Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Club Nintendo's out: Does it deliver?

After much time hoping, dreaming, and wishing, Club Nintendo has finally gone live in North America. After the stellar service available in Japan and the somewhat lackluster equivalent in Europe, nobody knew what to expect here in North America. Is Club Nintendo the answer to our freebie-wanting dreams, or is it an over-expensive, underwhelming insult of a program?

First off, any good service has to be quick and easy to set up and use. As of today, Club Nintendo is not one of those services. While the process itself is simple, the website takes forever to load and commonly logs out users within a handful of minutes. Due to this, I had to fill out a survey more times than you could imagine because I kept getting logged out halfway through it. I have 27 games registered, but I swear I filled out over 40 surveys. I really hope these are just a few hiccups due to the service just launching, or else Nintendo's got some esplainin' to do.

Registering for Club Nintendo is fairly easy, especially if you have an old My Nintendo account kicking around. My Nintendo members simply enter their old username and password, add in a bit more info, and off they go. If you're not a My Nintendo member, you just have to add in your mailing information in addition, nothing more. Either way, it's a fairly fast and simple sign up process.

Registering a game is quite simple as well. Just copy the code off of a piece of paper included inside the game case (Lost the paper? Sorry, pal, you're outta luck!) and type it in. If the game's eligible (See below), the survey automatically pops up (If it doesn't for one reason or another, it's easily accessed later on). As for the surveys themselves, it's pretty generic stuff. "Where did you hear about this game", "What made you want this game", "Where did you buy this game", etc. If only I didn't have to fill out some of them 3+ times...

Club Nintendo uses coins as its virtual currency, with Wii and DS games worth 50 and 30 coins respectively, and all WiiWare and Virtual Console games being worth 10 coins (The only exception to the above is Wii Fit, which is worth 80 coins). Of course, only Nintendo-published titles are valid, and even then some not released within the last little while may not be worth anything. Furthermore, you can get bonus coins for registering a game close after its release, marking a game as "Intend To Buy" and then buying it later on, and completing a "Post-Play Survey" soon after a game's launch to give feedback on the title.

When it comes to buying things, the currently available rewards cost between 300 and 800 coins. After registering 27 games and filling out all the surveys for them, I gathered a total of 1010 coins. It took exactly 20 registrations to get 800 points, and that's a combination of both Wii and DS games. The absolute least amount of games you'd have to register for an 800 coin reward would be 16, all Wii games, and, as I said before, all valid first- or second-party titles.

Redeeming coins for a reward is, yet again, a simple process. Just choose the reward you want, confirm that you want it, and BAM! It's on its way. Now, I've run into one small problem here regarding my "Reward Order Inquiry". The problem, specifically, is that I haven't received it yet. The order page says it should be available within 30 minutes, but here I am, many hours later, and nothing. Nothing in my inbox, nothing on the homepage. The only proof I've even paid for the Game & Watch Collection is the deduction on my transaction history page. I can understand some minor stuff not working right, but something as important as a virtual receipt? That's pretty severe, Nintendo.

The only proof I have as of now that I actually cashed in my coins

As for the rewards themselves, I'd place them somewhere between Europe's Stars program and Japan's Club Nintendo on the "Awesome-O-Meter". There are currently 11 different rewards available, all of which can be seen here. Just look at those two 800 coin rewards: Game & Watch Collection and genuine, old-school-style Hanafuda card. If those aren't awesome, I don't know what is. One more step down are the 600 coin rewards: A game case containing seven styli with room for nine DS cards, a white DS game card case and a Club Nintendo Mario hat-shaped DS game rack. Those DS card/styli cases are sleek and stylish, the white DS game case looks protective and comfortable to hold, and that DS game case rack is three kinds of awesome. Next up (Or down) are two decks of playing cards, one Mario Party-themed, and the other Animal Crossing. As if Animal Crossing didn't take up enough of my life before, along comes this deck of cards... Oh, if only I had 290 more coins! And the last two rewards are a DS Lite case and a Wii remote/Nunchuk holder, costing 400 and 300 coins respectively. While the DS Lite case looks stylish and comfortable, the Wii remote/Nunchuk holder just screams "useless". I know I'm not the only one who sees that case holding a cold drink.

The North American Club Nintendo is, as of now, somewhat better than the European equivalent that charges crazy amounts of Stars for cell phone backgrounds and computer wallpapers, while most everything worthwhile costs way too much and is pretty much constantly sold-out. Nothing, though, can beat the incredible Japanese Club Nintendo, with its many different exclusive DS games such as Exclamation Warriors and Tingle's Balloon Fight, SNES-shaped Classic Controllers, a Wii remote that works on your TV, and several game soundtrack CDs. You just can't follow an act like that! So despite it falling far short of the astounding Japanese Club Nintendo, the North American version has a great selection of rewards. And what's more, they're all physical objects instead of the myriad of wallpapers and ringtones the European Stars Catalogue has.

Overall, I'd say I'm satisfied with the North American Club Nintendo, even with the constantly bugging-out website. I just hope I get that Reward Order Inquiry soon, or else I may have to dip into hell on Earth... Automated customer service.

EDIT: My Reward Order Inquiry has finally showed up in my inbox. It only took it, oh... 26 1/2 hours longer than it should have to get here. Not too happy about that...

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NOTE: Partway through writing this article, I attempted to log into Club Nintendo and received the message "Due to high traffic volumes, the sign in function may not be working properly." While it's fine and good that Nintendo put this little message in, really, shouldn't they have anticipated this traffic? You think they'd know better than to be caught off guard by now...

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