My soon-to-be five-year-old son’s interest in video games has been steadily increasing since he inherited a DS Lite from a family friend a few months ago. He frequently breaks into the cabinet housing my DS games and he’s been having a lot of fun with Mario, Zelda, and Chibi-Robo!, even if they’re a bit too difficult for him to really master at this point. So when Nintendo sent out an email earlier this month announcing their Play Nintendo Tour 2014, I couldn’t wait to take him to check out this family-focused demo event.
Luckily, one of the cities the tour was scheduled to visit was Schaumburg, Illinois (right outside of Chicago). We’re just a bit over an hour away, so whenever Nintendo hosts an event in the area, I do my best to make it. We decided to visit on a Friday afternoon, the first of the three days the event was scheduled to take place, hoping to avoid the worst of the crowds. Nintendo chose the center of the Woodfield Mall, one of the largest and busiest malls in the area, as the event’s location. Even on a Friday afternoon, the mall was packed and provided plenty of passers-by to stop and check out what the event had to offer. Unlike the recent Smash-Fest event at Best Buy, the Play Nintendo Tour is obviously geared toward families and foot traffic, hoping to earn the attention of shoppers who hadn’t planned on visiting the event rather than the Nintendo faithful eager for a chance to play an as-yet-unreleased game.
Nintendo’s set-up was easy to spot upon arriving at the mall. The event covered a considerable amount of floor space and featured a variety of kiosks, stations, screens, and scenery. Each of the games being demoed featured its own themed area, complete with props and scenery. For instance, the Link Between Worlds station was crafted out of faux rocks and featured a Master Sword and Hylian Shield visitors could use for taking photos. Kirby was played sitting on shiny yellow stars, Donkey Kong on banana seats, Mario on warp pipes and question blocks, and Pokemon near a giant Pokeball. Each of these demo stations was colorful and inviting, and they were all equipped with at least five or six 2DS units. In fact, 2DS units were the only playable handheld systems on hand, further reinforcing the fact that the event was targeted at kids and families.
Though the 2DS stations made up 90% of the event, the standout attraction was most certainly the Mario Kart tournament. Visitors were invited to register for a multi-part tournament that included qualifying rounds on Mario Kart 7 stations followed by a Wii U semi-final and final round. The tournaments were commentated by mic’d hosts, the final round took place on a giant, four monitor screen, and players sat in life-sized kart stations. All of this fanfare resulted in legitimate excitement and energy and totally helped make the event feel special.
I also want to point how knowledgeable and helpful the staff were for this event, especially in contrast with other Nintendo demo events I’ve attended. Each staff member I spoke to knew quite a bit about the games to which he or she was assigned, and each of them made a point of sitting down with kids and making sure they knew their way around the games they were trying. Apparently the staff are hired to work the entire tour, so Nintendo is investing in quality people and providing adequate training. Each staff member I spoke to was enthusiastic and helpful which really went a long way toward creating a positive vibe at the event.
The Play Nintendo Tour runs every weekend through the end of August and will be visiting cities throughout the Midwest and West Coast. I would encourage parents or those with younger family members with an interest in Nintendo games to check it out if possible. My son and I definitely felt it was worth the hour-plus drive to attend. Adults without kids will certainly find plenty to enjoy at the event (you can always take your picture with Mario or even race in the Mario Kart tournament), even if the fun is mostly targeted toward younger fans. Check out the official site for more information and to see if the tour is visiting a town near you.