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Happy 3rd Birthday 3DS! USgamer Reflects on the Portable's Sometimes Bumpy First Three Years

Has Nintendo's latest portable found a secure place in our homes these past few years in spite of all those predictions of failure?

Three years ago today, Nintendo's 3DS arrived in Japan to widespread predictions of failure. Increased competition – not only from Sony's portable PlayStation devices, but from mobile games whose widespread appeal Nintendo had presaged with the success of the original DS – threatened to take a bite of Nintendo's portable market.

Yet here were are, three years later, and 3DS is doing quite well for itself. While it may not command the enormous marketshare of its esteemed predecessor, 3DS's current success does at least give Nintendo a much-needed fallback position as it struggles to make a viable business of the Wii U. Oh, and also, it makes for a ton of great games: First-party hits, third-party creations from Japan, classic games via Virtual Console, and a healthy selection of entertaining independent software. To mark the occasion, USgamer's biggest 3DS fans have reflected on their feelings about the system... and cracked open our Activity Logs to confess our most-played titles.

Bravely Default: Where the Faerie Flies.
Pete Davison News Editor

I was skeptical about 3DS when it first hit the market. I'd grown to love my DS, but the stuff that was appearing early in the 3DS' lifespan was doing nothing to inspire me and make me want to pick one up. I should have known better than to judge it too early – I felt exactly the same about the DS when it first launched.

Today, I really like my 3DS, primarily for the sheer number of great games that are available for it – though I still leave 3D turned off and, outside of rare outlier cases like Super Mario 3D Land, feel it's a gimmick. Those games, though; they come in all shapes and sizes – sprawling, epic adventures such as Bravely Default and Fire Emblem Awakening, and shorter but just as worthwhile experiences like Attack of the Friday Monsters.

It's a peculiarly diverse platform that has a character all of its own. It's not trying to play itself off directly against the Vita and I think that's good, because Vita's not trying to compete directly with 3DS, either. Both platforms have their own unique experiences and things that they're good at -- to such a degree that I have far less hesitation in recommending a flush-with-cash, price-is-no-object gamer pick up both a 3DS and a Vita than I would recommending they grab an Xbox One and a PlayStation 4.

Fire Emblem: Awakening.

Pete's top three most-played games:

Bravely Default: What more needs to be said about this fantastic game? It's a new Final Fantasy that is well and truly of the old school. A gloriously flexible progression system, social features that add some interesting twists on the usual single-player RPG formula and, of course, "Mrgrgrgr!" -- it all adds up to one of the best RPGs in recent memory, regardless of platform.

Fire Emblem: Awakening: Apart from this one, of course -- although it's a very different beast indeed. Fire Emblem: Awakening is a brutally challenging strategy RPG, yet one that always feels fair. Some great character interactions outside of battle help give a real feeling of context and meaning to what unfolds on the battlefield -- and make it hurt all the more when your actions doom a beloved character to oblivion.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies: It may not be the best Ace Attorney game, but I'll take it -- particularly as it brought the series into 3D with spectacular results. The new 3D character models and environments are full of just as much adorable personality as their original 2D counterparts, and I cannot wait to see what happens to Nick and the gang in the future.

Street Pass: Monster Manor.
Jeremy Parish Senior Editor

3DS has proven over the past three years to be, far and away, my most frequently used game system. I’ve spent more than 700 hours with the system since it first launched, and that doesn’t count the time I’ve spent carrying it around to gather Street Passes and track my walking distance (more than 2 million steps) with the built-in sleep mode pedometer. I’ve migrated my content across four different systems (3DS to blue XL, to the white Animal Crossing system, and more recently to that slick gold Zelda XL, where I suspect it’ll stay). I’ve bought every single damn game to show up on Virtual Console and have made a diligent effort to own as many games as possible in digital form; currently I have almost 200 games on my 3DS, about two dozen of which are full retail releases. And because the games tend to be so compact and memory-efficient, those all fit on a single 32GB SD card. This, friends, is the future.

So yes, I think it’s safe to say I love my 3DS. I didn’t really expect that to be the case when it launched, though. The system made a great first impression at its E3 2010 debut, but by the time it actually arrived it seemed weirdly archaic – the whole 3D fad was already fading away, thankfully, meaning the system’s main selling point was totally moot – and the early software was a whole lot of mediocrity, while the system was priced unreasonably high. Happily, Nintendo moved quickly to rectify those failings, and within half a year of launch the tandem price drop and Ambassador Program strategies helped ameliorate its shortcomings. 

