Nintendo invites shoppers to its retail World

In Manhattan, flagship retail stores aren’t just about merchandise. They’re brand temples. Apple’s SoHo outpost is a stark white paean to minimalism, built around a floating glass staircase that hints of a mysterious realm waiting for those who ascend. Sony Corp.’s Madison Avenue showcase lets shoppers stroll through gadget-packed mock rooms and envision themselves coming home to pop a DVD in a 400-disc player, after pausing to give the robotic dog a pat.

Nintendo World, the video game icon’s very first retail store, opened last month in a suitably flashy location: Rockefeller Center, New York City’s tourist friendly complex of art-deco architecture, high-end shops and Radio City Music Hall.

The 10,000-square-foot (929-square-meter) duplex is surprisingly sleek. Nintendo Co. Ltd.’s games are filled with motion and luminous colors, but a cool blue light bathes the uncluttered shop floor. Curvy white furniture is more reminiscent of Apple’s iPod-influenced design than the jammed fluorescent landscape of Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. franchise.

The shop offers a full selection of Nintendo games — and T-shirts, baseball caps, gaming accessories and canary-yellow stuffed Pikachu toys — but more space is given over to gaming than merchandising. A Game Boy bar on the ground floor invites shoppers to sit and play a preloaded selection of games on bolted-down handhelds, while a nearby circle offers up a dozen Nintendo DS machines. In one downstairs corner is a small section devoted to Pokemon, a relic of the space’s more garish previous incarnation as the Pokemon Center NY.

The big iron lives upstairs: On a recent Tuesday afternoon, the most packed section of the store was a GameCube play zone with massive screens that take up a large portion of the second floor. Thirty-year-olds in suits and ties stood next to jeans-clad high schoolers, huddled around kiosks clustered together like video-gaming trees on an otherwise bare stretch of hardwood flooring.

Nintendo World’s tranquility surprised one recent browser. “I was expecting it to be a noisy, screaming-kid-filled Pokemon shrine,” said Gunther Schmidl, a 28-year-old tourist from Linz, Austria. Schmidl didn’t buy anything; he said he came out of curiosity to see what Nintendo would show off in the shop.

For the moment, little is available that Nintendo fans can’t procure elsewhere. In its publicity for the store’s launch, Nintendo promised exclusive merchandise, but Nintendo World clerks admit the logistics of that are still being worked out. The store launched with one unique offering: Thirty limited-edition, gold Game Boy Advance SP handhelds signed by Nintendo legend Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of “Donkey Kong,” “Mario” and “The Legend of Zelda.” The US$400 devices sold out in a week.

Nintendo envisions Nintendo World as a mini-museum as well as a store, and a small island of display cases shows off fragments of the company’s history — like the boxy gray components comprising the “Advanced Video System,” the Nintendo Entertainment System predecessor the company publicly displayed only once, at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1985. An adjacent display juxtaposes glimpses of the future: A colorful assortment of Game Boy Advances from around the world reminds U.S. shoppers of the vast international market where Nintendo releases its newest, hottest wares long before they ever reach American fans.

At last month’s E3, Sony Corp. and Microsoft Corp. grabbed most of the headlines with details of their wildly anticipated next-generation consoles, the forthcoming PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. But in one 10,000-square-foot patch of Manhattan, Nintendo takes top billing, drawing in fans eager to spend a few hours immersed in its World.

For more game news, reviews and information, please visit Macworld’s Game Room.

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