A little while ago we attended HYPER Japan in London, an event which was heavily supported by Nintendo UK. Nintendo has shown support for similar Japan-centric expos around the world, with Shigeru Miyamoto originally planning to attend Japan Expo in Paris until, unfortunately, he had to withdraw due to his father's ill-health in mid-June — we wish Miyamoto-san and his family our best wishes.
Nintendo's booth at HYPER Japan was comfortably the largest single exhibitor space at the event; more importantly, it found a balance between showing off games and also providing an attractive, spacious and comfortable area, which was also a trend to some degree at E3. We've been to expo booths for all three major manufacturers and, in the past, they've often been cramped and crowded affairs — Sony's effort at EGX 2013 was relatively bad once you stepped towards the Indie and 'mature' sections, though Nintendo's area at EGX 2012 was easily the most uncomfortable. In this case at HYPER Japan the only remotely 'small area' was a small section that was home to Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS, though this was at the end of a queuing system — not much time was actually spent in this section. In fact, the space was split up into multiple zones by a 'cross' walkway, which we'll assume was a riff on Smash Bros.
That's not to say Nintendo didn't bring a lot of content, as we counted 21 different games that were available to play, ranging from previously released titles to upcoming releases first shown or revealed during E3. New Wii U titles included Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Hyrule Warriors and Bayonetta 2; the latter two were slightly out of the way and hidden, presumably to set them apart as mature games. Other Wii U games included Mario Kart 8 and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.
The 3DS options were similar in the main area, though Nintendo cleverly opted to show a few titles perfectly catered to fans that are primarily into Japanese culture — Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy was on show, in addition to the long established Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millenium Girl. Throw in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate and even a singing area for Wii Karaoke U, and you had plenty of key areas that blended nicely with the HYPER Japan vibe.
Beyond the lengthy list of games, though, the key to what made the area work so well was its layout and desire to engage with attendees. Away from the main demo booth area was a section for the Official Nintendo UK Store, which consisted mainly of clothes, bags and displays of limited edition 2DS and 3DS systems. Whether it was for logistical reasons or a strategic choice, no hardware was available to buy, which was a little disappointing; the one exception to the rule was that Tomodachi Life was available to purchase. That tapped into the theme behind the store, which went for a homely approach with comfortable stools and an assortment of available 3DS games on demo units. It was a spacious area that let attendees relax a little, and clearly targeted young games in particular with established titles and the recently-released Pokémon Art Academy. Along from that was a rather random but fun antique-styled chair surrounded by Monster Hunter merchandise; plenty grabbed the chance to pose.
The amiibo display was the best-presented we'd seen yet, so much so that we published a gallery of the figures, while the star of the show was an enormous screen fronted up by couches and some space for standing spectators; it was actually made up of 25 individual screens that we reckon were roughly 40 inches each.
A similar setup — in terms of the screen — was at E3 this year, of course, and it provided a perfect platform for showing off the Wii U. The main attraction was Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, though to actually play that demo attendees had to play the 3DS entry, with each play session in that area actually being part of a tournament. Every hour the 3DS winners would duke it out on the big screen, which was a clever way to attract attention to the booth as a whole; the game looked terrific. It would have perhaps been ideal for Nintendo to offer standard demo booths for the Wii U entry, but the goal was clearly to promote the upcoming 3DS release and tease the HD equivalent. Between Smash Bros. battles the large screen also played host to Mario Kart 8 races and trailers for the major titles on the way.
Overall, the Nintendo booth at HYPER Japan — like that seen at E3 and perhaps a little more-so — made an effort to combine simple demo opportunities with interactivity and a promotion of Nintendo culture. It loosened the metaphorical neck-tie of the company just a little to emphasize that its systems and games are all about shared experiences and fun, with tournaments and displays also doing that most important of expo tasks — selling the brand. Amazingly, Nintendo could do just that with little gaming competition from other publishers; Bandai Namco had a booth that was nice but — it seemed — not particularly busy, and that was it. We were amazed that Sony, for example, with the PS3 and Vita bursting at the seams with Japanese games, didn't attend; that was all the better for Nintendo.
Moving forward, that interactivity and engagement with those that go to major expos and events needs to maintain that approach; we'll never completely get away from the core concept of queuing and playing a short demo, but if you can make the area around that experience more exciting, then all the better. We're certainly pleased to be playing a part in adding some extra buzz and fun with our own part at the upcoming EGX 2014, too, with the Mario Kart 8 Championship 2014, which will have a live final at the same venue.
As a blueprint for expo booths, alongside the appealing effort at E3, it's an approach that should become the norm.
Anthony Dickens — a personal perspective
It was my first time visiting HYPER Japan and Nintendo’s booth brought a welcome familiarity to an otherwise unfamiliar but intriguing environment. Their super-huge screen was visible from quite a distance and was consistently drawing large crowds as Smash Bros. for Wii U was shown off; people were queuing around the booth to get their hands on Smash Bros. for 3DS – as expected, the highlight of the show. The large selection of titles was nicely laid out with plenty of space to move around even during busy times – organised by upcoming games and already available games. The biggest addition, apart from the huge screen, was the introduction of a pop-up ‘Official Nintendo UK Store’ retail outlet which seemed to go down well with its – ever so slightly limited – selection of merchandise. In other words, the Hyper Japan booth was probably Nintendo UK’s best booth so far… roll on EGX London.