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Nintendo aims for the cool kids with Story of the Year and the Fusion Tour

Nintendo has been working hard in recent years to convince the world they can be cool, yet they've never really been able to shake the perception that they're the video-game company for kids. Partially, this is their own doing � from their early censorship of SNES games like Mortal Kombat and Wolfenstein 3-D; to their refusal with the N64 and GameCube to acknowledge obvious industry trends; to releasing a game in which you play drums with Donkey Kong, Nintendo has often seemed mired in a sort of juvenile naïveté. And it doesn't help that they gave the Cube a chunky plastic handle, making it look like something you could bring to the beach.

That could be changing. Like Steve Urkel morphing into suave alter ego Stefan Urkél, Nintendo is making a grab for the more image-conscious market. They're doing it with the help of a half-dozen bands, including headliners Story of the Year, on a nationwide concert spree called the Nintendo Fusion Tour. If the turnout at Avalon last Wednesday is any indication, Nintendo just may have a shot at wresting the cool kids back from the Xbox and PS2.

The Boston show was slated to start at 7 p.m., but openers Anberlin were deep into their energetic set (which included a highly-charged cover of Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence") by 6:30. The all-ages crowd was pouring in � when's the last time you saw anybody catch the first band at a 21+ show? � most dressed to kill. A few parents milled about (most uncomfortably sipping on soft drinks), but by and large the evening belonged to the hip, teen crowd Nintendo is gunning for. But the kids, it seemed, were far more interested in the music than in the Nintendo kiosks set up in Avalon's lobby.

Three games were available for free play: Madden 2005, Super Smash Bros Melee, and a special demo of Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. I'm pretty sure my heart skipped a beat when I saw the Metroid kiosk empty early in the night. I played it for about 10 minutes, and I'm pleased to report that it could be a contender for game of the year. The graphics are more colorful and more expansive than in the original (no mean feat), and in the brief period I played I battled two creatures made out of "dark matter." The graphical effect was stunning as the monsters dissolved into purple, amorphous puddles, oozed around corners and up stairs, and then quickly burst back into shape. The gameplay is fundamentally the same, although Echoes seems a bit quicker and more responsive than the original. I'm now officially stoked for this game.

No one else seemed to be. I watched in bewilderment as one person after another passed the kiosk without giving it a second glance. Smash Bros got its share of four-player action, and Madden was occupied all night. (Two teenagers were embroiled in a game when I got there, and vowed to keep playing all night. From inside the concert hall, we heard Anberlin vocalist Stephen Christian declare, "This is going to be the best show Boston's ever seen!" One of the Madden players snorted derisively, and never took his eyes off the screen.)

By the time the second band, Letter Kills, took the stage, Avalon was packed. Game four of the World Series would be starting in an hour and a half, but that didn't mean much to these fans. From the start, they had their hands in the air, bounced up and down, and answered every call-and-response the band attempted. This was actually pretty refreshing, considering I'm used to seeing shows where the crowd shows its appreciation merely by not leaving.

Naturally, the biggest turnout was for the headliners, emo wunderkinds Story of the Year. With two smash singles in the past 12 months, the band may be living up to its name. One of the hooks of the Nintendo Fusion Tour is that two lucky fans get to take on members of the band in the new WWE game, Day of Reckoning. So far, the band has held its own.

"Usually we win," says Story of the Year vocalist Dan Marsala, "because it's a new game. We have the advantage." He pauses. "We did get beat once, I think."

Not a bad record. But the band, despite teaming up with Nintendo, weren't big gamers until recently. "We all got free GameCubes," says Marsala, "and it's definitely an excellent thing. We've been playing a lot more video games nowadays, that's for sure."

And that, for sure, is what Nintendo is hoping for. If they can forge a connection in the minds of the adoring crowd at the Fusion Tour between hip bands like Story of the Year and the Nintendo brand, then their job is done. Time will tell if it's a last-gasp effort by a foundering franchise, or whether this can breathe new life into the company.

In the meantime, the Nintendo Fusion Tour wraps up November 13 in Story of the Year's hometown of St. Louis (sorry, guys!), so there's still time to try your luck against them in Day of Reckoning. But you'd better bring it, because as Marsala promises, "Phil, our guitar player, is always better than everybody at all video games, no matter what."

Them's fighting words.

Issue Date: October 29 - November 4, 2004
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