In the shadow of the Rockefeller Center in New York City is situated Nintendo World, a store dedicated as a pantheon to the companies past, present and future direction, encapsulated in 10,000 square foot of retail estate. This is my second occasion to visit Nintendo World, my affection for the gaming behemoth having wavered to a degree in this generation of game’s console but whose appeal and attraction is unmatched with their presentation and spirit so evident here. Arriving from the central bustling streets of Manhattan gives way to the cool, crisp and clean presentation that has come to be a trademark and style of Nintendo, the interior welcoming and minimal in certain aspects but not sparse in content. Prominent around the store are the companies mascots of various era’s and titles, from the ever-present Mario both in his recognizable flagpole celebratory pose to the fireball attack on a central plinth close to the till registers.
It’s presence in the city encapsulates New York’s reputation and prestige of being an attraction and base for companies to showcase their brand. As a company Nintendo haven’t always followed a recognisable advertising push or presence certainly from a western perspective, for instance despite the popularity of the Pokemon franchise on a global scale, in recent years there have only been temporary stores or pop up events in Europe resulting in excess demand and considerable wait times for those fortunate to visit. Clearly there is a demand for these products and merchandises, its exclusivity appeals to the collector and creates the demand from the audience however the absence of a permanent store with the exception of Nintendo World in New York does leave you with a slight feeling of envy towards our American cousins. As a company, they have a reputation for setting their own direction and destination, with a limited permanent presence in the West despite a penchant of many towards the digital markets there is scope to expand into more cities.
Subjectively, therein lies the attraction of the store as a destination for fans, or for those who have an appreciation for the legacy and lore of this company. So often, the perception of the gaming industry is to push forward, paying lip service to its past whilst showcasing and embracing the future, the latest graphics, the power of a processor to elevate the experience. Without a doubt, this push from both developers and publishers serves a purpose to ensure as a medium of entertainment gaming continues to flourish but by embracing its legacy and history Nintendo World flourishes because you can walk and indulge in what formed your passion and memories of the brand. The bright, clean lines of its design, the vibrant colours and bold clear choices. It generates a significant amount of good will that leaves no doubt in reminding the visitor of the power of the brand and its importance going forward.
An Experience and a Store
Entering the store on the ground floor are the exclusive T-Shirts and merchandise available only in the Nintendo World store. This has been expanded into youth and baby clothing featuring the various brands and mascot logos, a new addition since my previous visit in 2014. Towards the back of the ground floor are the Mario shirts and merchandise, given his prominence and association to the brand, a clear key decision to familiarise visitors both new and old to its most famous asset. Mario’s most famous associates and friends are also present on the ground floor with a separate merchandise range available for the great Ape Donkey Kong as well as soft plush toys for both his friends and enemies in the Mushroom Kingdom. Certainly before this level of self promotional, self awareness of the culture being promoted and wasn’t as evidenced or on display to the degree it is now. Through interactions with social media and even to an extent social promotion Nintendo have an installed user crossing the generational gap willing and able to provide advertising and awareness of the brand championing the exclusivity and quality of the merchandise on sale.
Heading towards the second level reveals an almost hidden display area behind the stairs featuring Mario’s green themed brother Luigi and toad. There’s a great pleasure in walking around a retail store such as this and discovering these ‘small’ hidden gems that are both a testament and reminder of Nintendo’s broad universe and lore. On my previous visit to the store in 2014 this area had been set aside to showcase the companies latest franchise the Pikmin titles. Perhaps seen as more secondary or supporting characters they don’t hold as prominent position or location within the location but the quality is ever present. There is a consistency across the store in its aesthetic finish that shines through when visiting, from the supporting cast to the larger, central characters we know and love. The company clearly benefits from a range of recognisable and memorable characters that it is able to rotate and showcase at whim, it creates and reinforces that sense of familiarity and nostalgia in equal measure.
The second floor of Nintendo World provides a treasure trove of Nintendo’s legacy and future direction, an assortment of merchandise from the companies other franchise from Pokemon to Zelda as well as a large demonstration area and assortment of the companies new Labo accessories being openly promoted and developed. It’s a bold direction for a company that has objectively, ‘lagged behind’ its competitors in relation to unit sales but regardless or despite this ‘failure’ continues to set the agenda in its own unique style. There was great enthusiasm from all in attendance on the day to demonstrate and play the various titles on display, despite no grand new demonstrations or exclusives. This is a stark contrast to the dark, ‘cool’ aesthetic both Microsoft and Sony attempt to capture with their presentation and events. Nintendo, unwittingly or by design pursue the bright, open approach championed by Apple in their stores and create a genuinely welcoming environment to visit and explore on a whim.
Small sections are devoted to some of Nintendo’s lesser franchises, those yet to gain the popularity of its flagship titles. These include the Metroid series with a range of merchandise designed around Samus adventures and escapades. Perhaps their presence signifies some plans for her future role on the platforms legacy going forward. In addition merchandise and collectibles for the Fire Emblem series. One title that was of curiosity was the Art of Fire Emblem book available, though not necessarily from the titles origin series. More, the attraction of a Nintendo product Art Book. Having enjoyed a number of titles from Titan Books and Dark Horse Comics, a release with the quality and passion of a Nintendo product from Dark Horse Comics was a temptation to see. There were a variety of Zelda art and history books including the Hyrule Historia tome, more widely available, it would have been interesting to see more releases usually exclusive to Japan in the Akihabara district.