Today, 3DS still kind of feels like a relic from a different era of gaming… but that’s actually why I like it. The system’s modest capabilities prevent the sort of big-budget excess that causes studios like Irrational to take huge risks on expensive games and put everyone out of a job when sales fall short of the unreasonable heights of Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. 3DS fosters smaller-scale, more creative, B-tier projects. It’s console gaming's last refuge for games like Shin Megami Tensei IV, which would have been a headliner on PlayStation 2 but has no place on PlayStation 4. I certainly enjoy dipping my toe in the AAA pool from time to time, but as someone who plays games to play games rather than be assaulted with semi-interactive spectacle, 3DS is a welcome haven for the kind of game experiences that otherwise would only have a home on Steam.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

Jeremy’s top three most-played games:

Street Pass: The secret best game of the generation comes built into the 3DS’ firmware. Between working at a games press office for two years and attending events like PAX and Tokyo Game Show, I’ve spent about 150 hours pushing people through my gates to collect hats, assemble jigsaw puzzles, and more recently Tetris my way through a haunted mansion. Street Passing is, without a doubt, a quiet killer app… I just wish more people in my new hometown would partake. My system’s been lonely since I moved away from California.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf: I didn’t expect much from the latest Animal Crossing, but my cynicism slowly melted away the longer I spent with it. After about 20 hours, I went from lukewarm to enthusiastic… enthusiastic enough to spend another 91 hours with the game before realizing I needed to reclaim my life and play other video games as part of my job. Humble, quirky, and low-key, New Leaf resonated with me in surprising ways.

Etrian Odyssey IV: At roughly 50 hours, this came in neck-and-neck with Shin Megami Tensei IV (which I’ve currently played about 45 minutes less than EOIV). I’m sure eventually SMTIV will take the lead, as I intend to revisit it to experience the other story paths. Then again, I may try EOIV again on hard mode, just to see what it’s like. A perfect distillation of the Etrian series’ key elements — map-making, guild-building, and hardcore turn-based combat — EOIV looks and plays better than any other series in the game, even if its mechanics seem ever-so-slightly simplified compared to the previous games’.

Etrian Odyssey IV.
Mike Williams Staff Writer

As with many consoles, I was a day-one 3DS purchaser. Glasses-free 3D, you say? That's got to be the future, and the techie in me is down with most new tech. I went out, plunked down my credit card and walked away with Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars. 

Three years later? I've cooled considerably on the 3D factor of the system. I tend to keep 3D off unless I'm reviewing a game; outside of seeing the experience for review purposes, it's just not my thing most of the time. It was a nice idea Nintendo, but ultimately I can go without it moving forward. 

I also should upgrade to a 3DS XL, because I can't play my classic 3DS for too long without massive handcramps. Those are the pains of portable gaming when you have big hands.

The system itself is still great and it's seemingly Nintendo's lead platform at this point. Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7, Fire Emblem Awakening, and Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, are all excellent titles that outclass current offerings on the Wii U and third-party offerings are equally strong. Plus, it can play all the old Castlevania DS games I still have sitting on my shelf. Even if my preferences lean more towards the Vita, you can't ask for more than the great ecosystem Nintendo has created here.

Mario Kart 7.

Mike's top three most-played games:

Fire Emblem Awakening: In the absence of a solid Final Fantasy Tactics follow-up from Square Enix, Nintendo's strategy/dating sim is the next best thing. Great character, great overall presentation, and some challenging combat edges out the excellent launch title, Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars. This was my initiation into the series and if previous titles were just as good, I'm sad for missing them.

Bravely Default: I've already said a great deal about Bravely Default in our review, so I'll keep it short here. It's the classic Final Fantasy we've all been waiting for. If you've wanted something in that style and you own a 3DS, go out and buy this now.

Mario Kart 7: The shadow of Mario Kart looms over all. I'm a big fan of the series, so I'm glad Nintendo crammed as much as they could've into Mario Kart 7; seriously there's a ton of tracks in this game. It's one of the system's saviors and stands as probably the best Mario Kart game until Mario Kart 8 graces us this year (fingers crossed). Plus, I'm a 3DS Ambassador, so if there's something I'm missing in 7, I can just jump back to Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart: Super Circuit. One of the few times it's great being an early adopter.

