TGS: Smash Bros. is Japan's Destiny

TGS: Smash Bros. is Japan's Destiny

Big game launches take over Japan just like they do the U.S... though the games in question tend to be different.

Having just arrived in Japan from the U.S., I experienced almost a kind of culture shock to land in a place without a single Destiny ad to be seen.

Activision has basically carpet-bombed the West with television ads, billboards, and even a crazy Newsweek takeover to promote their new super-sized shooter, but here there's nary a scrap to be seen. You have to go out of your way to find a hint that the game even exists. You could probably find a copy at a huge mark-up in of those grimy dungeon-like stores in Akihabara or Nakano that specializing in catering to the tiny percentage of social outcasts who dig "yoge" ("European games," the blanket slang term for any game originating outside Japan — sort of the spiritual inverse of "JRPG"). Oh, and I did interview a Japanese developer yesterday who wanted to know if I'd played Destiny. There was a gleam of envy in his eyes when I said yes.

But this isn't to say that the pop culture landscape here isn't dominated by an inescapable video game presence. It's just that instead of Tokyo's collective eyeballs being held hostage by Destiny takeovers, they're instead held thrall by Nintendo's all-encompassing brawler: Dairantou Smash Bros. for 3DS, which debuted about 48 hours before I landed at Narita International. And already, it's sweeping the nation's Street Passes.

Just look for the inverted Swiss flag.

And this is going to blow your mind, Westerners: Everybody Street Passes in Tokyo. You know how you have to go to a nerd convention like PAX or Comic-Con to fill your plaza in less than a week? Here you just walk to the train station. By the time you sit down, there's a pretty good chance you'll have to clear your Street Pass queue. And about two-thirds of the people I've encountered here are playing Smash Bros., with only a tiny rebellious handful of holdouts clinging to Animal Crossing, Monster Hunter, or Pokémon X/Y.

And, given that 3DS is basically the only dedicated console anyone actually uses in Japan anymore, you can safely say that Smash Bros. has a hammerlock on the country's gaming populace. I've never seen Street Pass uptake of a single game like this in the U.S., even when I've gone to major conventions days after the launch of a massive Nintendo fan-bait title like Animal Crossing or Mario Kart.

Small wonder, though. Smash Bros. ads are everywhere. Billboards, posters, and most of all a campaign targeted at the city's major commuter train stations, where millions and millions of people pass each day. That's a lot of eyeballs soaking up a multiple ads at nearly every stop. I've seen several different ads; a local friend tells me they're designed to target the demographic at each stop.

Just as Shibuya is the most internationally famous image of Tokyo, so too does Shibuya station's ad go with the popular characters. (No, Japan doesn't love Link or Samus, at all.)

So crowd-pleasing Shibuya station, with the Hachiko statue and the massive omni-direction "scramble crossing" intersection, gets the mainstream characters. Akihabara, which caters to otaku super-fans who gravitate toward risqué adult content, gets a poster of the game's more fanservice-oriented ladies like Samus and Lucina, while posters in stations frequented by fashionable women get the company's female mainstays, Peach and Zelda. And so forth.

It's a pretty clever bit of ad targeting, and it's one of those things that could really only be possible with Tokyo's hyper-specific district-based culture. Even New York City doesn't get quite this granular with its neighborhoods. I guess you'd use the Shibuya poster in Time Square, and maybe the Duck Hunt Dog at the Meat-Packing District? I don't know.

Well, anyway. Based on the evidence of all the Smash Bros. icons I've had to scroll past in my Street Pass plaza regardless of where I travel in the city, the campaign is clearly working. If Nintendo were really smart, though, each poster would have a map leading people to the nearest electronics shop where they could replace their 3DS slider pad after Smash Bros.' frenetic play destroys it...

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