Talking Point: First-Person Shooters and the 3DS Circle Pad Pro

Aiming down 3D sights

It's old news that first person-shooters are bigger business within the industry now than they've ever been. Since the advent of online play on home consoles, they have inarguably become the most played genre on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with the latest Battlefield and Call of Duty titles dominating the market. However, FPS titles have remained relatively quiet on the handheld front. The GBA only had a handful of efforts — most notably Doom and Duke Nukem Advance — which was understandable given its limited control inputs, but the DS's distinct lack of FPS games is another matter entirely. After all, the touch screen offers players an incredibly accurate means of aiming a gun, something that was proved in the sublime Metroid Prime: Hunters and also in Activision's annual Call of Duty DS instalments. Apart from these and efforts like Renegade Kid's Dementium II, the less-than-prolific show of force of FPS titles on the DS is slightly bewildering. Likewise, the 3DS is yet to see any examples of the genre with no announcements, at the time of writing, made in regards to future projects.

That could, however, all change as soon as next year thanks to the impending release of the 3DS Circle Pad Pro — as it’s likely to be called in Western markets — the existence of which was initially leaked online along with Monster Hunter 3 G. The official announcement of the peripheral was met with strong reactions from consumers on both sides of the fence. On the one hand it arguably makes the 3DS look a little ridiculous; however, an extra analogue pad and two additional shoulder buttons will present far greater control options and broaden the possibilities afforded to developers creating 3DS games. Upcoming titles such as Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D, Resident Evil Revelations and the aforementioned Monster Hunter 3 G are all based on franchises that have relied on dual-analogue controls on home consoles, so the most obvious benefit is an added degree of control over camera movement.

It's the FPS genre that stands to benefit greatly from the new peripheral and have the most potential for improvement.

But it's the FPS genre that stands to benefit greatly from the new peripheral and have the most potential for improvement. While we'll never definitively know the real reasons behind the general apathy expressed towards releasing FPS titles on the DS up to this point, it may be safe to assume that touchscreen aiming may have presented the biggest hurdle. There's a reason that as of November 2009 the Call of Duty franchises had generated over $3 billion in revenue: it never asks players to stray outside of their comfort zone. With Call of Duty, you know what you're getting year in, year out, and this applies to the controls as well. It's all very well telling your average Call of Duty player that they can now play their favourite game on the move, but if they’re not convinced by holding a DS with one hand and using a stylus to aim, then all the promises of accurate aiming are going to fall on deaf ears.

But the second Circle Pad marks a significant step forward for potentially getting the genre onto the 3DS en masse. Dual-analogue control and four shoulder buttons mean that developers will finally have adequate means to authentically map the controls of home console FPS games to the 3DS, with absolutely no compromises. With the control set-up already in place and the 3DS more than capable of offering the competitive online play that has skyrocketed the genre's popularity in the last decade it should, in theory, be far more likely that developers will be able to entice FPS fans over to their 3DS releases, helping Nintendo cement the handheld as a force to be reckoned with in the genre.

One publisher that has tentatively supported this is Activision; CEO of Publishing Eric Hirshberg has already come out in public support of the peripheral, stating that it was a "smart move" and "made the platform more relevant and compatible to the style of games we make." Seeing as Activision publishes Call of Duty, it doesn't take an awful lot of brainpower to figure out exactly what games he's referring to. And he's probably not thinking merely of initial software sales, but downloadable content as well. On home consoles, enthusiastic FPS fans will happily splash £10/$10 a time on a handful of new maps, and with Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata having already confirmed that the November update will allow developers to release DLC content on the 3DS, it's seems probable that Activision will explore plans for Call of Duty and premium downloadable content on the handheld.

Whether or not this was a deciding factor — or even something that was even given any thought — in Nintendo's decision to develop the Circle Pad Pro is anyone's guess, but it certainly offers extremely lucrative possibilities for both Nintendo and third-party publishers alike. Furthermore, while the peripheral certainly represents a jumping-off point for developers to get FPS titles onto the 3DS in the coming months, this aesthetically unwieldy extension of the 3DS' control inputs finally makes the discussion of a potential 3DS redesign academic. A hardware redesign is more than likely on the way in the not-too-distant future and when it happens, it should open the floodgates for FPS development. The 3DS's updated controls, stereoscopic 3D visuals and significantly lower price when compared to the forthcoming PlayStation Vita could very well see blockbuster home console FPS franchises such as Call of Duty and Battlefield grace the handheld, and this can only be one more positive foothold for the 3DS.

What do you think? Will the Circle Pad Pro expansion bring the FPS genre to life on the 3DS, and does it make these games more appealing on the handheld? Let us know in the comments below.