A tale of Mario, Martinet, cold, and cosplay.
Super Mario Galaxy launched in Japan and North America (on November 1st and 12th, respectively) to unprecedented critical acclaim, and added a colossal exclamation point onto Wii’s sensational first year of existence by putting Nintendo’s indefatigable superstar back in his console element after a five and a half (and some might say eleven) year sojourn. But such excitement is all too often tempered for PAL gamers by the dread of a significantly delayed release. Mario began his journey into the third dimension in March 1997 on these shores, and even the irony of Super Mario Sunshine being released in October couldn’t prevent a sizeable delay for the plumber’s vacation to Isle Delfino in 2002. Moreover, several major 2007 Wii titles have arrived multiple months after their debuts across the Atlantic, a huge disappointment given the promise shown by last year’s European system launch taking place within weeks of North America to get the ball rolling.
Taking all this into account, European gamers would have had every reason to be somewhat pessimistic regarding the prospect of a timely release for Mario’s latest adventure, but Nintendo finally stepped up by not only getting Super Mario Galaxy out within weeks of its North American release, but within the same week. As laudable as this relative achievement might seem, the highly anxious European Mario enthusiast might worry that the game would be underexposed here as a result; press tours were often blamed for staggered theatrical releases before piracy forcibly condensed global schedules. More importantly, Nintendo’s European marketing record has generally been poor even when utilising additional time (those months in 2002 yielded the realisation that both Mario and Des Lynam are moustachioed), so the quality of their efforts in a crunch is justifiably questionable.
Nintendo endeavoured to allay such fears in the UK by teaming up with retailer giant GAME in offering Mario’s Wii debut a day early on Thursday November 15th at eight locations across the country. The tireless voice of Mario, Charles Martinet, was dispatched to London’s Oxford Street to meet with the media and sign copies of the game for fans. My deep love for Mario (along with a negligent attitude towards pre-ordering and fear of shortages) compelled me to wait in line on Oxford Street for over three hours. At first there were few other hardy folk waiting patiently to procure this most sought after product of Nintendo’s collective imagination, but as the already dim light faded, a starry beacon was shone from the store-front onto adjacent buildings, and the queue swelled into a disorderly crowd. According to the cap and overalls-clad MC, over 400 people were on hand before the game went on sale, amongst whom a sense of camaraderie built with time as tales from past product launches, Captain N reminiscence, and even DS Friend Codes were traded without fear of feeling violated. Nintendo’s decision to use a competition to encourage (not universally gender accurate) cosplay only embellished the surreal feel of the occasion, especially when the bin bag- crafted Chain Chomp showed up.
For those on the outside looking in, the main draw was the sight of Charles Martinet in a sectioned-off portion of the store front, demonstrating the game while discussing it with various media outlets. A particularly fun moment was watching Martinet behind the camera effectively puppeteer an in-store Mario giving an interview to national television, gesturing wildly while providing his signature voice. But as the temperature dropped, more was needed to keep the crowd’s spirits up, and those on hand obliged with goodie bags containing Galaxy keepsakes and practical items (the warm hats proved welcome to many, while the raincoats were fortunately not needed). A mobile Wii demo pod was then wheeled up and down the line to give the shivering gamers a chance to sample what they clearly wanted to play very badly.
Those at the front of the queue (including myself) were granted the warmth of the store interior during the final minutes until 6pm, when the game would finally be made available. Mario and Luigi even helped man the tills as the buying frenzy kicked off, with the sealed copies then being rapidly unsheathed for the chance to join, that’s right, yet another queue and get the case signed by Mr. Martinet. Unwaveringly gracious, the voice of Mario not only signed Galaxy copies but various Nintendo handhelds and posters along with posing for innumerable pictures. After picking up a signature and a handshake from Mr. Martinet, my long journey of standing still was ended.
In addition to aching legs and a signed copy of Galaxy, I left with the feeling that (while hardly overwhelming) Nintendo had done well with this event, along with other PR stunts, to generate buzz for the game outside of the extraordinary critical reception in the enthusiast press. Raising awareness in this way is necessary for the game to sell to those Wii owners who apparently paid £179.99 for Wii Sports and not for the prospect of future titles. Furthermore, by virtue of his games’ accessibility and sheer quality, Mario serves as the perfect bridge for these gamers to become interested in purchasing more traditionally structured games, and so represents Nintendo’s best chance to boost software sales across the Wii platform. But let us not forget the event also served the die-hard Nintendo zealot, and to the extent that it simultaneously marketed Galaxy to casual gamers and helped unite a man-Peach with his Mario a day early, it can only be a good thing.