A History On Show
The dominant majority of the merchandise on the second floor are given to the companies main franchises, Pokemon and Zelda with two large sections dedicated to each series. The Pokemon titles I have enjoyed on and off over my lifetime, and if you are a fan of this series you are well catered for. Available to purchase a series of plush toys of the different characters, action figures and comics as well as other more unique items you wouldn’t consider you needed in your life but of course providing a temptation. Of the most unusual items available that I had to resist on my trip was a Pikachu shaped cake mold. Perhaps it was the memories and emotions evoked by the Great British Bake Off but you do wonder just how well received a Pikachu cake would be at a tea party. I did however pick up a Pokemon themed gift for myself I’ll discuss at a later date. Whether you desire a Snorlax cushion, a Meowth plush toy or a Pikachu cooking utensil, Nintendo World has a wide variety of goods and gifts to suit your needs and tastes.
The purpose and one of the key motivations to returning to Nintendo World on a second occasion was to obtain one of the stores exclusive T-Shirts framed around one of its iconic characters. Originally a broader series of designs this, seemingly, has been narrowed down now to two variations, Mario emerging from a storm drain on 5th Avenue and my desired item, Link with his more cartoonish Wind Waker variation, sitting lazily in Central Park. I’ll readily admit it was my own feelings towards the title itself that coloured my purchasing decision last time, one I have regretted since that time. For what I imagine are licensing requirements or decisions from Nintendo, these shirts are only available to buy from physically visiting the store, the website providing no further explanation on the matter. Mario, the more recognizable and commented shirt I have worn on my travels but I did have a desire for this specific shirt and thankfully one the store still stocked.
In addition, perhaps showing its strength as one of the company’s core titles, the range of merchandise rivalled, if not surpassed that of Mario on the ground floor. Around a dozen designs and variants were available to buy, centered around both Breath of the Wild as well as the franchises legacy. Ocarina of Time was a defining and instrumental title in my gaming life, the memory of emerging onto Hyrule burned not only on my memory but also clearly a generational moment. Whilst, personally my experience and desire to follow Nintendo’s series has waned with the necessity to invest in the hardware in recent years, as a company they continue to honor Zelda’s past, reflected in a series of merchandise and items covering the history and remit of the franchise. The range of goods available cover everything from puzzles to water bottles, backpacks, t-shirts and comics. As a franchise title, having a replica master sword present was a nice touch and again adds to the prestige of series. My intention was to obtain that Zelda t-shirt, accomplished I succumbed and purchased another variant of the logo.
Indulging in the various merchandise of Nintendo’s franchises, it’s surprisingly easy to almost lose yourself in the nostalgia of the occasion, however as a retail store Nintendo World provides as a purveyor of its current platforms, an assortment of titles and hardware available to buy. I was taken aback at the scale dedicated to the Labo series, itself a bold and unique take on the accessories formally associated with the hard plastic quality and finish that has permeated throughout the history of the games console. The extent and floor space would suggest this is greater than a momentary dalliance however this is Nintendo. One of their greatest frustrations is their unpredictability in their choice of direction, to pursue a more recyclable and environmentally friendly design and finish is fitting with the global agenda. Perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not the company once more is pushing the agenda.
It’s refreshing to see a company show a sense of confidence in its own legacy, with a plethora of items on display that provide a visual and to a degree, an emotional journey through the series past. For those with a penchant of the collector, a range of amiibo figures that are a visual treat, for a Nintendo enthusiast a pleasure to see the variances available. Certainly having a fondness for the Zelda series the different Link and Zelda figures and designs was a delight. Opposite the cabinet of figures were the history of Nintendo’s consoles, an example of both their home and portable series from the original game boy and NES to the current Switch and 3DS platform and all variations and releases between. Certainly some of these were recognisable having owned a number of Nintendo consoles. Other’s such as the virtual boy for instance I’ve only known about through familiarity so was interested and curious to see a unit on display.
Nintendo’s approach to its flagship store in New York, presented with a confidence and swagger befitting of a trend setting pioneer subjectively is at odds with its position in the so-called console wars. That said, as the company they have shown that the necessity to chase trends is not its objective focus, setting its own direction and course has been a Nintendo resolute premise and as such provides them with the due respect to present both a museum and flagship store, highlighting its past, the present generation of consoles and the direction of the company in the future ahead. Because of its exceptional attention to detail and how it manages to both pay respect whilst also highlighting the direction of its flagship series from Amiibo’s to Zelda and everything in between it reserves a special reverence that attracts both casual and hardcore gamers to celebrate and partake in its brand.
One specific item captured my attention as my visit was coming to a close, one that I found both surprising in its inclusion but also respectful to its presence. The original Gameboy has long-held a reputation of durability, amongst my peers at least called the ‘brick boy’ to the toughness of the unit. On display in the Nintendo store nestled amongst the various Labo controllers was a functioning Game Boy that had suffered extensive damage to its external shell during a bombing in the Golf War. That the console could survive a bomb detonation was remarkable in itself, that functionally the unit still worked and was running Tetris was nothing short of astonishing. Whether by design or happenstance, the original Nintendo consoles and hardware had a deserved reputation for durability, I was delighted to see this functioning unit presented in the form it was, contrasting perhaps to the clean aesthetic of the store but a testament to the legacy of the brand.
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