New Yorkers are quick to tell you “we don’t wait on line.” But that’s never been my experience, and especially not when Nintendo is involved.
Friday’s line began forming around 10 o’clock the previous morning, when squatters armed with Nicks blankets, camping chairs, and Yoshi hats began congregating on the sidewalk outside 10 Rockefeller Plaza, halfway between 5th and 6th Avenues on 48th St in Midtown Manhattan. It’s the site of a retail operation that has now seen three permutations—first as the U.S.’s only full-scale Pokémon Center in 2001, then as the Nintendo World Store in 2005, and now, more than a decade later, as Nintendo NY (written “NY,” pronounced “New York.”)
It’s 8:45 am, and the line winds up Avenue of the Americas, terminating near Radio City Music Hall two blocks to the north. But it’s still growing, and with more than three hours remaining until the store’s official re-opening at noon, the security guards tasked with managing the line are looking nervous. But aside from the usual concerns about pedestrians and rush hour traffic, they don’t have much to worry about. Half the line waits patiently and peacefully, attention focused wholly on 3DS systems that have somehow held a charge through the pre-dawn hours; the rest compare notes on the latest Nintendo releases.
Because, of course, they’re not just waiting for the privilege of being the first consumers in the world to tour the newly renovated retail space, or to buy the exclusive merchandise being sold to commemorate the re-launch. No, Nintendo has a major new 3DS game coming out today—in three flavors, no less!—along with limited edition 3DS hardware to play the game on. That game is Fire Emblem Fates, and coming as it is at the beginning of what is sure to be the last full calendar year of new 3DS games, it’s likely to be one of the most important releases ever on a system that has defied all industry expectations but never quite reached the sales success of its predecessor, the Nintendo DS.
Upon entering the store for a pre-opening glimpse at the new digs, I’m greeted by the familiar faces of PR folks, Nintendo executives, and fellow writers I’ve gotten to know since relocating to NYC three years ago. There are plenty of smiles to go around—along with cupcakes adorned with chocolate Nintendo coins for those of us who haven’t had enough sugar in our morning mugs—but also a nervous energy, as a singular observation seems to be suspended just above the gathering crowd: the new store sort of looks the same as the old store. Don’t get me wrong: things have definitely been moved around. The 3DS demo stations previously installed near the ground floor entrance have been pushed back to make room for more apparel and plush toys; displays of Amiibo, Nintendo’s latest collector-focused cash cow, have been relocated from the east to the west wall of the store, near a checkout counter which has also been moved a bit. But a retail store it remains, and as we wait for the ribbon cutting ceremony, I hear murmurs of the same basic question passing back and forth in whisper: what’s all the hubbub about?
A hint might be gleaned from the words of David Young, Assistant Manager of Public Relations at Nintendo, who gently reminds us that Nintendo NY’s property managers have a strict no-streaming-before-11am policy. See, streaming has become a huge focus for Nintendo’s public relations business over the past few years: with such a large shift for games coverage moving from written reports like this one to video coverage from YouTube influencers and other multimedia outlets, Nintendo has taken every opportunity it can to get video content of its games in front of consumers. And according to Patrick Sadler, Nintendo’s General Manager of Retail for the New York City area, the redesign was done with gaming events (and, by extension, video coverage) in mind. The Nintendo World Store has been host to countless gaming events since it opened—3DS Streetpass events and Smash Bros. tournaments have been huge in recent years—but players have always had to snake awkwardly around rigidly placed retail fixtures, being careful not to obstruct shoppers who just wanted to get in, buy their merchandise, and get out. Now, everything is on wheels, from circular standees covered with Animal Crossing and Mario-themed plush toys to the employee-provided “museum” displays that have been such a unique draw for visitors. And with the northeast wall upstairs now dominated by a humongous new 15 foot, 4K digital screen—currently showcasing the upcoming The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD for Wii U, because of course it is—it’s not hard to imagine where players will congregate for future game tournaments (I get dizzy imaging Mario Kart 8 at 200cc on a screen that size, but I can’t wait for the opportunity.)
3DS fans haven’t been forgotten, either: a Donkey Kong barrel downstairs fits in well with the many oversized character displays lining the store’s negative space, but it also accommodates up to 14 players in need of a top-up for their 3DS batteries. With next week’s Virtual Console releases of Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow being updated with wireless trading via the 3DS’s IR port, the charging barrel will no doubt see plenty of use in the coming weeks.
To the casual observer, the grand re-opening of Nintendo NY might seem like little more than a standard remodel of its one-and-only retail operation. And indeed, this is still a store for selling Nintendo merchandise—and one that will remain a New York City exclusive. But Nintendo’s given the store a new slogan: “Where everyone comes to play.” It’s a nod to the multiplayer experience that’s been at the core of the company’s product throughout the years: regardless of the sales prowess or developer support of Nintendo’s latest machines, they have always been the best way to play together. It’s also a reassurance for Nintendo players that, no matter how much things change as the company switches focus to the Nintendo NX and smartphone apps in the coming years, it will always be here to give players the gaming experiences they crave.