Nintendo kicked off sales of its new 3DS portable gaming handheld on Saturday night, midnight Eastern time.

The launch was a managed extravaganza, like other big video game system launches in recent years. The point was to celebrate the launch and create a viral chain of lust for the new system, which can play stereoscopic 3D games without the need for special glasses. Nintendo hopes the hardcore gamers will get excited about the system and spread their infectious enthusiasm far and wide.

Reggie Fils-Aime, (pictured right), president of Nintendo of America, was on hand at the Best Buy store in Union Square in New York to hand out the first 3DS as the rest of a big crowd waited outside in frigid temperatures. Michael Vitelli, (center) head of Best Buy in the Americas, handed over the first machine.

Midnight launches are a tradition in gaming; Microsoft staged an event in Times Square and gamers lined up across the country in November to get their hands on the new Kinect motion-sensing system. Nintendo hasn’t had a launch as big as the 3DS event since it debuted the Wii game console in 2006.

The man at the head of the line today at Best Buy was Isaiah “Triforce” Johnson (above, left, and in picture on left) who waited all week to get his pre-ordered 3DS. Johnson said that it was his own tradition that he had to live up to. Early on during his wait, a Best Buy manager told him he had to leave and even called the police on him, Johnson said. All seemed forgotten as Johnson got the first machine for $249, plus $40 for each game.

“Now I’m playing with power … the power of 3D!” Johnson announced as he held up his 3DS next to Fils-Aime.

Nintendo will get good publicity from the launch and from Fils-Aime’s appearance on Friday night on the TV talk show Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Fils-Aime demonstrated the AR Games and Face Raider games, which are built into every 3DS. Fallon was appropriately ecstatic when Fils-Aime started shooting tennis balls at the image of Fallon in Face Raider.

Meanwhile, you’ll see lots of Nintendo 3DS ads on TV and just about everywhere else. Nintendo may sell out of the gadgets, but the key thing it has to cement in everyone’s mind right now is that this is the “must have” gaming system of the moment. That’s why the marketing blitz happens, even though Nintendo will likely have no problem selling out its initial supplies.

Nintendo gave a special carrying case to the first 300 people in line. Hot dog vendors and other food trucks served food to those standing in the line in New York. Starting at noon on Saturday, Nintendo staged live music and demos of games for the crowd.  Hundreds of others besides Johnson were also waiting their turn. See more photos of the launch at Joystiq and check out the video of Johnson below. Here’s our review of the 3DS.

[photo credits: Nintendo and Joystiq]


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