Nintendo All-Star Battle Cards
Nintendo had their humble beginnings in the card industry. Not cards about trouncing terrapins or battling bovines or bursting balloons - just cards. For Poker, Solitaire, Snap, those kinds of things. The regular pack of cards, y'know. There's... really not much to say about that. They made cards, and a company's gotta start somewhere. The fact the cards were part of a Japanese superhero show does make it a little more worthwhile, though.
But I'm here to talk about something only vaguely related to those origins, and unless you intentionally ignore the large title text you should be aware it is the Nintendo All-Star Battle Cards!
The UK's local Nintendo magazine, aptly titled Nintendo Official Magazine (NOM. They rearranged themselves to Official Nintendo Magazine later, losing the fun acronym) had this as a free gift one issue. I'd guess around 1996 or 1997 judging by the characters included. That... is really all I can say about that subject as well, because I can't even remember which exact issue it was, and if I did know, what would be worth saying? What, talk about the contents of the issue? Oh wow, Body Harvest was hot shit in the 90s. Did anyone ever give a hoot about that game? The title is hilarious but I know nothing else about it.
The rules are identical to Top Trumps, a game that's allegedly popular among kids and has been around since the '70s, but I never even heard of it until a few years ago, and I'm very spiteful over that. I mean, come on, it's a hilarious title. It's like a polite term for farting, and you're rating them from best to worst. Hilarity!
Enough of my poop humour. Basically, there's a list of stats, and each card has a numeric value for them, from 0 to 20 (except for height). These statistics include the typical height, speed and power, but also mix things up with Star Quality and Game Fame. Obviously this is to shill the hot games and cool characters and to make fun of whoever isn't popular, but really, all you know is that the Mario characters are going to completely dominate that one.
The new additions are problematic, however. I was initially under the impression Star Quality meant how popular that character was (the likes of Mario are near 20, whereas guys like Goose and Rambi are around 5), but in that case why would Bowser, the recurring villain of the Mario series, get the worst Star Quality of 3? That led me to believe that it meant how heroic the character was, especially since Boo has a Star Quality of 5, but then why would that leave Wizpig more heroic than Luigi and Kirby? Why rank a one-shot dude like Wizpig over Bowser? Game Fame is equally vague; to me, it implies how popular the game is the character originates from, but in that case why would different characters from the same game get different ranks? It seems to be about how important the character is to their game of origin or to the Nintendo universe in general, though it does make you wonder why the Diddy Kong Racing characters are ranked so high. Yeah, it was a highly anticipated game at the time, but that doesn't mean you can make them all into titanic powerhouses.
Also, the heights are sometimes hilariously inconsistent. The Diddy Kong Racing players are relatively large for squat cartoon animals, a majority of them clocking in at five feet tall (and actually stand taller than the likes of Donkey Kong and Link!), whereas Princess Peach is actually shorter than the Mario brothers. Link, even pictured in his adolescent rendition from A Link to the Past, stands a good four inches shorter than the plumbers. Some bad guys get serious height adjustments which I assume are there solely to add variety, though they're often to thoroughly ludicrous degrees.
Here's a brief rundown of the cards, with token comments. Expect mild fanwanking!
Not pictured: Bowser, Luigi, Mario, Princess Peach, Toad, Wario, Yoshi
Yeah, it goes without saying that these guys totally dominate the deck roster. Even comparatively minor characters like Boo and Lakitu are made into sure-fire winners by some rather outrageous stats - a 19 for speed? A five metre tall Boo? Of particular note is Metal Head Mario, who is quite unashamedly an overpowered card; not a definite victory should you be forced to choose something other than Star Quality or Game Fame, mind you. Gotta love how the game has 32 cards and 10 of them are allotted to Mario characters. Okay, the deck is aimed at kids and it's not like the magazine even acknowledged the NES at all, but I've got to nag!
For those finicky about size accuracy, check this out. I don't think any game has ever had Lakitu the size of a typical school ruler.
Not pictured: Falco
Back in the day when Peppy was still a cool enough character to take part in the action and not just sit on the sidelines. It's mildly amusing that Falco is portrayed as less powerful than Fox, which is precisely the opposite of what would happen in Super Smash Bros., though it's only amusing if you're a complete and utter nerd. Such as myself. Ooer.
Not pictured: Donkey Kong
A reasonably sensible roster, I'd dare say! Miniscule, yes, but given how the only other choices are the animal buddies or a few of the enemies, they chose the best ones they could. I've no idea if Rambi's meant to be a young rhino or what, but judging from this he's a pretty short one, especially when he totes around friggin' gorillas on his back.
DIDDY KONG RACING
Not pictured: Wizpig, Banjo, Conker
I've nagged constantly throughout this about the bias towards these guys - they're all reasonably tall, got average to mid-average stats, and all for a game that hadn't even come out yet (I think!). Of course, it helps promote the game and it was essentially treated as a springboard for other characters to get their own games; Banjo's game was already known about, Twelve Tales: Conker 64 was almost definitely in development to some degree, and there were rumours of Timber getting his own title, but we all know where that went. How were they to know that someone as totally bodacious as Timber wasn't going to get a game, and Conker's would come out years later as something completely different?
Yeah, these two guys got cards! Pilotwings 64 was something big over here at the time, but it seems to have been promptly forgotten about. I think it's kind of odd that Hawk isn't higher on the last two qualities - I mean, he had a friggin' robot modelled after him! A giant rampant robot, mind you, but a robot none the less.
THE OTHER GUYS
Given how the deck is entitled the Nintendo All-Star Battle Cards, it's no surprise that a majority of the roster is characters by Nintendo or Rare, their British butt buddies at the point in time, but NOM were so kind to include three third-party characters among the ranks! Bomberman gets a surprising amount of pluses, presumably due to the amount of games he's had and the upcoming N64 game, but the other two aren't quite so fortunate. Earthworm Jim's height is rather perplexing - okay, sure, he's a worm, but the games have never portrayed him as accurate to the size of an ant in my experience, especially since he's the same height as Professor Monkey-For-A-Head and that junkyard fatty in the first game, and the cartoon placed him in offbeat suburbia wherein he appeared to be the height of your typical muscular superhero. So, yeah, he's a worm, but even without the suit he's got to be a pretty friggin' huge worm.
Goemon's kind of absurdly powerful, isn't he?
While it's no surprise B. Orchid is the only representative of Killer Instinct (does anyone even talk about those games anymore?), it's a mild shock to see Link as the only representative of the Zelda series. Okay, by this point he only had four games and Ocarina of Time probably hadn't been previewed yet, but you'd think Ganon would've got a mention, especially since so many cards are wasted on nobodies from Mario and Diddy Kong Racing. I don't think Kirby got any coverage in the magazine until Kirby 64 so you can blame that for why the likes of King Dedede aren't shoehorned in. Also, did you know that Kirby is meant to be a mere six inches tall? For reals! I heard it on a website!
So, yeah, Nintendo All-Star Battle Cards! No doubt in the days before happy slapping and carefree vandalism this was a fine way to keep the children occupied and off the streets while also promoting memorising of completely nerdy facts. And as a very special not-quite-Christmas present, you can download the whole set (with box and everything!) right in a handy dandy little Winzip file! The joys of our modern kitten-filled internet.
[3.6MB Winzip - 35 images]
No idea who'd want to play them with you or how one would actually play cards over the internet, but I can't imagine that would stop anyone from trying.