We're just days away from the launch of the Nintendo 3DS in Europe and North America, and although the launch line-up is peppered with good games — read our 3DS reviews if you don't believe us — for many there's still a nagging feeling the launch day games aren't quite as original as they could be.
The DS had a similarly divisive launch day line-up: arriving with a flawed version of bona fide classic Super Mario 64 DS, the machine's new inputs and dual screens ignited a creative spark in some developers. Sonic Team's joyful Project Rub (Feel the Magic XY/XX) landed alongside the console and showed off what the touch screen and microphone could do, though the less said about the other brand new properties — the PictoChat-aping Ping Pals and woeful love sim Sprung: The Dating Game — the better.
With the 3DS, the day one launch line-up has just one new IP, submarine title Steel Diver, and even that began life as a DS game. Elsewhere the list is populated by big, familiar names: Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell and more. Many gamers looking to 3DS for something completely new have voiced their disappointment.
There's an argument that new hardware is the perfect time for innovative games, as developers can try out the machine's new capabilities in a way that will wow early adopters: Red Steel for Wii was a commercially successful blend of blades and bullets, and the aforementioned Project Rub was only possible with the DS's new features. With 3DS however that simply hasn't materialised: why not?
One of the biggest reasons, of course, is risk. Publishers pour millions of dollars and countless years into establishing their franchises, and starting a brand new series is a costly and potentially risky business. Although the marketplace for games is at its smallest at launch, meaning less competition for games, it's also a time when gamers' wallets are most stretched: dropping $40 a game on top of the $250 for the console is a stretch for many consumers, who would likely pick the franchise they know over the one they don't on their trip to the tills.
The major problem isn't that these are new entries in established series, it's that many games are tweaked conversions of previous releases, with Ubisoft being the chief culprit. Rayman 3D has been released on numerous consoles already, including the original DS at its European launch, and Splinter Cell is a conversion of Sam Fisher outing Chaos Theory. Even Capcom's key title Super Street Fighter IV is a conversion from HD hardware.
It's not to say that there isn't innovation within the games themselves: the use of the camera function in Steel Diver and the AR functionality in Nintendogs + Cats are both brand new. Many use the new StreetPass and Play Coins features too, with some chucking in online play to boot.
Looking back through previous console line-ups, it becomes apparent that the 3DS games list is part of a steady decline in new IPs at handheld launches. GameBoy Advance launched with four new properties: Shin'en shooter Iridion, GT Advance Championship Racing, Konami Krazy Racers and Pinobee: Wings of Adventure, and the DS arrived with three. 3DS, with its sole new series, is just part of a software slump.
Clearly when gamers line-up for their 3DS consoles at one of the many launch events taking place around the world, they'll be surrounded by familiar box arts and big name franchises. The day one line-up may not be full of fresh new experiences, but there are innovative titles in the works: the button-free Cubic Ninja, sonar shooter Dream Trigger 3D and Yuji Naka's Rodea the Sky Soldier are just three.
Time will tell, but for now, day one purchasers have some interesting decisions to make. Our full list of Nintendo 3DS reviews should make those choices a little easier.