PAX West 2023 was made a little more special this year thanks to the presence of Nintendo Live, a massive fan-focused convention celebrating iconic Nintendo games, franchises and hardware. While a similar event has taken place in Japan in recent years, this marked the first time the event has been held in North America. And while tickets were free to the public, they awarded at random to interested PAX West attendees (and people who entered a lottery system via Nintendo’s website), so not everyone who was interested in going was given the opportunity to attend. Fortunately, I was able to check out the event on behalf of Nintendo Everything, and there was a lot to see and do for those willing to wait out the massive crowds.
While some media outlets were given special access to the show, I attended Nintendo Live the same way almost everyone else did – with a ticket. I didn’t win either of the drawings, though – in fact, less than a week prior to PAX starting, I didn’t think I would be able to attend at all! Fortunately, a very, very kind Reddit user named Demi1221 had an extra ticket to the event and graciously gifted me their spare, no questions asked. I am incredibly grateful for this kindness from a total stranger, and I plan on finding a way to pay it forward myself!
My ticket was for Sunday, and I made a point to get to the Seattle Convention Center early. The entrance was tucked away a bit – in a traffic tunnel, believe it or not – but signage made it easy to locate. And it wasn’t long after that I found myself facing a staggering site. Nintendo had set aside four massive ballrooms just for the line to enter the event! I asked an employee, and they said that on Saturday, at one point three of the ballrooms were full of people waiting to get in – and the line was hours long. Needless to say, I was very grateful I arrived when I did. I killed some time by sifting through my recent StreetPass tags on my 3DS.
During the check-in process, I was given a Nintendo Live tote bag filled with some little collectable trinkets, including a very cool gold Nintendo Live coin and a Super Mario Bros. pin set. Anyone who was a My Nintendo member could also visit another booth during check-in to receive an additional Super Mario Bros. Wonder pin, plus some Platinum Points credited to their Nintendo account. Very cool!
Just before 10 AM, Nintendo staff started letting groups of folks into the next part of the convention center – and here, people had a choice: get in line to buy merch from the pop-up-shop, including some clothes and collectibles exclusive to the event – or enter Nintendo Live as soon as the doors opened. To make the whole situation even weirder, the pop-up-shop wouldn’t start selling to customers until 11 AM (despite having staff literally standing at the counter), so anyone who waited in the line would potentially be missing out on at least an hour of low crowds in the event space itself. I asked a rep why I they were doing it this way, and they told me they thought it was to make the event less about buying stuff and more about having fun. It makes sense on paper, but at one point in the day the line was so long it stretched outside into the courtyard (and had a wait of at least two hours), so I’m not sure how well that whole strategy worked for them.
I was really excited for the event itself, obviously, but I also had my eye on a really cool limited edition Switch case that I didn’t want to miss out on. It seemed like a good idea to visit the shop before the lines got too long, so I took my place in the merch line. At about 10:30 AM, I started having second thoughts about where I wanted to be… I glanced into Nintendo Live and saw how empty it was. I could be off playing Super Mario Bros. Wonder RIGHT NOW, I thought to myself. Plus, I had coverage to put together on the event later, and a busy PAX schedule later in the day. What’s a nerdy reporter to do?!
This was when I met a very awesome person in the line with me named Jay. Jay heard me voicing my plight, and he mentioned he was planning on waiting in the merch line anyways, so he offered to pick up some stuff for me so I could go check out the event! It was an incredibly kind and cool thing to do. I thanked him profusely and we took a selfie together. Jay is just one of many, many awesome people I have met at PAX this weekend, and I have no idea how I keep running into them, but they seem to be everywhere. If you’re reading this Jay – thanks for being a cool cat!
Finally in the event itself, I was a little caught off guard by how many booths were set up and how much it looked like there would be to see and do. I made a beeline for the Super Mario Bros. Wonder section, and it was impressive, with probably about 40 demo stations set up, many able to accommodate multiple players. I actually got to play the demo twice – once by myself, and once with a couple who also seemed to be excited for the game! (We’ll be sharing our preview of the game in a separate article, so keep an eye out for that!) It was a great time, and they even gave out another pin to people who played the demo. This was definitely my favorite part of the event.
