Welcome to the club
You know how youll buy ten sandwiches at that corner shop to eventually earn a free meatball sub? Well, some years ago, Nintendo decided to take that approach with its games, rewarding its fans with free stuff for buying the publishers products. And now, after Club Nintendos ups and downs (if you believe the internet, mostly downs), Nintendo is pulling the plug on the global service.
As someone who registered literally hundreds of items with Club Nintendo, I was as sad about the programs demise as anyone. But Im not here to bury Caesar, Im here to praise him! There are so many great things Club Nintendo gave to company diehards over the years, whether it was something physical, digital, or just a modest sense of community. And now, as Nintendo preps a new approach to rewarding consumers, lets look back on the many great (and even not-so-great) aspects of disappearing service.
The special merchandise
Easily Club Nintendos most obvious highlights were all the physical items you could earn. After registering games and accruing hundreds of coins or stars (depending on region), you could get all kinds of Nintendo memorabilia that couldnt be found in stores. There were posters, playing cards, pins, folders, and much, much more - though the prices didnt always make sense. You had to register six games to get a tiny Mario badge? It was a bit much.
Out of the many things I got gratis from Club Nintendo (even the shipping was free!), my favorites were the practical items. Im not 15 anymore, so a set of posters doesnt do much for me, but Mario hand towels? A desk rack for storing DS carts? A Pikmin tote bag? Historically accurate recreations of old hanafuda cards and Game & Watch machines? Now those are things I can (and do) use in everyday life.
The exclusive games
Nintendo didnt restrict Club Nintendo to physical releases either, as games were also claimable. However, as nice as it may be to receive a free port of Super Mario Land for a few hundred coins/stars, Club Nintendo also hosted a number of free titles you couldnt get anywhere else. In the US, the practice began with an early version of North Americas Club Nintendo giving away the indispensable The Legend of Zelda: Collectors Edition for registering a couple games. And the exclusives only grew from there.
Grill-Off with Ultra Hand! is an early reward that gave many Club Nintendo alums a set of Wii minigames based on Nintendos grabby toy of the 1960s. The team behind the Punch-Out!! reboot pit trainer vs. trainee in Doc Louis Punch-Out!!, an extremely rare Wii download that only North American Club Nintendo folks could get in 2009. And then there were the Game & Watch Collections for DS, exclusive (and very simple) recreations of some of Nintendos earliest games. All of these could only be claimed by Nintendo devotees ready to register every game under the sun - or those ready to pay big bucks on eBay.
The bonus items
Just about every publisher has gotten into the business of fancy freebies and extras for preordering the next big sequel. Yet, Club Nintendo was where the N took a different approach from its competitors. Instead of giving you some exclusive costume or gun, registering a particular game with the service could net you soundtracks, posters, new characters, or even a hefty amount of store credit.
Registering Ocarina of Time 3D got you a CD version of the soundtrack, and you were similarly rewarded for registering both versions of Super Smash Bros. in 2014. Add Kid Icarus: Uprising to your account and youd get a set of AR Cards not offered in US stores. If you bought the combo of Fire Emblem: Awakening and Shin Megami Tensei 4 (games that any real RPG fan was going to buy anyway), you got $30 in eShop credit. And then theres the exclusive DLC attached to games like Hyrule Warriors and Smash Bros. 3DS/Wii U. In retrospect, Nintendo couldve done this type of stuff with way more games, but whenever we did get a special offer, it always felt worthwhile.
The end of the year awards
If you were a particular level of Nintendo obsessive, you registered enough games to qualify for either Gold or Platinum tiered rewards once a year. Being a crazy consumer, I ranked Platinum every year and for a time collected some really cool stuff offered on the North America store. I got a pretty detailed Mario figurine, a Mario hat I wear on special occasions, and the aforementioned Doc Louis Punch-Out!! It was fun for a time but then the rewards started to go downhill.
