Will the 3DS be relevant?

I wrote, quite negatively, about the Nintendo 3DS a couple months ago, when its lack of launch titles and low battery life were announced. Now that it’s out, we’re hearing that demand isn’t quite as strong as Nintendo would hope. This would be a shame if I didn’t despise the idea of 3D technology. Can’t say I’m not a little gleeful.

We got a chance to play the thing, and…is the 3D important? Will it be relevent? That’s why you go under the cut!

You know, the 3D is pretty impressive. It’s not running around screaming impressive, but it’s definitely 3D without glasses. It’s a little wobbly, but there’s a definite height to what I’ve seen, and I have to admit, it’s relatively neat.

The problem is, is it redefiningly neat? The DS allowed for completely new types of games. The Wii did, too. These were game changers, that allowed for fundamentally different experiences. The difficulty the 3DS is going to have is that that’s not necessarily true of 3D. 3D is neat, sure, and it’s well implemented here, but the 3DS is the first Nintendo console since the Gamecube to be entirely graphical. That’s what it boils down to: you’re not going to get different experiences from the 3DS that you wouldn’t be able to get from the DS, except graphically. It’s a hardware update, and, especially for $250, it feels decidedly like an underwhelming one.

If you’re wondering about games, the one I played was the packed in alternate reality one. It definitely showed some neat tricks: it’s a good example of the 3D, and it’s a trip to see something appear in the real world. Moving yourself to play the game is interesting, but its functionality is limited: while it brings that Wii sort of motion gaming to a handheld, you’d have to be absolutely bonkers to take it anywhere with you.

What other games did I play? Silly reader, the 3DS doesn’t have any other games. This isn’t like with the Wii, where we said it had no games but it had a couple killer apps. The 3DS, legitimately, has no games. It has a port of Super Street Fighter, and Nintendogs and Cats. That’s it. What does it have on the horizon? Nothing confirmed for the next couple for months besides virtual console. That’s doom number one for the console. Sure, it can be overcome (the DS didn’t have a lot of launch titles, or good games until Kirby’s Canvas Course came along), but it’s a hole that’s been dug, and unlike the Wii and DS I don’t know if it has the pure potential to hook customers.

The other launch problems are the big elephants in the room. The price tag is the first. $250 is a lot of money, especially in this economy, especially for a console which doesn’t revolutionize the way we play games. They can rationalize it however they want, but most people don’t spend $250 on video games in a month (I sure don’t, except in times of great trouble!) This means they’re competing with months of releases, and if I say to myself, “I could have Dragon Age 2, LA Noire, Portal 2, Shogun 2, and Pokemon Black or a 3DS!” I wonder which one most people would pick. Especially when the console’s games are more expensive, and there aren’t any, anyway.

The second elephant is portability. I didn’t get a chance to put the battery through any sort of paces, but I believe reports of a relatively short battery life. And this is very problematic, especially with the price. The combination of them means that I am more likely to compare the 3DS with a PS3 or Xbox 360 instead of with a portable; in effect, this is the PSP curse. My friends with PSPs rarely use them outside of their houses. This explains, in large part, the system’s failure: it had to compete with the PS3, rather than being a truly portable device. The 3DS feels like that. It doesn’t feel like something you’d take on a trip without a charger, which is kind of a shame.

All this contributes to the bigger answer to the question, can the 3DS be relevant? I’m optimistic that it’s got a shot, but I’m not holding my breath. Quite frankly, it doesn’t have too much going for it, and with no killer app on the horizon, there’s not a whole lot of reason to own it, unless your DS breaks down.


  1. David

    It’s spelled “relavent”, btw 🙂

    • David

      Correction: relevant

      • Tom

        Yeah, I always do that. Except usually I have spell check to remind me.

  2. David

    Spell-check nitpick aside, I’ve read that Nintendo could have put a much bigger battery in the 3DS, but that would have pushed the price to $350 or more.

    I’ve greeted the whole thing with a giant sigh of indifference, but that doesn’t really say much for me because I’m not a handheld gamer.