Beyond Super Mario Bros. Wonder, there were several other places to play games as well. While Super Mario Bros. Wonder was the only upcoming game to have a demo station – all other games at the show were ones that had been out for some time – I think there was a good variety considering the size of the event itself. A few third-party games had booths, including Just Dance 2023, LEGO 2K Drive and Disney Illusion Island, but Nintendo also had dedicated stations set up for specific games. I stopped by the Pikmin 4 booth, as believe it or not I have yet to find the time to play that game myself! A very friendly Nintendo rep walked me through the demo, and it was a great way to try out the game. There was also a Pikmin Personality Quiz station (I’m a red Pikmin, apparently) and a photo area with some very cute Pikmin statues to pose with.
Game demos and photo ops were the two main elements of Nintendo Live, and I would say made up the bulk of what there was to do at the show. Some of the booths had amiibo interactivity as well, although I didn’t personally see many people using that component during the event. As the day went on, the lines for all these activities got considerably longer, to the point where staff needed to cap the lines to keep visitors from blocking aisles. At one point, the line to take a photo in the (admittedly very cool looking) Animal Crossing area was about 45 minutes! I settled for taking some photos from afar for these, only waiting in lines that were reasonably short. I couldn’t say no to taking a photo with Car-by, though. There was also a whole space that was crafted to look just like what we all fantasize a 1980’s living room looking like.
Other stations were set up where people could play Nintendo Switch Online games, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, Splatoon, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and more. Some of these areas were set up with a stage area so people who were selected to compete in the various tournaments they had going on could do so. One stage I couldn’t quite access was the area where the Nintendo orchestra was performing songs from the The Legend of Zelda series (there were also performances with songs from the Super Mario games, too). These performances required a special type of ticket to get seats for called Warp Pipe Passes – and while free, they apparently were “sold out” within minutes of becoming available online a month or two ago. Luckily, it was a nonissue as the whole performance was easily viewable from the show floor, and the music was able to be heard from a ways away – I just didn’t have a dedicated place to sit. That wasn’t an issue for me, but I could see it being more of a consideration for families with kids.
There were a few other activities scatted about – including a LEGO area where attendees could build a small LEGO Yoshi to take home, and an area called the Mario Dojo that looked like a competition stage (but rarely seemed to be in use). I found some more photo ops, including the van from The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Every now and then, a character would come out and be available to pose with guests for photos; folks were very excited when a chonky Kirby began waddling down the aisle. “Make way, give him lots of room!” the Nintendo events staff declared as the pink puffball slowly marched through the convention center, taking up literally the entire width of the walkway. It was truly a delightful sight!
The more I poked around the show floor, the more I noticed interesting displays tucked away, including a collection of retro Nintendo handhelds and Pokemon games going back to the Game Boy, and some oversized props from the Super Smash Bros. series. Come on, you can’t tell me these Bayonetta boots aren’t sick as hell.
The one thing they didn’t have at Nintendo Live 2023 were any sort of food or drink options. I don’t think this was a huge issue as while the event was cool to experience as a fan, it wasn’t an all-day experience. I suppose if someone really wanted to see and do everything at the show it probably could be made into that (with most of that time being spent in lines), but personally, I had seen and done all my “must-do” activities after a few hours. As a free event adjacent to PAX, I’m grateful Nintendo Live 2023 exists as an additional thing to do, but I don’t think I would personally plan a whole trip around this.
If Nintendo brings Nintendo Live back next year, and I hope they will, I feel they may need a little more space for the event. If they were to expand into a bigger part of the convention center, but keep roughly the same number of attendees, it might help the event feel a bit less claustrophobic. I think the event would benefit from having more things to do – perhaps some more demos for unreleased games or some guest speakers/panels. All things considered, this was the first time in a long time they’ve hosted an event of this scope in North America, and it’s clear that the events team at Nintendo really put their all in to making it as great of an experience as they could. If they were to keep all the elements that worked well, and seek out other opportunities to enhance the experience of guests, this could be the big annual Nintendo fan convention that diehard and casual fans alike have all been waiting for!
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