"I could use a nap and some breakfast."
That was the victory speech from Mike W. in Brooklyn as he walked out of GameStop with thein hand. ("I'm kinda supposed to be at work right now" was his excuse for not providing his full surname.) He began his morning around 5:45 a.m. ET as number 36 in line at a local Target, only to be told around 7 a.m. that they only had 33 in stock. Racing down to GameStop on nearby Fulton Street, he hit the jackpot: With 19 units on site, he was near the front of the line.
For the the Fulton Street GameStop, communication was the name of the game. A poster on the door listed how many SNES units (and wireless controllers) were in stock, and a staffer outside the locked door handed out reservation numbers. Once the magic number was hit, he made sure that everyone knew the initial stock was spoken for.
By 10:10 a.m., the initial lucky 19 were in line at the counter, and the sign was updated to "Sold Out."
Just a few blocks away at the Court Street GameStop, the store was swamped with customers picking up their preorders. That store only had an additional four units, which were long gone by 10:30. At both locations, the staff couldn't provide details on when they'd have additional SNES Classic units -- only that they did expect to have restocked supplies in the future.
The fact that day one shoppers were finding any units at all is a testament to the fact that Nintendo ramped up production of the SNES Classic, the $80/£80/AU$120 miniaturized version of the classic 1990s console that comes with 21 built-in games and two wired controllers. The company had pledged that it would havethan it had for the entire run of its predecessor, 2016's NES Mini, which was notoriously difficult to find.
Nintendo stresses that stock will be refilled into 2018. And the original NES Mini? That's, too.
Treasure Truck hits Manhattan
The stock situation was similar in Manhattan's Herald Square, where the GameStop there sold out of its allotment of 16. But an alternative arrived in the form of the, which parked just a few blocks south at Fifth Avenue and 28th St. Amazon's roving pop-up store was also selling SNES units in 17 other US cities, too.
Full disclosure: The bulk of the CNET staff in our New York office -- just 2 blocks away -- emptied out just minutes later.
Waiting in the Bay Area
As the sun rose in California, the situation was about to repeat itself on the West Coast.
But first, we tried -- unsuccessfully -- to take advantage of Walmart's unique midnight launch at its 24-hour stores. "As soon as I saw this line, I didn't expect to get one," said Santosh, a 33-year-old software product manager who was surprised to find himself at the end of a 100-plus person queue at Walmart's Milpitas, Calif. store. (36 units were available.) Matthew E, a "robot wrangler" for Singularity University, did walk away with a console -- but only after spending 8 hours in line.
"I want to have that feeling again, opening that box of an original Nintendo product," Mike, a 27-year-old smokeshop manager, tells us around 5 a.m. in the parking lot of another Walmart. "This is what got me into gaming," he says of the Super NES.
As one of just 50 people waiting outside the Almaden Expressway location, he manages to nab one of 36 units when the store opened an hour later. (Angeline, a 24-year-old nanny who camped out for 8 hours to be third in line, says this exact Walmart only had six units of the NES Classic last year.)
But camping wasn't necessarily required in the Silicon Valley. It actually might have been the exception to the rule.
Fewer than 15 people were lined up at the Blossom Hill Toys R Us location at 8 a.m., and only one stayed overnight: Fei, 47, a business services manager who was determined to secure an SNES Classic after missing the NES Classic last year -- despite arriving at 2 a.m. then.
This time, bundled up in three jackets, she spent 12 hours waiting outside the store starting at 8:30 p.m. Thursday night. "Because we didn't get one last year, it was in me this year," she says, as a Toys R Us employee begins to distribute complimentary cups of Starbucks coffee and Oreo cookies to the tiny line. She jokes with her partner Earl about how he's the gamer, to which he replies that she's the enabler for camping out overnight.
(The employee suggests that there are more than enough consoles in stock for the short Toys R Us line.)
Just down the street, the Blossom Hill GameStop location had a similarly small group of individuals all but guaranteed to walk away with an SNES Classic. (Only 10 people, compared to the 15 units the store claimed to have on hand.) Then again, we only had the number in the store window to go by -- no staff appeared to be present by 8:30 a.m.
We also spotted a few people waiting in line at the San Leandro GameStop as the clock ticked down to its 10 a.m. PT opening. But unlike the New York and San Jose locations, there didn't appear to be a sign in the window with the stock levels. Note that someone did come out about 15 minutes later, handed out tickets (9), and put up an inventory sign.
But it wasn't until we tried Target and Best Buy that we saw how much closer Nintendo has come to satisfying (very early) demand. The Camden Avenue Target offered a full 90 units, despite only having 58 customers in line by the time it opened its doors at 8 a.m. Thirty-two additional people were able to walk right into the store, line up at the electronics counter and purchase an SNES Classic. Only three people left disappointed when Target sold out, half an hour later, and a rep suggested they try another Target store instead, which had an even greater allocation of 120 units.
(We often heard savvy buyers whispering they already knew how many units each store would have -- by quoting Brickseek.com, an online inventory tracker.)
And at the Almaden Best Buy location, supplies of the SNES Classic seemed tremendous: Every single customer who arrived by the store's 10 a.m. opening got a ticket -- at least 80, by our count -- no matter how many times an employee had to go back for another stack of tickets between 7 and 10 a.m. (A Best Buy employee was still left holding a sheaf of papers when the doors opened.)
None of this means it didn't pay to get up early for an SNES Classic, or that it was particularly easy to just stroll in and buy. (Excited buyer Israel, the first in line at a Target in Alameda, Calif., got there at 9 p.m. Thursday night -- but another customer, Justin, still had to arrive by 6 a.m. to obtain his lucky ticket number 50.
In our small sampling of stores, it almost always took some level of dedication to snag an SNES Classic. When we asked buyers why they got up early and spent part of their Friday to secure the console, the answers were almost always like this one from Justin:
"It's nostalgia in a box. It's most of my favorite games. Super NES was, in my opinion, kind of the best system of all time."
If you're a '90s kid -- and didn't prefer Sega Genesis, of course -- that might sound about right.
Our SNES Classic Edition review: Nostalgia this perfect is a rare thing.
How E3 2017 rebooted our childhood: In 28 images.