In 1990, Nintendo toured the country promoting a huge video game show called the Nintendo World Championships 1990 (aka Powerfest 1990). It was a huge event held at the biggest convention centers of major cities. I was very fortunate to attend, and I have already written an article that detailed my entire experience here:
In that article, I’ve already spoken about everything I can possibly remember from my own point of view. So, if you want to find out what the NWC means to me, please check it out. For today, I’d like to walk you through one of the convention halls the way it was set up back in 1990, and help you visualize what it was like to see this grand show first hand.
The NWC offered many experiences for kids and adults that were crazy about video games. The biggest attraction was a video game competition, which featured Super Mario Brothers, Rad Racer, and Tetris on a special triathalon cartridge for the NES. There were also NES and Gameboy stations all set up with the latest games, some of which weren’t even released yet (keep in mind that this event took place before gaming stations existed in stores). Nintendo game counselors hosted a few shows on stage that ran throughout the day, featuring gaming tips as well as sneak peaks of future games. They also had people roaming around in costume greeting the fans. Last (and least), there was a small stage set up for fans to create their own rap video with Mario.Power Walk
The Power Walk was the first thing seen when entering. This is where over 130 of the latest Nintendo games were set up for people to try out. Imagine being a kid back then and owning a library of just a few games, and now you have a chance to try out dozens more that you’ve likely never played before. It was like a video game store said come on in and open any game you’d like.
Not only could players try out the latest released games, but there were also games that hadn’t been released yet. Mega Man 3 was one such game, and this was where the lines were longest. Throughout the nationwide tour, the game selection changed, but at the Milwaukee stop, some of the games I recall were Swords & Serpents, Solstice, Super Spike V-Ball, Little Nemo, Bugs Bunny’s Birthday Blowout and of course Mega Man 3. To keep lines moving, they had a timer that would reset the games after a few minutes of playing.Power Pad Stage
At the next area, located off the side of the Power Walk, was the Power Pad stage. The Power Pad was on its own platform. There were several stairs to climb, and then you played a game of World Class Track Meet, and then exited down the stairs on the other side. I believe they anticipated a bigger crowd to try it out, but being on its own, and raised up on a platform, it might have given kids a little anxiety to use it in front of spectators.Game Boy Stations
Just like the Power Walk set up with Nintendo Games, they also had a section with Game Boy games. These Game Boys were the original black and white units. This section was great for trying out all the latest Game Boy games, but most people opted to play the NES on a large color screen. The Game Boy had been out for around a year when the NWC took place, and it was great to try out the games that had been on my ‘want list’ for a while.Mario Rap
I don’t know any kid that would have the guts to do this, but the opportunity was available to make your own Nintendo video. There was a small stage set up, with a background of Nintendo graphics. I did not witness anyone actually making the video, but I believe a costumed Mario would join you in the video, while they filmed you dancing and rapping. Nationwide, there might have been a handful of kids that tried it.Competition Area
This is where the action was at. For a fee of $3, you could try your hand at the NWC competition, which was the main part of the show. After paying your $3 entry fee, you stood in line waiting for your chance at fame. They open the gate, and you find a Nintendo unit to play at, pick up your controller, and get ready for the game to start. It was a little nerve racking, especially since you were about to try for big points on a game that you never played before, at least not in this format.
After everyone in line had made their way to a NES console, the game was started, and the 6 minute countdown began. There were simple instructions on the screen, and the first thing to do was collect 50 coins in Super Mario Brothers. No sweat. You race along, hoping not to bite the dust on a goomba that would normally give you no trouble, and snag every coin in sight. Down the first pipe you go in World 1-1, and collect a great haul of coins. You jump onto the flagpole, and end the level. Then, you await World 1-2, and the sequence between worlds has never felt so long with that 6 minute timer diminishing. You collect a group of coins here and there, and finally you grab the 50th coin necessary to advance.
Ok, you’ve got the 50th coin, and now you are waiting to see what’s next. The screen congratulates you, and now you are instructed to play Rad Racer. Nothing too tough, just race through the first track. Many contestants might not have had the opportunity to play Rad Racer ever before, but luckily the controls weren’t too hard to figure out. You raced on through the track, avoiding any enemy car that would throw you off the track and cause you to crash. If you did, it would cost you several valuable seconds. Finally, the finish line was in sight after a long race on the first track. You slide in to the finish, and wonder if you are ahead of the other people around you. Personally, I chose to focus on my own game rather than let my eyes wander around to my neighbors’ screens, to see how far ahead or behind I was.
Now you moved on to the final game, which was Tetris, and the rules are simple. Score as many points as humanly possible. The game starts and you start stacking your blocks with the thought in your head that the time limit might expire at any moment. Finally, a long piece comes and you are on the right track. Along the way, it was likely that you’d get a block that had no good spot to sit, and you’d have a darn gap in your block pile which you’d either have to clear up or ignore in the interest of getting more tetrises. You could feel the end approaching, and try for a last second score, and then TIMES UP!
As you sat there staring at your score, you either fill with excitement because you accumulated enough points to qualify for the next round, or you curse yourself or the game in disappointment. You also noticed that the points in Tetris were the highest. This was because they multiplied your Tetris score by 25 (the Rad Racer score was multiplied by 10, and SMB did not have a score multiplier). Having enough points meant you were congratulated by someone from the staff and escorted over to the side of the stage where you would compete in the quarterfinals!Stage
The stage was full of action during the day. There were shows put on by Nintendo game counselors, and this was also where quarterfinalists got a chance to qualify for the semi-finals which would take place on Sunday night.