Exclusive games and figurines are impressive, and look even better compared to the tiny desk calendar, and shoddy set of pins that came down the line. As the years wore on, it seemed like Nintendos heart just wasnt into the Platinum rewards anymore. I get that sending out stuff all across the country is pricey, but if youre only going to offer a small set of playing cards instead of an exclusive figure or hat, why even bother? Those rewards felt like a last minute gift your uncle bought you on the way to your birthday party.
The seething jealousy towards the Japanese rewards
Speaking of not being happy with what youve got, any Club Nintendo member outside of Japan would be routinely filled with rage when they saw the cool stuff that never left the island nation. See, Club Nintendo had been running much longer in Japan than in every other part of the world, so that branch had a lot of momentum behind its freebies. So, if you want to preserve your sanity, you may want to head to the next slide before seeing what items stayed in Japan.
When it came to games, Club Nintendo Japan released an impressively odd remake of Balloon Fight that cast lovable weirdo Tingle as the lead. Theres also the fanservice-laden card game Nintendoji, and an exclusive digital rerelease of the underrated Advance Wars: Days of Ruin. But my eyes get extra green when I see the non-game rewards, like an anniversary soundtrack for Luigi, or CDs for the stellar Super Mario Galaxy orchestral scores, or a couple of fashionable Mario and Luigi handbags, or a Wii Classic controller that looked like a Famicom joypad. But the exclusive, ridiculously rare Chotto Mario-themed 3DS is the easiest to covet of Japan's freebies. Just try finding one of those online for less than a grand.
The handy list of every Nintendo item you ever bought
Reaching the end of Club Nintendo has gotten me all nostalgic, so I headed to my account and looked back on everything I registered. Its a loooooong list, with over 350 items registered over the last 11 years. Though that includes demos and game updates, so Im not as crazy as that number seems. Aside from reminding me that Ive played a LOT of games since 2003, that registration list is also an unexpected journal for my fandom.
Thanks to Club Nintendo, I know it was September 26, 2013 when I decided to try Hakuouki: Memories of the Shinsengumi, and that I first played Elite Beat Agents two days after Christmas in 2006. Where were you on June 14, 2005? Because I know I had just opened up a Nintendo DS. As a gamer, its easy to lose track of the when and where of it all, but if youve been devoted to Club Nintendo through its entire run, your history with the company is chronicled for more than a decade.
Zipping through the consumer surveys
Its easy to remember Club Nintendo for all the free crap it delivered, but that ignores all the hard work involved in actually acquiring the lovely junk. To score those coins/stars, you had to register a game and then spend valuable minutes filling out lengthy questionnaires for your purchase. Having a pile of surveys to complete could feel like a real chore, but after doing dozens of them, you realized out how to fly right through them - mainly by not giving a fuuuuuuuuu...
That part that asks for a number? Put in 99 or 22 or whatever, it doesnt matter. Nintendo wants you to explain what you liked about the game in 150 words? Type in gdfsgsdgonsdnsgokn. The system cant tell the difference - and I dont write reviews for free. The last seven years of my surveys couldnt have been all that useful to Nintendo, but all I know is that I got my hands on that free stuff much, much faster.
The original artwork
I want to take one last moment to spotlight the extra effort Nintendo put into the freebies, including some stuff that many didnt notice. When it came time to design a set of hanafuda cards, the cover to a CD soundtrack, or a tote bag, the company couldve slapped any old art on the giveaways. Instead, Nintendo put the work to get their top class artists to create brand new portraiture for Club Nintendo.
Look at those highly stylized cards above! Stare at that calendar cover! And marvel at the energy and excitement crammed into the Super Mario 3D World soundtrack case! Not everyone noticed, but if you were paying attention, Club Nintendo was like a secret gallery showcasing the companys talented art team.
What does the future hold?
Club Nintendo will soon be no more, but what could take its place? Nintendo says it plans to roll out a new customer loyalty system, but will I be able to get a new tote bag when it debuts? Will my catalogue of previously registered games simply vanish? So many questions without answers. In the meantime, please head to the comments section below to share your own Club Nintendo memories as the service rides off into the sunset.
Need to console yourself with more Nintendo features? Check out this dense list of Nintendo trivia, and 40 obscure facts and random trivia about Super Mario.