In Living 3D Colour: A Look Back at the Life of the 3DS
Originally published in 2017, for The Australia Times Games Magazine
On March 31st 2011, Australia bore witness to the first ever glasses-free handheld videogame console. The successor to the phenomenal DS, the Nintendo 3DS was a worthy device, featuring a huge array of amazing games and features that have now become the norm. On the eve of the release of the the next-gen Nintendo Switch, join me, as I look back at the last five years of of the little stereoscopic wonder.
For Nintendo’s faithful, E3 2010 was an unforgettable experience.
Whilst exciting Wii and DS titles were shown off for the first time, like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Donkey Kong Country Returns and Dragon Quest IX, it was the previously-announced 3DS that truly stole the show. Opening with an incredible revival of the long-dormant Kid Icarus franchise, the audience (and viewers worldwide) were stunned by the visual onslaught of Wii-aping graphics, and games ranging from Mario Kart, Paper Mario and Star Fox 3D, to Metal Gear Solid 3, Super Street Fighter IV and Resident Evil Revelations.
Of course, the other big talking point was the 3D feature, which wowed expo attendees, and stole the thunder of the glasses-based offerings of Nintendo’s rivals.
Nearly a year later, and the console was finally released.
The response was… somewhat muted.
Yes, in a strange twist of fate, Nintendo did not have any of its big hitters ready for launch, preferring instead to leave third parties to take the responsibility of shifting the initial batch of units. Titles like Rayman 3D and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory were underwhelming, whilst Super Street Fighter IV – whilst a stellar port – was still just that; a port. On top of that, the eShop wasn’t ready to be accessed, and it came at a later date.
The expensive $350 price didn’t exactly help matters; and although this was actually $50 cheaper than the launch of the PSP, it still nevertheless became the first ever console that netted Nintendo a loss for each one sold.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though. Buyers who decided to dip in were delighted at the built-in software that really highlighted the strengths of the 3DS. Using the system’s cameras and cards that came packaged, we were sampled with a fantastic Augmented Reality program, which let us play minigames which superimposed themselves on the real world, as well as allowing us to take hilarious pictures of Nintendo characters that sprang from the slips of cardboard like cheery phantoms.
Similarly, Face Raiders was a brilliant demo of the camera’s facial recognition system, by creating flying foes with the horrifying visages of your friends, family and pets, and requiring you to actually spin on the spot in order to fend off the relentless waves (thanks to the built-in gyroscopes).
The 3DS also took inspiration from Wii and DS, by implementing Miis from the former, and a passive communication system for the latter. These were called StreetPass and SpotPass, which let you send and receive data whilst your machine was asleep, via wi-fi, and by passing other 3DS users in public. This was an ingenious move which remained integral to its future games, by encouraging socialisation. Also neat were Play Coins, which could be amassed by using the 3DS’ pedometer, and used to purchase in-game content.
These social features tied-in with another thing that made the machine an eventual must-have; StreetPass Games. This was another free app within the console, and initially only consisted of StreetPass Quest and Puzzle Swap. These were addictive games that could only be completed by passing other 3DS users for help, or by using Play Coins to buy your way to victory. Cheekily, you couldn’t farm coins to cheese your way to victory, as only 10 could be obtained each day.
Along with other programs like the Activity Log, 3DS Sound and Internet Browser, it was obvious that the device had a tremendous amount of potential. It was a toy that was positively brimming with clever ideas, not the least of all its actual 3D capabilities.
Initially, major questions were raised about the viability of the effect. Would everyone see it properly? What about those with glasses? Would screen protectors screw it up? Was it safe for kids?
Fortunately, those fears were allayed once people got their hands on the thing, and despite some scaremongering by news outlets, it didn’t make your eyes fall out. The ability to take 3D pictures and videos was truly unique, despite the low quality of the cameras, but was nevertheless welcome.
However, things continued to be rocky for Nintendo. Potential can only get you so far, and sales lagged badly as result. For whatever reason, the company has trouble releasing games in a timely manner, with a slow trickle of offerings providing some respite, like the average Pilot Wings Resort and Steel Diver, and though Ocarina of Time 3D was brilliant… it was still a game from 1998. Thankfully though, it was fully backwards compatible with DS, which was somewhat of a silver lining.
With steady updates, things slowly got better. The fledgling eShop finally arrived with digital content, but it still wasn’t enough to prevent Nintendo’s first fiscal loss in 30 years.
It was this moment that, in my opinion, things truly changed.
First, then-Nintendo president Satoru Iwata made a move that truly cemented his position as one of the all-time greats. In an act that was made to alleviate Nintendo’s money mishap, he personally took a 50% pay-cut, before slashing Shigeru Miyamoto’s salary by 40%,, and other high-rankers by 30%.
That wasn’t all. He then cut the price of the 3DS, and apologised to early adopters by knighting them as ‘3DS Ambassadors’, before giving them 20 free downloadable games (10 NES and 10 GBA).
This was an amazingly unselfish move, and proved to be the kick-start the beleaguered handheld sorely needed.
Slowly but surely, things finally started to improve, with constant software updates, and great games that really highlighted what the 3DS could really do.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though. The refusal to add a second analogue stick resulted in the immensely ugly Circle Pad Pro, which was a clunky add-on that was only thankfully used with a couple of games. There was also the uncomfortable business with the Swap Note app; which was removed after a man in Japan used it to lure children, and (rightly or wrongly) reaffirmed Nintendo’s reluctance to offer completely unrestricted communication between users.
