A Winner Is You

Last week, Nintendo had an announcement about their E3 announcements, which is about as meta as you can get, considering that spawned articles about the announcement of the announcement, and then tweets announcing the articles, and so on. When the announcement of the announcement finally came, along with the details of when the E3 Nintendo Direct would air, Nintendo dropped the news that they were bringing back the Nintendo World Championships, 25 years after the original event took place. Given that my Twitter bio features the phrase "Nintendo World Championships participant", I had a lot of people ask me how I felt about it. As with anything related to Nintendo, I have a lot of thoughts about it, naturally.

What most people don't realize about the Nintendo World Championships is how big of a deal it really was at the time. The open trials that I attended were held in the Javits Center in Manhattan; this is the same convention center where the New York International Auto Show is held every year, just to provide scale of the event. As I remember it, the expo floor was split into two sections, one for the competition itself, and one with banks of NES systems set up with newly released and yet unreleased games to play. Nintendo even created a completely unique cartridge for the competition, with three challenges based on Super Mario Bros, Rad Racer, and Tetris. It was a spectacle, and it's still something I remember fondly to this day. (My parents, less so; their main memory of the event was bribing me with a new Nintendo game to get me out on the early train to avoid being stuck there for several more hours. I chose Shadowgate, by the way, which was not one of my finer moments.)

It's really hard to describe how important of a memory going to the Nintendo World Championships was for me as a kid. Imagine being eleven years old and going to something like PAX, except that it was a one of a kind event and it would turn out that there would never be another one. If you're someone like me, that would be something you'd treasure forever. That event really solidified my love of games, and I've always felt lucky that I was able to be part of it, even if I did completely terribly and didn't advance past the initial round. (It turns out that when you've played World 1-1 of Super Mario Bros over and over, when you suddenly have to play it differently, it doesn't occur to you to not waste time collecting 1ups that you don't need.) I found the shirt in my basement last summer; it's too small for me but I was overcome with nostalgia just seeing it again.

That said, I was apprehensive when Nintendo announced they'd be bringing this back for E3; that seemed way too soon to do anything that would live up to the Nintendo World Championships that I remember. Upon reading today's details, that hunch appeared to be correct. Not only is the qualifying round going to be held at Best Buy, there are only eight locations holding qualifiers. For the entire United States. (And two of the eight are in California, because of course they are.) Having attended Nintendo's last in-store event held at a Best Buy for the Super Smash Bros preview, I'm dubious that these qualifiers will be run smoothly at all. The Smash Bros event was, to be kind, a mess: There was one console with the Wii U version of the game set up for the entire store, and the line took over an hour to snake around the store. That was after it took them what felt like an eon to actually get the Wii U display unit and hooked up, for that matter. As for the 3DS version, they had one poor employee with a 3DS literally tethered to her body who walked around to people in line to play while they waited for the Wii U line to move. It's only because Super Smash Bros is as good as it is that the entire afternoon didn't feel like a giant waste of time.

All that said, this feels to me not like a loving tribute to a significant event in the life of early 90s nerds, but more like a naked appeal to a very specific nostalgia. If this were truly a throwback to the original Nintendo World Championships, or if the event felt like it was planned to be the spectacle that the 1990 incarnation was, then I might be intrigued. But this? I don't use the phrase "crapping on my childhood" lightly, but that's honestly how this whole campaign feels to me right now. For a company that trades so heavily on nostalgia, this seems so poorly considered that it reeks of desperation. This is what I would have expected from a Nintendo on its heels in 2013, pleading with anyone who remembers the original Nintendo World Championships to think back to how they felt about the company then as opposed to now.

That's what makes this whole Nintendo World Championships event seem so oddly timed; simply put, this feels like a desperation move that Nintendo doesn't need to make right now. Nintendo is profitable for the first time in four years. Splatoon is easily the most anticipated upcoming release right now, by a wide margin. Plus, Nintendo's presentation at last year's E3 was easily the highlight of the show, so they already have a lot of positive energy heading into this year's show. Why they would risk losing some of that good will by putting together something like this, especially because it relies on Best Buy to not screw it up, is baffling.

Maybe I'll be wrong, and this will live up to the memories that I have of 1990. I'm not optimistic, but it could definitely happen. I'm not particularly inclined to find out, though; I'm happier to sit in my basement, clutching my t-shirt from 1990, and pretending that was the last Nintendo World Championship. It's the only one that matters, in any event.