to read the latest news and
cheats, especially when they could be found online for free. Why bother waiting
for the next issue of GamesMaster to find out the best strategies for
Goldeneye when you could find extensively laboured .txt documents with ASCII
maps for free? If you want to be argumentative about it, you could say print
media as a whole suffered a loss the moment internet accessibility became widespread.
Personally, I say video game magazines died when they stopped offering cool free gifts.
You may remember the Nintendo All-Star Battle Cards that I wrote about at Christmas last year. It was, in a nutshell, simply a Nintendo-themed version of Top Trumps where half the roster was taken up with Mario and Diddy Kong Racing characters, and no one involved in making it had a scale guide handy. However, despite all their faults, there was something indescribably charming and quaint about them (indescribably not because they had a quality so unique it cannot be expressed in words, but indescribable because my analysis skills are crap). The presentation is brightly coloured and exudes pizzazz, and despite the lack of varied characters, I can't help but get the impression the person and/or persons responsible genuinely wanted to make a decent version of Top Trumps.
Silly as it was, I
actually did have some mild fun with the stupid card game back in the day,
though mostly because me and my chums of the year 1997 simply had nothing better
to do than pit the vital statistics of Kaptain K. Rool up against Metal Mario.
Before they decided Neoseeker was the perfect place to debates such things,
Several years later, by the time the GameCube was considered hip and fresh, Nintendo Official Magazine tried their hand at recreating the success  of the Nintendo All-Star Battle Cards. It was a sorry affair.
Once again, I'm unsure when these stupid things came out. I have a mild hunch that it was before the GameCube was released, as obviously the only games people were aware of were the launch titles, which seems to explain why folk from late-release N64 titles appear and nobodies from Wave Racer and SSX Tricky were allowed in. I admit the primary reason I don't know when these came out is because there's not even a word salad title for the deck! When you say "Nintendo All-Star Battle Cards" to a search engine, they know what you're talking about and give you relevant results from various Nintendo forums (and my site ). These cards have nothing. No fancy sleeve to store them in, no title to distinguish them by, not even a guest appearance by Earthworm Jim to salvage them in my books.
One of the things I complained about in the All-Star Battle Cards was that they really went overboard throwing in Mario and Diddy Kong Racing characters, and they should've offered more variety. While I stick by that, I do commend it for doing precisely what it did - where else would we ever have a battling card game where you found out Lakitu's vital statistics, or where you could dominate the opponent with Taj, of all freakin' characters? Who really thought, when designing his card game, that the one character everyone wanted included was a blue Indian elephant who can transform cars into planes? Its character roster is heavily biased, but it's awesome for those very reasons.
These cards (which I want to dub the GameCube Power Deck, but I don't want to accidentally christen these cards with this name and then have everyone refer to them as that forever and ever) are also dictated by what's currently popular, but they simply feel a lot more lifeless, as if they're chosen not because of how interesting they are, but simply as a reminder of what was considered cool and exciting in the year 2001.
Oh, look, two thirds of the deck consist of characters from Super Smash Bros. Melee, because that's a highly anticipated game!
Oh, look, there's James Bond, he's from a very popular game that has survived the test of time very well and was highly anticipated!
Oh, look, there's Sonic, he's now a multi-platform character and that is highly anticipated!
Oh, look, there's Batman, he's from Batman Vengeance which is going to be a launch title for the Nintendo GameCube, and... well, I don't know anyone who actually gave a crap about that game.
Maybe it's the fact the All-Star Battle Cards had more colour on them than in a packet of Wine Gums, but this deck simply comes across as... soulless. It's made in an era when Nintendo were trying to drop their kiddy image (and not doing a good job of it) and all related media followed suit; Nintendo Official Magazine had revamped their presentation to come across as a little more suave and a touch more professional, dropping the photographs of their writers acting manic and mugging for the camera from the contents page, among other losses.
But despite that, they've got a deck of Top Trumps cards included as a free gift.
It's in an awkward state of flux where they want to appear less childish, but
seem mandated by law to include some kind of pack-in object, and the result
has all the pizzazz of a dead fish.
I could argue about how the character roster is a mixture of no-duh inclusions and whose-idea-was-this selections, but my main beef actually lies with the battle system itself. The All-Star Battle Cards offered a mere five categories to duel with and two of them were very vaguely defined, but it still functioned quite nicely - you had each character's speed, power and height, and then the last two kinda boiled down to how popular they were. It's simplistic, appropriate, and works almost universally. What could have gone wrong with simply repeating it?
Well, the geniuses behind this deck apparently decided such details were unworthy to do battle with. Instead, you get a remarkably bland deck of cards that feels... impersonal. As dumb as it was, simple facts like knowing a character's height made the All-Star Battle Cards truly memorable to me, even if knowing that Bomberman was nearly five feet tall did bug the dickens out of me. Instead, the only notable fact we learn is their strength. That's it. The remaining three stats are spent giving a numeric value to their subjective popularity, informing us when their first game was released, and how many Nintendo consoles those games have been released on. It's got as much personal detail as a "Hello, my name is" badge.
There's so many ways they could've attempted to salvage that. They could've just dropped the strength point and simply made them into cards of trivial details, or even just dropped the stats altogether and simply made them into trading cards (which I'm aware would be pointless since all thirty cards are included with the magazine anyway, but I can't imagine that would stop them). If they really wanted to break the mould, they could have included a review of the character's latest game, so you could take them with you on visits to game stores and remind yourself of what the highly-paid amateur word-spewers think of Luigi's Mansion! Yes, it'd be pretty moronic, but it'd certainly make it memorable. Well, the tiniest fraction more memorable than they are in their current state.
But instead we're left with one of the weakest free gifts in the history of Nintendo Official Magazine. Their range of gifts have been fairly variable over the years, but they've usually had the benefit of having some mild worth - retrospective pocket books on Mario's history (educational!), pack-in Game Boy review guides (informative!), or even just badges of various Nintendo-related insignias (nerd flair!). Even the bloody Battle Cards I keep going on about have their merits, but I ask you, what good can you say about these things? They're too bland to act as fanservice, they're too kiddy to be of interest to the alleged older reader base, and, let's face it, you'd have more fun playing Othello than doing anything with these.
It's a pity I'm about ten years too late to get a job as "free gift administrator", though, because I have no doubts that these would sell latest issues like hot cakes.
If you absolutely cannot live without acquiring visual evidence of even more terrible merchandise Mario's face has been put on, then feel free to download the entire deck of Nintendo cards in .JPG format. Because this is precisely the sort of thing you want to virtually preserve for future generations.