Pushmo.
Jaz Rignall Editorial Director

I wasn’t a big fan of 3DS when it first launched. Its 3D effect looked cool, but it also felt gimmicky and didn’t really enhance any of its games beyond an initial novelty visual impact. Indeed, I found the 3D effect very tiring on my eyes, and they’d start to ache if I played too long. No wonder there’s a warning that young kids shouldn’t use it.

It didn’t take long for me to turn off the 3D effect, and it’s stayed off ever since. My 3DS has also stayed off for long periods of time. There just wasn’t much of interest to me in the early days. The free games Nintendo dished out via its Ambassador program were a nice bonus, but original games that truly appealed to me were few and far between. Things have picked up a lot over the last couple of years, but for the most part, my favorite 3DS games have been remakes and rehashes of things I’ve played before. Many are brilliant – like Ocarina of Time and Mario 3D – but I've only really spent quality time with a few of them.

It also didn't help that my iPhone ended up replacing my trusty DS as my primary mobile gaming platform, rather than my 3DS. I always my iPhone on me, so it was far more convenient for some occasional gaming on the move, rather than schlepping around with an additional device. Plus I found most of the 3DS games I wanted to play weren't as conducive to short "burst gaming" as many of my favorite iOS 5-minute wonders. So my 3DS became a home gaming system, which meant it had to compete for my gaming time against the latest dedicated console and PC releases. Because of that, I don't use it often - but when I do, it’s always for something awesome, like playing these two old Game Boy Color virtual console classics, or falling in love with the re-released Ocarina of Time for the second time. Or indeed, even experiencing the old-school masochistic delights of Etrian Odyssey. At least, just for a bit.

Korg M01D

Jaz's top three most-played games:

Pushmo: A really entertaining, infuriating, head-spinning puzzle game that I still go back to. I love its look and feel – it reminds me of classic Game Boy puzzle games.

Korg M01D: It’s not a game, but I’ve spent more time messing around with this emulated classic synth than most 3DS games. Plugged into my mixer, its rock solid, full-fat sound never ceases to amaze me. It’s like a mini digital studio. I wish there were more of things kinds of emulator on 3DS. I’d be using it all the time.

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages/Oracle of Seasons: Loved every minute of the time I spent with these lovely old classics. Even if I did swear a lot at them because… you know. Old games don’t make take it easy on you.

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages.
Cassandra Khaw Content Editor

I had two Nintendo DSes, both of which were stolen by unscrupulous people of taste. (You know who you are, obligatory ex-boyfriend every woman regrets.) And, in some way, I think that was what led to me being unwilling to adopt a Nintendo 3DS from the get-go. I only grabbed mine last year, after being talked into it by someone close to me (and the desire to be able to review more games). It has been an absolute blast since then. The 3DS's roster of available games seem to sit somewhere in between AAA sensibilities and the kind of eclectic aesthetic which seems to define titles. Yes, someone with a lot of money was responsible for these games but they certainly didn't skimp on the weird (or the cute).

Like almost everyone else I know, it seems, I love the 3DS. Madly, truly, deeply. In fact, I'm so smitten with it that I actually did something I swore I would never do: purchase an upgrade for the hell of it. But I did. And I don't regret it. Unlike Jeremy, I only have a paltry 8GB SD card in supply but it has proven more than sufficient over the last few months. But I might just pick up a bigger SD card for the hell of it too. God knows, that space would be more than pleasing to the side of me that wants a proper treasure trove of games. (Happy birthday, my portable addiction.)

Rune Factory IV.

Cassandra's top two most-played games:

Bravely Default: I really like Bravely Default. I like it enough that I try to make it a point to find time for it, a resource I usually reserve for sleep and sci-fi novels. I'm not even really sure what it is that has me drawn to Bravely Default. Ordinarily, I prefer my JRPGs a little darker - Atlus tends to be my go-to for such games. But, Bravely Default's deceptively simple combat system and wonderfully silly cast somehow managed to hook my attention.

Rune Factory IV: I'm still a little tickled by how much I enjoy Rune Factory IV. Unlike with Bravely Default, which I have solid plans to finish one day, I'm perfectly content with simply putting time into it whenever I can. Maybe, I'll never actually get to the end of it. Maybe, I'll never marry the blue-haired lad my character has been courting. Maybe, but that's okay. It doesn't matter. Rune Factory IV is cloyingly, delightfully cheerful. Everyone is somehow inexplicably optimistic about everything. Nothing about the game makes me feel viciously worried about the future. I know it'll work out. In the meantime, I'll tidy my farm and offer rice dumplings to paramours.

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