  3. Tim

    It will certainly do a lot better than the Virtual Boy.

  4. So, I’m not sure that’s quite fair to say it’s not relevant. It bothers me that you seemingly downplay the huge technological leaps, and focus only the shortcomings of the system. I’ll admit to being a Nintendo fan, but far from a fanboy. I’m not a huge fan of the games, but love the technology that pushes more than just graphics.

    That being said, will it be relevant? I can’t see it not being relevant–even if the system launched with more of a beta firmware–why is that bad? The firmware can and will be upgraded, to include a wide feature set. True there are few games at launch, but that hardly spells doom for any console — if the lives of consoles were determined in the first few months of launch, Sony would never have taken off. To claim that because at launch there really aren’t any good games, and therefore won’t be any good games is pretty foolish. Designing a 3D game is fundamentally different than designing a 2D game. To assume the devs will be able to, right out of the gates, be able to design something that really uses the 3D capabilities in a new, innovative and “relevant” ways is pretty naive.

    Even the Wii when it launched didn’t have anything great– and to be totally honest there’s still a lot of crap out there. But there are also some amazing games. And lets face it – when the Wii launched with it’s new control paradigm that it was just as a fad wasn’t relevant to gaming as a whole. Instead, it started the casual gaming movement, and with it, helped bring social gaming mainstream. Pretty huge impact on the game industry, if you ask me, even if indirectly.

    The battery life does suck. But it will get better- the 2nd Gen 3DS will no doubt improve on this, but even within the 1st gen 3DS, firmware upgrades will continue to increase battery life. Currently playing I get about 5-7hrs average. Not great, but tolerable for the time being.

    As for the 3DS not being sold out everywhere – that does not in any way shape or form constitute that the 3DS is not selling — and in fact, if you look also on Industrygamers.com, it’s the fastest selling handheld to date. The fact that it’s still in stock means only one thing when compared with actual sales numbers – Nintendo planned supply well.

    All in all, I think it’s a bit rash to disparage the relevance of a system that’s only a week launched, and has sold hundreds of thousands of units the world over in that time. Especially when Nintendo has in the past had a huge effect on gaming culture as a whole time and time again, I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt in this newest endeavor.

    • Tom

      Maybe I’m just fundamentally uncreative, but I can’t imagine many games that would use 3-D as more than just “lookee here the graphics pop!”

      The differences between the Wii and 3DS, as I see it, are twofold. One, the Wii introduced motion control, which was, and still would be, absolutely revolutionary. The 3DS is a graphical update with a fair bit of novelty and not a whole truckload of actual gameplay relevancy. Two, the Wii launched with Twilight Princess and Wii Sports, two games that you *had* to play. The 3DS has launched with a bag of potato chips and a cheap sleeve of hot dogs. There is no game on the 3DS you even have to consider playing right now, and if you look at the future schedule you see…a lot of ports of N64 titles. None of which will really use the 3D capability in any non-graphical way, unless they become entirely different games.

      I’d give Nintendo more benefit, but there’s lots of PSP comparisons that can be made, and it wasn’t so long ago that Nintendo released the Gamecube the same way: graphical upgrade “only”, with no games at launch or beyond (Luigi’s Mansion was torture, not a game). I’m more able to see comparisons to those than to the DS or the Wii, which had major, impactful gimmicks that changed the way we played games.

    • David

      “To assume the devs will be able to, right out of the gates, be able to design something that really uses the 3D capabilities in a new, innovative and “relevant” ways is pretty naive.”

      Actually, it’s not. Unless Nintendo changes their corporate position, they’ve mandated that games be playable in 2D only – which pretty much relegates 3D to gimmick “look at me” status. As there’s more research/feedback about how people react to the 3D images (which seems to be rather widely varied), that may change, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for games that use 3D for brand-new game mechanics.

  5. Ali

    Sims 3 on the 3DS is supposedly pretty fun so far. The top screen does a lot of stuff that’s helpful for when you’re remolding/building a house. There’s also a couple of odd games/game like things you can do on it as well that are kind of reminiscent of Wii party games.