There's a legend about the Switch's release that involves hackers, an NES game, and the late Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. You probably heard parts of it, particularly the bit about the secret NES Golf game. But fans who followed the tale over the course of a year found that it might have even more meaning than we previously thought. In one of the most touching secrets in gaming history, Iwata may have been wishing us luck from the afterlife.
The Secret Of NES Golf
Most good stories start at the beginning, so let's rewind to the release of the Nintendo Switch. It came out in March of 2017, and over the following summer people reported finding some secrets in the Switch's code. Including an emulator for an old game. The story wouldn't spread until September of that year. Many gaming reporters revealed what exactly the hackers had found.
According to these hackers, the secret game in question was Golf, a 1984 title for the NES. They immediately saw it was a tribute to the late Satoru Iwata, who was the sole programmer of Golf. Iwata lost his life to cancer in 2015, never getting to see the success of the Nintendo Switch. The idea of Golf on Switch being a tribute became even more apparent when one person revealed how to activate the game.
In order to access the Golf game, you have to meet three strict conditions. First, it has to be July 11th, the day of Iwata's passing. Most people would think to change the date on their console, but the Switch is prepared for that. If the console is ever connected to the internet, it becomes synced with real world time. Even turning on airplane mode and trying to brute force a time change won't work. Thus the second condition: have a Switch that's never been connected to the internet (unlikely) or buy a new one just for this trick (even more unlikely).
It turns out, however, that a few internet users did have spare unopened Switches lying around. That allowed them to bypass the date issue and activate the third condition: make it July 11th on your fresh Switch and do Iwata's famous gesture. The one where he sticks both hands out towards the audience. One person took a video to show what happens when Golf is successfully invoked.
The Disappearance Of Golf
The news broke in September 2017, mind you, so those following the story missed the June where they could try this out. The goal then became to wait until June of 2018. There was just one little problem...
During December of 2017, a Switch update took away Golf. That meant that, save for those few who used an unopened Switch to manipulate time, fans were never given a chance to activate the hidden Golf game. According to Kotaku, Nintendo denied several requests for comment. Without any official word on why Golf was there, or why it was removed, fans could only speculate.
The Big Theory - A Blessing From Iwata
A lengthy post chronicling the saga of the hidden Golf ends with a touching theory. The secret game was an omamori, a Japanese tradition that in very simple terms could be described as a good luck charm.
Omamori can be bought at shrines, and are often seen in Japanese shows being given to students before exams. A common form is the little cloth bag pictured above, which holds a written prayer. Here's where it connects to the Switch Golf: an omamori is not supposed to be opened. You're supposed to carry it around with you but never open it lest you release the blessing. That explains why Golf had such specific unlock conditions. People weren't supposed to actually open it. It was just a blessing the Japanese developers tucked into the Switch in Iwata's honor.
The tradition of omamori also explains why Golf disappeared. An omamori's blessing is said to expire at the end of the year, after which you are supposed to cast it into a sacred fire. The update that took Golf away happened in December. Right at the year's end. Again, Nintendo never confirmed any of this. But many fans choose to believe it, because Iwata did a lot for Nintendo and deserves to be honored. Considering how well the Switch did at launch, it's not hard to imagine that his blessing really was being cast from the afterlife, giving Nintendo one last push into the future.