What will the epitaph for the Nintendo 3DS read? “Here lies a system that sold over 65 million copies internationally.” Or, “The 3DS: come for the Mario, stay for the Final Fantasy rhythm game spin-offs.” Maybe, “R.I.P. to a crazy device with a crazy screen where you used a stick to control a screen and not your finger.” The platitudes that will spell out the death of the system are endless, but with the Nintendo Switch right around the corner, I can’t help but be a little apprehensive about the longevity of the pint-sized portable system.
I was never too interested in portable games. That was, until I decided to get a 3DS. The 3DS effectively changed my view on portable games; for the first time, I felt portable games were no longer left to themselves, but could wholly compete with the best console games. That it took great, sizeable games, and tossed 'em on a measley cartridge. That I could stick my 3DS in my purse or pocket, and resume a hefty game like A Link Between Worlds anywhere on the go. My 3DS was, to be corny, my link between worlds: tethering fleeting puzzle games, dress-up simulations, deeper RPGs, and everything in between to my boring, lonely commutes. While I unabashedly have loved the 3DS over the years, it’s time for it to be laid to rest.
The reason for this is because it's hard to see a future for stylus-directed touch screens, a foothold for Nintendo devices since the Nintendo DS was ushered into existence back in 2004. Nintendo's first stylus-directed touch screen was of the dual screen variety; first for the DS, and later the 3DS. Its home console, the Wii U, teetered with the dual-screen functionality again. Though this time, the controller itself was the player's second stylus-directed screen, and the tv was where most of the action happened.
As what befell the Wii U's GamePad, in recent years, I’ve seen games for the 3DS hardly utilize the bottom portion of the touch screen. It’s a lovingly useless square, fit only for inventory management or, in most cases, nothing at all. The screen, of course, originated from the portable system before it: the DS. And at the start of the DS’ lifespan, that touch screen was the source of all its innovation, from the likes of noggin-working exercises in Brain Age to the perky tap-a-long melodies of Rhythm Heaven.
Nintendo's always been a company that boasts their inventive hardware first and foremost. Like when the controller evolved into a motion-controlled stick with the Wii, or when the Wii U helmed a tablet as the controller. For the upcoming Switch, Nintendo's flaunting a new kind of innovation: all of their previous ideas crammed into one single piece of hardware. (Oh, and "HD Rumble" I guess.) It's a console that advertises at-home accessibility as well as all the perks that come with portablity. Despite a (to be frank) shitty battery life, the appeal of taking typically at-home-only console games on the go is a concept that piques the interest of most, myself included. And because of that simplicity of its message, it may just dig the grave for the 3DS.
Though that doesn't change that the 3DS is, without a doubt (no matter how controversial what I’m about to write is), my favorite handheld portable console. The 3DS is backwards compatible, where there's access to an immense library of DS games that I missed out on (being the one person in the world who never owned a DS). That's in addition to the Virtual Console titles from the past. But that's not giving credit where it's due: the 3DS has dozens upon dozens of great games on its own, and with a glance at my bookshelf, it’s easy to see why my 3DS section holds the most games. The 3DS was the handheld console for everyone: casuals, kids, teenagers, and adults.
I didn’t get my 3DS at launch. I got it nearly a year later. Before it, I had a Gameboy Advanced and Color. Later, I was a semi-avid player of the PSP, and then the Playstation Vita. My handheld gaming was bound primarily to the wasteland of those Playstation platforms, which meant I hardly played handheld games at all. And while I enjoyed the games there, it wasn’t really until the 3DS that I saw the magic in handheld games. It’s the platform where Nintendo took a chance with smaller puzzlers and platformers like Pushmo and BoxBoy!; where I re-fell in love with a freshly reinvented Pokémon; where I finally played an Animal Crossing game (and later, its enjoyably relaxed interior design simulator).
But with the Switch on the horizon and dominating Nintendo’s sights, there’s not much on the pipeline for the 3DS now. There’s Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, a remake of 1992’s Fire Emblem Gaiden, releasing on May 19. The game creation software RPG Maker Fes will release sometime this summer. But other than that, it’s crickets for the console.
When I sat down to write this piece, I wrestled with what truly set the 3DS apart from its predecessors, and other portable devices in the world. Was it its immense portability? Was it its updated version’s switchable (hah) cover plates? Was it the sheer size of its library? Was it the fact that I could play Corpse Party, and turn around to play the polar opposite: Style Savvy: Fashion Forward? Or was it just because of that dang Badge Arcade Bunny, bringing brightness to my day? I realized, it’s probably all of these things, and none of them. In all truth, the 3DS wasn't really anything special or industry changing. It was just well-rounded, simple piece of hardware that happened to have everything any sort of player could want, and be accessible.
In the past few months I haven’t touched my 3DS. It’s resigned to a spot on my bookshelf, where dust frames its seat next to my obsolete Vita. There will come a time when I revisit it, but with hardly a care for Fire Emblem and a Switch on the way, I don’t see my stylus greeting its touch screen anytime soon. And so, I bid adieu to the 3DS, and its needless touch screen. I'm onto greener pastures... (The Switch baby! Puny launch line-up and all.)