Hundreds of eager Nintendo fans, four unreleased Wii U games, one lone demo unit. That was the scene at the Nintendo Experience at a Best Buy in Culver City, CA yesterday, where Nintendo brought E3 to the public to the first time. On hand were four Wii U demos: Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD. Below, you can find 32 exclusive photos from the event (and with some surprise guests). But first, let’s talk about the actual experience of the Nintendo Experience.
The event really felt like a public version of E3. Hundreds of gamers swarmed Best Buy with their 3DS handhelds in tow, StreetPassing, discussing the major E3 news, and cheering each other on when watching the Wii U demos. Nintendo itself also did a good job of providing fun ways to keep the crowd engaged: company representatives roamed the line, offering demos of recent 3DS games such as Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon; multiplayer demos of Super Mario 3D World and Mario Kart 8 became actual competitions as the winner of each level/track received a special Year of Luigi gold coin; and a variety “Luigi Loot” was given away, including foam Luigi hats, Mario Kart checkered flags, and Wii U lanyards. It was as if Nintendo siphoned its E3 experience into a Best Buy store.
Unfortunately, one other major part of the E3 experience was also included: long wait times. Nintendo and Best Buy provided a four-hour window to try the demos, but unfortunately those four hours simply weren’t enough due to the structure of the event. Nintendo chose not to bring Wii U demo units to Best Buy, instead relying solely on the in-store demo station. This led to incredibly long waits and other limitations as well. For example, to keep the line moving, Nintendo representatives only allowed people to play a single demo of their choosing. If they wanted to try another game, they would have to wait in line again – a wait that, for some, was over two hours long. At times the reps attempted to speed up the line by only letting people play the four-player Super Mario 3D World demo (Mario Kart 8 was limited to two players, as was Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze; Wind Waker HD was naturally single-player only), which could have been disappointing to those who wanted to try different games.
It also didn’t help that the large turnout exceeded Nintendo’s own expectations. An hour before the event, there were already close to fifty people in line. When speaking with one of the reps, they told us that they anticipated a total of 400 people. With demos that range from five-to-seven minutes in length and support multiple players, that’s a workable number (albeit barely). In reality, however, the crowd exceeded that total. While the rep we spoke with wouldn’t outright say that Nintendo made a mistake by not bringing additional demo units, he did point out that if people in line didn’t get to play anything, it could damage their views of Nintendo more than the demo could have helped.
Luckily, at least for the Culver City Nintendo Experience, there was a good counterbalance to the agonizing waits: the hosting Best Buy was only ten miles away from the Los Angeles Convention Center, home of E3 2013. Since practically all of Nintendo’s developers, marketing teams, and resources are currently at the expo, this allowed for unique opportunities that other Nintendo Experiences could not have. Nintendo’s PR team, for example, brought a film crew to tape gameplay, interview fans in line, and collect player testimonials. More interestingly, there were a handful of Nintendo developers who also stopped by to see what the public thought of their games. None of the developers introduced themselves to the crowd or directly asked for people’s opinions, but eagle-eyed fans did take note of their presence.
In fact, we used the opportunity to meet a number of these influential developers. Most notable were Takashi Tezuka and Yoshiaki Koizumi. Tezuka currently oversees a number of franchises, including the New Super Mario Bros. series, but previously served as director of monumental games such as the original Legend of Zelda, Super Mario World, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Koizumi, on the other hand, produces the 3D Mario games, including the upcoming Super Mario 3D World, the Mario Galaxy titles (the first of which he also directed), and the 3DS’s Super Mario 3D Land. We also spotted the likes of Mario Kart series producer Hideki Konno and Mario Kart course designer / Mario Kart 7 art director Yoshihisa Morimoto.
The Nintendo Experience at Best Buy was by no means perfect, but it was definitely a fun opportunity that we would like to see Nintendo try again next year. A second day of the event will take place this Saturday from 1-5 PM. You can find a list of participating stores at BestBuy.com/NintendoEvents. Even with the large crowds and slow lines, we still recommend checking it out for a glimpse at what’s to come on Wii U – we might even go back ourselves! If you don’t have a participating Best Buy in your area, you can get a taste of the experience via the photos below. We’ll also have full impressions of all four games in our next podcast episode, which will hit on Sunday, June 16. You won’t want to miss it!