After the release of the Wii U, Miiverse was then added, along with the online overhaul in the form of the Nintendo Network. Like its home console brethren, this update allowed the 3DS community to share screen shots and engage in game-specific communities, as well as the much-needed personal account system.
Truly, if there was one thing the defined the 3DS during its half-decade run, it was it’s adaptability.
New features were added on a constant basis, with YouTube and Anime channels attempting to turn the thing into a multimedia centre. It wasn’t exactly high-end, but it was great to see a platform that refused to stand still.
Also receiving a huge overhaul was the StreetPass Mii Plaza, which basically became an entire videogame in itself, with items to purchase, achievements to unlock and many new games that were both unique and wonderful in their addictive simplicity. Developed by a wide range of internal and third party studios, these offerings included StreetPass Mansion, StreetPass Fishing, StreetPass Zombies – all the way to new stuff like StreetPass Slot Racer and StreetPass Trader!
As expected, the aging 3DS hardware was eventually redesigned. Initially bringing the 3DS XL to shelves, Nintendo further muddied the waters of simplicity by creating the 2DS, as well as the New 3DS and New 3DS XL. These latter ones offered a boost in CPU power, as well as a second analogue nub, super stable 3D, and Amiibo compatibility (of course) but were never really taken advantage of, with Xenoblade Chronicles 3D and The Binding of Isaac being the only exclusive software (oh, and Hyrule Warriors Legends, which ran terribly on standard hardware). Though technically solid, these reiterations could be seen as missteps on Nintendo’s behalf, by creating an unnecessary amount of confusion amongst the buying audience.
Despite this, the 3DS eventually went on to sell over 60 million, making it the highest-selling console of the current generation. Though well short of the DS’ 150 million sales, it’s clear that the meteoric rise of smartphones and tablets have severely dented Nintendo’s stranglehold on the portable gaming market, rather than any inherent weaknesses on the behalf of the 3DS. Unfortunately, things haven’t fared nearly as well for Sony’s PlayStation Vita, which has only managed to sell around 10 million, despite being a stellar offering in its own right.
In that sense, the Nintendo 3DS is an end of an era. The last bastion of a family first started by Game & Watch, it suffered an ignoble birth, before eventually rising to glory in the end, thanks to its typical Nintendo-esque quality, incredible games and innovative features. In an age where mobiles make all the money thanks to so many shameless knock-offs and cynical money grabs masquerading as ‘games’, it was such a relief to see that – despite being assailed by soulless money-men and industry analysts to abandon its roots – Nintendo defiantly stuck to its principles, and continued to offer fully-fledged, high quality portable games.
Now that home console and portables have been combined into the Nintendo Switch, and the Kyoto-based firm is dipping its toes into the mobile waters, a very intriguing future awaits!
10 3DS Games You Must Play.
Over its lifespan, the 3DS has amassed a truly impressive library. Not only did the retail games bring the goods, but the eShop was home to an innumerable amount of fresh experiences (which I covered in previous issues) and a huge array of classic titles from bygone consoles. Here, I offer 10 of the most essential games that can be found!
1.) The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
A truly amazing sequel to A Link to the Past, featuring two worlds, the ability to become a flat drawing, and an open structure that lets you complete dungeons in any order! Also available are Ocarina of Time 3D and Majora’s Mask 3D.
2.) Fire Emblem: Awakening
The latest in the long line of Nintendo’s perma-death RTS series, this is sheer addiction, with a wealth of DLC and alternative story options.
3.) Shovel Knight
Pure 8-bit platforming goodness, everything about this reeks of sheer quality, from the movement, to the catchy soundtrack. Also, grab the Shovel Knight Amiibo for co-op action!
4.) Super Mario 3D Land
A perfect hybrid between 2D and 3D, this is so good, Nintendo created a sequel for Wii U.
5.) Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward
A sequel to the creepy 999, this is Saw as seen through an anime lens. A truly gripping plot with multiple threads and alternate endings will imprint this in your psyche.
6.) Pokemon Sun/Moon/X/Y/Ruby/Sapphire
It’s Pokemon. There’s a reason in still popular after 20 years – they are seriously great, great games.
7.) Animal Crossing: New Leaf
You will trade one life for another. This will literally take you forever to complete, and Nintendo went ahead an added even more in a new update!
8.) Super Smash Bros. For 3DS
The amount of content in this fighter is simply mind-blowing. One of the few games I gave a perfect score.
9.) Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
Capcom’s monster slaying series is a massive hit, and it’s easy to see why. Custom fighting styles, hundreds of quests, terrifying beasts, righteous multiplayer… this has it all.
10.) Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon
The long awaited sequel to the Gamecube launch title, this has outstanding visuals, and the 3D effect makes it look like a diorama come to life!
Jeez, 10 games isn’t enough for this list! I didn’t even mention Dragon Quest VII (with VIII and XI on the way), Monster Hunter Generations, Mario Kart 7, Kid Icarus: Uprising, MGS: Snake Eater 3D, Tomodachi Life, Kirby Planet Robobot, Mario & Luigi… look, just buy ‘em all, alright?