At one of the shows, the game counselors would give tips on some of the more popular games, and hinted at ways to improve your score in the NWC competition. They also opened the floor for questions from the fans, so they could test the knowledge of the counselors. It was a very rare occasion that they would be stumped. At the other show, they offered some glimpses of up and coming games for the NES. They also quizzed the audience at this show and gave out prizes. Some of the questions involved a quick glimpse of a game on the big screen, where the audience had to identify the game.
In between these shows, players that had qualified from the competition area now had a chance to play in the next round of competition, the quarterfinals! If it was tough before, it was only going to get worse, as players needed to score bigger and they had to do it in front of an audience. In groups of seven, players took the stage and competed in the next round. There were 6 consoles up in front of the stage, and they also had a special chair called ‘the throne’ in the back of the stage. One lucky person in each group had the comfort of sitting in the throne during the quarterfinals. After the contestants were ready, the competition was off and running. This time, you had a DJ who was commentating along with the video game action. In addition, they had 2 huge television screens, and as the DJ announced the action as it happened, they would feature 2 of the players on the big screens. The players shown up on the big screens would switch a few times throughout the 6 minutes of action. As the countdown neared the end, the DJ encouraged the audience to count along, and finally the scores were shown. The contestants that scored high enough were headed to the semi-finals on Sunday night. The DJ announced the scores, and prizes were given out as players left the stage. If you didn’t qualify, you left the stage with a gold quarterfinalist sticker, but if you did, you received the sticker plus a semi-finalist cap. These semi-finalists also received a free pass (and 2 guest passes for their parents) to get into the show for free on Sunday. Now the only tough part would be persuading your parents to bring you back to the show.
At the end of the weekend, the air was filled with excitement. There were many participants that had qualified for the semi-finals over the weekend, and now the winners had to be crowned. There were separate age brackets (Under 12, 12-17, and 18 & up). The line formed at the competition area, one age bracket at a time. This time, you didn’t have to beat any particular score, but it was you against all the other gamers, and you were aiming for one of the top 7 scores. This was the fiercest part of the competition yet. When time had run out, the NWC staff went up and down the aisles and found the highest scores. After these semi-finals had taken place, the showdown on the stage had finally come.
It was fun to watch people playing on the stage earlier in the weekend, but it was nothing compared to having the top players go head to head. The audience was packed, and the contestants were psyching themselves up for the final round. The top scoring person from the semi-finals took his spot in the throne. They began. Everyone was off to a quick start, and quickly collected their 50 coins. Rad Racer was next, and the racing was spectacular. All contestants were getting done with Rad Racer within seconds of each other, which meant the best score was going to come down to Tetris. Since Tetris scores were multiplied by 25, that’s where the biggest points came from. As the seven screens were moving from Rad Racer to Tetris, it was very obvious that these were the best of the best. The tetris blocks were falling with lightning speed and pinpoint accuracy. Many people in the audience were awed by the way Tetris was being played on the stage. Tetris upon tetris was being completed, and finally the last few seconds had come. 5.. 4.. 3.. 2.. 1.. The game was over, and the audience shouted and cheered. This wasn’t the end though. They gave out prizes to the players, and the top 2 stayed on stage for the final one-on-one to crown the champion who would be heading to face the best of the country in Florida (the location later changed to California). They started the game one final time, and it was even more thrilling to watch, because rather than following the action on the big screens as they switched around the 7 players, the big screens remained on the 2 playing head to head. You could also sense the end of the show approaching, and you were trying to take it all in during this final round. The end of Tetris came, and the audience counted down the last seconds. The competition ended, the contestants received cheers, and the champion was given a trophy. A weekend that would be forever remembered was now over.
Throughout the weekend, I collected some great souvenirs to remember the event. During one of the stage shows, I won a Nintendo World Championships t-shirt. My friend also won a prize during a different stage show. He received a pin with Mario holding a checkered flag. Since I was able to make it to the semi-finals, I received a quarterfinalist sticker, a semifinalist cap, and I received the guest passes for Sunday. I also took home the Insider’s Guide booklet, which was a program they handed out at the door. It contains a few pages about the show, and talks about various video game companies and their games. Check out what I have left (picture is missing the t-shirt, sticker, and passes)
There was an NWC video made which features a look at the final competition that ran at Universal Studios Hollywood. It mainly focuses on the competition, but you can also catch glimpses of the other parts of the show that I talked about, like the Power Walk, Power Pad stage, and the Mario Rap stage. This video is available at youtube here:
Finally, do you want to play the NWC competition cartridge? I’m not talking about downloading a ROM, but playing an actual cartridge on your NES. Years after the NWC, I searched and searched for this coveted game. I had always wanted to see how I’d score, compared to my experience at the show if I was given another chance. I soon found out that they appear on ebay every once in a while. The cartridges come in gray and gold, and the lowest price you’ll find on them is at least $1500. I was quite shocked, and gave up on that dream. Now for the good part.
You can get yourself this competition cartridge the same way I did, and you don’t need to spend anywhere near $1500 to get one. Just email me ([email protected]
) and I will tell you how.
The Nintendo World Championships was a wonderful thing for me. Hopefully some of you have experienced it, and will share some of your memories.