Another week, another major 3DS announcement. That may be an exaggeration, but it is nevertheless true that the 3DS has had a busy first six months in the market. Since the device launched we’ve already heard about disappointing sales, a number of delayed 3DS titles from third party developers, Nintendo’s decision to drastically cut the retail price of the system and the associated Ambassador’s Programme for early adopters. The latest development is the second Circle Pad expansion, unveiled in a sneak scan of Famitsu magazine earlier this week. With the caveat that Nintendo have not officially announced this device, which is more than likely due in a press event on 13 September, we explore some precedents for this kind of expansion, and what this add-on could mean for the future of the 3DS.

We’ve been here before, right?

A lot of reaction to the leaking of the second Circle Pad add-on has been an expression of surprise at the form factor, in that it is literally attached to the console in a cradle. It’s worth pointing out, before we look at the expansion specifically, that Nintendo has a track record of producing peripherals and add-ons that integrate directly into existing hardware. Our first example is the DS Rumble Pak, which was placed within the original DS and DS Lite GBA cartridge slot. Released in North America around a year after the device, it took longer to reach PAL regions and was available as part of bundles or as an individual purchase. While it wasn’t exactly a failure, issues of limited compatibility with games meant it wasn’t essential for DS owners.

Whereas the DS Rumble Pak nestled neatly in the GBA gamecard slot – unless you had a full sized Pak in a DS Lite – the Wii MotionPlus was a different beast entirely. When originally launched in summer 2009, two and half years after the Wii hit stores, it was a clip on device that increased the size and weight of the Wii Remote. The MotionPlus delivered much improved motion tracking ability, as showcased by Wii Sports Resort; this was functionality that, some would argue, was expected of the Wii Remote in its first iteration. A major issue has been the lack of quality software that has utilised this peripheral, to the point that many of the devices will have now gathered a hefty layer of dust. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword will utilise this technology as a major part of gameplay; a much needed, but late, boost for the device.

In some respects, the Wii MotionPlus is a valid comparison for the upcoming Circle Pad expansion on the 3DS. It represents a feature that many thought should have been included in the original hardware, and arrived as a fairly crude clip-on device. When considering the second Circle Pad, we should think about whether it will follow precedents set by MotionPlus and other expansions such as the N64 and DS Rumble Paks. Questions of what the device can deliver, along with issues such as game compatibility, the practicality of the form factor and what this could signify for the future of the 3DS, are all worth addressing.

So what will this extra Circle Pad be used for?

It seems, if the preview scans of Famitsu are accurate, that this expansion will be released, or perhaps promoted as, a peripheral to be used with the upcoming Monster Hunter 3 G, which could release in Japan by the end of the year. Despite reports of controls that allow camera movement with shoulder buttons and the touch screen, the second Circle Pad would allow camera movement similar in style to Monster Hunter Tri on the Wii, when played with the Classic Controller or Classic Controller Pro. Despite the alternative camera control options, as well as the remarkable success of the Monster Hunter series on the single-stick PSP in Japan, the option to comfortably move the camera with this expansion is appealing.

Beyond Monster Hunter 3G, any game that involves a third person perspective in a 3D environment will benefit. In addition, there are other game genres that could make good use of this peripheral. First person shooters spring immediately to mind, as anyone who enjoys this genre on either of the HD consoles will testify. In some respects, however, the 3DS does not seem like a console that will boast a significant number of FPS titles, but perhaps that is the point; this could be an effort by Nintendo to change that perception. Another example is sports titles such as Pro Evolution Soccer or Fifa, where dual stick gaming is utilised for more accurate actions such as precision passing. The additional shoulder buttons that the device provides will also be perfect for sports titles. If developers have the appetite to bring dual stick console experiences to 3DS, this peripheral gives them that opportunity.

To be a success, it needs the games

The biggest challenge, of course, is getting these games onto the 3DS. As mentioned previously, the MotionPlus represented a leap in controller functionality, but there wasn’t sufficient software support. It's clear from its actions in recent weeks that Nintendo is trying to bring third party developers on board. Dropping the console’s price in an effort to boost the user base, and now an expansion controller that gives the 3DS parity, in terms of basic functionality, with more ‘conventional’ gaming controllers, there is a willingness to adjust to the needs of third parties. This is a far cry from the individual, “do things our own way” spirit evident in the early days of the DS and Wii.

The peripheral is confirmed, as we’ve reported, but it will be interesting to observe any supportive comments that may emerge from major developers following the official announcement. The Wii U has benefited, in terms of early impressions, with vocal support from industry big-hitters. Nintendo can only hope that this adjustment to the 3DS control setup will enjoy the same support, as well as tangible game releases in the future.

But why now, and what does this mean for the console?

What is striking about this news is not necessarily the functionality, as a second Circle Pad for the 3DS is a bonus, but the timing of this leak and the potential effects this product will have on the 3DS lifespan. On the first point, as highlighted earlier in this article, the 3DS has already seen some major upheaval in its relatively short existence. Less than six months after launch, a peripheral is unveiled that upgrades the 3DS controls; many buyers barely have the device out of the box and a new, official peripheral is all over the Internet.

While we won’t speculate about the aesthetic appeal of the expansion until we see some formal announcement images – rather than magazine scans – it is worth considering why these control options weren’t within the original 3DS design. Considering the short time frame between the emergence of the peripheral and the console launch, it leads to a few theories. Perhaps this expansion was planned for release at a later date, in which case its been brought forward in response to the pressure the 3DS is under. Alternatively, this could have been planned all along, as part of an aggressive marketing strategy to maintain a high-paced development of the 3DS, grabbing headlines by introducing a new control option alongside a prominent game release in the form of Monster Hunter 3 G.

The possibility that we sincerely hope is not true, is that this is a precursor for a new 3DS design; a possibility on which Nintendo aren’t keen to comment. Coming back to Wii MotionPlus, the separate unit was replaced by the streamlined, all-in-one Wii Remote Plus around 16 months after the original peripheral was launched. Judging by the speed at which the 3DS is changing, in terms of price and functionality, there are rumours flying around the web that a re-modelled 3DS is already on the way. Of course it will arrive eventually, but we hope that the early emergence of the second Circle Pad doesn’t prompt a premature ‘3DS Lite’, before the original 3DS has its own time in the sun.

What do you think?

So, those are some of our thoughts, ideas and concerns about the Circle Pad expansion, with some reference to peripherals of days gone by. We want to know what you think. Is this expansion/peripheral a good idea or should it have been in the original 3DS design? Do you think it will be supported by enough quality games, and are you concerned that a re-modelled 3DS is already on the way? Let us know in the comments below.