Gamers lined up outside Best Buy in New York City's Union Square last night to be the first in the country to get their hands on the new Nintendo 3DS handheld, which promises to bring glasses-free 3D gaming to the masses. The unseasonably cold weather saw everyone arriving bundled in winter gear, but the plummeting temperature did nothing to chill the spirits of gathered fans.
The turnout was small, no more than a few hundred people, but it was an enthusiastic bunch. Instead of waiting in a traditional line, fans were allowed to mill about in a fenced-off area that was highlighted by several 3DS demo stations and a taco truck. In a classy added touch, Nintendo had people walking around handing out free hot dogs and bottles of water to the gathered attendees.
That said, it was hard to avoid noticing that the crowd was a light one overall. While fans lined up along 4th Ave just south of 14th St, another area to house additional buyers had been erected around the corner, complete with 3DS demo stations and a serve-yourself hot dog-and-water buffet station. But wait... there's more!
Unfortunately, the size of the crowd never reached a point where the second location needed to be opened. The cold weather certainly had something to do with it, but the fact that the 3DS launch line-up is missing a true "killer app" shouldn't be overlooked. The handheld will undoubtedly do well -- this is Nintendo we're talking about -- but the pressing need to buy one was probably diminished for some by the lack of overwhelmingly appealing games to play at launch.
Those who did turn out remained in high spirits, breaking out into frequent chants of "Reggie" -- referring to Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime -- and "3DS," and generally just treating the scene like a big party. The Nintendo boss stepped outside early to shake hands with some fans and welcome them, then returned to address the crowd again at 11pm with Best Buy President of the Americas, Michael Vitelli.
"Tonight, the Nintendo 3DS will turn the page in gaming history," Fils-Aime said. "Let me tell you what I mean. Playing in monochrome was great; remember Game Boy? But that was the '80s. Playing in color was great, but that was the '90s. Until tonight, you could only see games in 2D... or the occasional 3D, but you had to wear those funky glasses, right? Who wants to wear those funky glasses?!"
The moderately sized crowd roared with considerable might at this declaration. "I don't know about you guys, but I've been told it's not my best look. Just like those glasses in that picture," the Nintendo boss continued, pointing out a fan holding up his now-infamous high school photo. "Tonight, the era of 3D glasses ends. Right here, and right now.”
He also hinted at some of what is to come for the 3DS moving forward. There is already an update for all newly purchased devices that, when downloaded, adds a 3D music video from the band OK Go. What's ahead, however, sounds even more enticing.
"It is important to remember that walking out of the store is just the beginning of the experience," Fils-Aime continued. "There's gonna be another update coming in May, and that's gonna be a whole new exclusive gateway to all kinds of different 3D content. A huge library of nostalgic as well as brand new games."
Fils-Aime and Vitelli took to the stage again at five minutes to midnight while Nintendo reps distributed 3D glasses to those in attendance. At the moment the final 10-second countdown to launch day reached zero, the crowd erupted with cheers as glasses were thrown into the air in a symbolic gesture while confetti rained down from above.
Things moved at an orderly pace for customers after that, with Best Buy sales representatives corralling buyers into the store in small, orderly groups. Most customers proceeded with their new toy to a nearby bank of registers, but one -- Isaiah "Triforce" Johnson, the first in line for the 3DS -- was rung up in a cordoned off area by Fils-Aime himself.
All in all, Nintendo managed to pull off a great launch event despite what must have been a somewhat disappointing turnout. Between the free food, the festive atmosphere, and the availability of demo devices to wile the hours, it was a great time and place to be a Nintendo fan.
The Nintendo 3DS officially launches in North America today, for a suggested retail price of $249.99.
By: Adam Rosenberg