It looked like business as usual for a weekday afternoon in the Nintendo World Store. A smattering of customers milled about the multi-floor building in New York City's Rockefeller Center, eyeing Yoshi plushies and passing the time at Nintendo 3DS kiosks while Splatoon footage played on TV screens around them. Visitors lined up just inside the main entrance — a common sight at the store, where Nintendo die-hards often camp out for games, consoles and, more recently, hard-to-find amiibo.
But this was a very different sort of queue.
The Nintendo World Store is a veritable Mecca for fans of Mario, Luigi and their cohorts, and its location in midtown Manhattan makes it a popular tourist destination for Nintendo aficionados from around the globe. Today, they stopped by from near and far — the South Bronx, New York; Chicago, Illinois; San Antonio, Texas; the Netherlands — to pay their respects to Satoru Iwata.
Iwata died Saturday at the age of 55. He had served as the president and chief executive of Nintendo since May 2002, having joined the company in 2000 following a career of more than 25 years at HAL Laboratory. The news of Iwata's death sparked tributes and remembrances from across the game industry, with more than a few of them referring to him as a "visionary."
The Nintendo World Store opened at 9 a.m. today with a memorial to Iwata inside. It is modest — a framed photograph of Iwata and a note to leave messages sit on a table draped in a black tablecloth — but impossible to miss in its spot at the front of the store. The table also features three notebooks in which visitors can leave notes; by midafternoon, people had filled a dozen or so pages in each of the books.
Some of them left only a few words: "rest in peace," "thank you for everything" and the like. Others were more garrulous, writing entire paragraphs. A few of the notes were written in Japanese, and many of the messages came with poignant illustrations: Nintendo characters and symbols like a Pokéball, a tearful Mario, Kirby and a Triforce. One person drew Iwata himself, leaping toward a question block.
The table was also adorned with a few mementos, including a Pokémon-themed sketch and a single bouquet of flowers. While we were in the store, one visitor left an origami bird figure, crafted from a piece of paper featuring Bob-ombs and Piranha Plants.
Alfredo D., a 16-year-old Nintendo fan from the South Bronx, said he didn't initially believe the news when he saw it on Twitter yesterday. He made the trip to the Nintendo World Store today, saying he felt that "I need to get here ASAP" and see the memorial.
"My childhood comes back to me when I come here," Alfredo said of the Nintendo World Store, explaining that the Game Boy Advance SP was his first gaming system. Asked to name what he'll remember the most about Iwata, Alfredo said that the executive's appearances on Nintendo Direct presentations "would always get me a smile on my face."
We observed a line of three to five people for most of the hour or so that we spent in the store. A security guard, Luis, described the store's foot traffic as a "typical Monday crowd" for the summer, but said he expects more visitors later this week specifically for the memorial as news of Iwata's death spreads.
The Iwata memorial will stay at the Nintendo World Store for approximately two weeks, likely through Friday, July 24, according to Jarita Bridges, the store's consumer experience manager. After that, the store will ship the notebooks, and perhaps the other items left by visitors, to Nintendo of America's headquarters in Redmond, Washington.
The diverse crowd, primarily young men but including individuals of all ages, never stopped lining up to leave notes remembering Iwata. Many of them took photographs of the memorial, too. At some point the origami bird fell over.
Luis, the security guard, picked up the piece of elegantly folded Nintendo-themed paper and carefully sat the figure upright once again.