Bright Lights, Big City

by Bonnie Ruberg - August 26, 2005, 2:31 pm PDT

The Nintendo World Store: they’ve got the games, but can they deliver the goods?

Somewhere out there, like some mythical creature, there exists a store just for Nintendo. The close cousin of other such decadent shopping fantasies as wholesale cupcake shops and free computer giveaways, an all-Nintendo store seems to promise decades of classic-title fun, packed into one high-energy, perusable commercial space. In short, it sounds like a blast. Who knows what wonders a fanboy (or fangirl, as the case may be) imagines might fill a Nintendo World store. Unfortunately, if the potential is infinite, the reality is definitely limited. True, high hopes shouldn’t overshadow the merits of a moderately interesting establishment. But this Nintendo enthusiast for one made the trip expecting to be a kid in a candy store, only to find herself in an average store surrounded by candy-toting kids.

The Nintendo World Store, located at 10 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, opened its doors to the public back in May of this year, replacing the old Pokemon Center found at the same address. In its current incarnation, the store offers a much wider range of Nintendo products, and appeals, in theory, to a wider range of customers. The storefront, which turns the corner at the end of the block, is composed almost entirely of glass on both sides. Visually, Nintendo World is intriguing (see pictures below). Passing by outside, you can see a hubbub of game-related lights and colors through the enormous windows. A column of flat-screen TVs playing Nintendo commercials reaches from the first floor, up through a cut-out section of the ceiling, and into the second. Rows of neon blue lights fade on and off, illuminating the company’s logo on a wall behind the stairs. Aesthetically, Nintendo World combines the sleek style of an Apple store (from which it very well could have been modeled) and the low-lit glitz of the archetypal gaming Mecca: an arcade.

As far as actually playing games, Nintendo has three main demo areas: one for the DS and one for the GBA, both on the ground floor, and another for the GameCube, upstairs. The “GBA Bar” offers about a row of playable GBA-SP’s, each featuring a different game, as well as a “bartender” who’s available to answer questions. Another eight SP’s, hooked up to wall-mounted TV’s, help keep down the line. In the center of the show-floor, a circular area (complete with stumpy little, Ikea-esque stools) offers a fair number of DS systems for prodding, all running a five-minute, playable demo of Nintendogs, obviously the hot item of the moment at the Nintendo World Store. Additional units in two separate displays offer the chance to play a variety of titles, including Kirby: Canvas Curse. The GameCubes, about ten in total, have each been set up with a different title. Nearby, in an employee-policed area, three oversized chairs, three big screen TV’s, and three GameCubes promise that wait-in-line, one-at-a-time, whole-shebang experience.

At first glance, things here seem pretty lively. All the systems are generally well presented, and the large supply of demos keeps the crowds dispersed and happy - at least on a Tuesday afternoon. But inspect the situation a little closer, and frustration starts to set in. A disappointingly low number of displays offer any playable preview material. Even then, Nintendo World could have been an enjoyable place to sit for a bit and play, a little gaming oasis on your way through Midtown. Except for one thing: it’s impossible. Not even taking into consideration the dirty looks from parents and staff, it just physically doesn’t work. The GameCube area is the exception to the rule, but as far as the handheld displays go, it’s ridiculous. You couldn’t fit grown-up, human knees between the stools and the counter at the GBA Bar; the seats for the Nintendogs demo are the size of waffles, and maybe twelve inches off the ground. As for the Game Boys set up for “standing” play - I either had to kneel, or wear my glasses for long distance vision. All this, and I’m not that tall: , 5'6" at most. What are adult male gamers supposed to do? You don’t just feel silly trying to figure it out; you look silly, too. I understand that kids have needs that the store is trying to keep in mind, but the resulting setup is definitely less than universally accommodating. It’s hard to deny the physical proof that Nintendo still believes their products are meant exclusively for children. In any case, they certainly make it difficult, both literally and figuratively, to feel comfortable as a grownup gamer in the store.

One look around the store confirms the feeling that you’re the only gaming adult for miles. The average shopper is ten years old and male, and he drags behind him a caravan of middle-aged New York tourists, who make a big show of not understanding video games, but who willingly dish out the cash up at the register. (It’s a little unsettling how many times in an hour you’ll hear the words “I want” followed by the word “okay”.) The staff is equally unexciting. While certainly not incompetent, they lack any real fanboy-dom or enthusiasm - the sort of energy that could change the Nintendo World experience from uninspiring to energizing.

The merchandise itself is also a mixed bag. In addition to games and systems, there’s a wide selection of Nintendo peripherals available for purchase, though nothing out to test. Pokemon goodies still fill one corner of the store, and their presence lingers in the clothing selection as well. Certain shirts are fun and covet-able, if not particularly striking; the best ones, of course, only come in men’s sizes, while girl gamers are left with few options besides pink and blue “Princess” baby tees. Sadly, the store has a tiny selection of Nintendo toys, which does however include an entire display of adorable plush Nintendogs. All in all, the merchandise is mediocre. Personally, I’m a total sucker for swag, and even I could walk out without making a purchase.

Is the Nintendo World Store worth the trip? If you live in New York City, or you’re going to be there anyway, it can’t hurt to pop your head in, but that’s about it. For everyone else: trust me, it’s more fun to just stay home and actually play video games. As a shopping hotspot for pre-teen boys, this store definitely succeeds. And the rest of us fanboys and fangirls, the ones who dreamed about an amazing all-Nintendo store, well we’ll just have to go on dreaming.

Nintendogs, Nintendogs and more Nintendogs

So Many Puppies!

Pokemon Ponchos for the Little Ones

Hot Screen-on-Screen Action

Neon

A GBA-SP Rainbow

Old gaming meets new gaming at Nintendo World.

Top-of-the-Line Gaming

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