Talking Point: The Evolution of the 3DS

Learning to walk

On 7th December the latest firmware update arrived on the 3DS, adding new features, functionality and playable content to the handheld. In fact, the system now has a more rounded feel to its functionality, with the current fully updated console boasting significant additions to its original capabilities. We've already put together a comprehensive Guide to the Nintendo 3DS System Update but we’ll outline some of the most valuable changes so far, and what could enhance the 3DS further in the future.

Before the most recent update there was a major upgrade in June when Nintendo added an internet browser, the ability to transfer data from a DSi to a 3DS and, most importantly, the eShop. The lack of the eShop on the system’s launch was a disappointment, contributing to an impression that, arguably, the 3DS was launched too early and under-prepared. The eShop arrival brought with it the ability to buy DSiWare, of course, but also Virtual Console Game Boy titles and 3DS exclusive downloads. The early releases were perhaps underwhelming, particularly in terms of 3DS download titles, but recent weeks have seen a notable step-up in content. With five 3D Classics titles and encouraging entries such as Zen Pinball 3D, Freakyforms: Your Creations, Alive! and the recently released Pushmo, known as Pullblox in Europe, hitting the platform, there is a developing catalogue catering for a variety of gamers.

The latest firmware update, arriving in good time ahead of the holidays, provides another welcome and significant boost in content. Perhaps the most intriguing new feature for creative 3DS owners is the ability to film 3D videos using the 3DS outward-facing cameras. Although the quality of the cameras is low, it’s a fun function that not only allows the shooting of standard video, but also experimentation with settings for alternative colour palettes or even stop-motion videos with the Frame Pick option. The images and videos may be blurry and low resolution, but as an enjoyable extra on a games console, it’s tough to complain.

Also arriving in the latest update was further content and upgrades to the StreetPass Mii Plaza. On the home page there are new menus that show you the regions where you’ve successfully met others through StreetPass, a slideshow gallery to view completed puzzle images, a music player and an achievements system. There’s also an all-new StreetPass Quest, or Find Mii in North America, with more levels, branching paths and a lot of hats to collect: there’s also added depth with potions and the ability to spend Play Coins on reusing Mii characters from your plaza. Finally, this application now receives updates via SpotPass, meaning that new content could become a more regular occurence, welcome news particularly for those who aren't getting many StreetPass hits. In isolation these are all subtle tweaks to the original formula, but taken together they represent a real step-up for the StreetPass app, adding to its status as a quirky and fun extra on the console.

The eShop’s enhancements, though not particularly noticeable to most at this stage, also show willingness from Nintendo to improve its digital platform, introducing new functions that bring the 3DS more into line with competitors. The way that games are purchased has received a more than welcome enhancement, with the ability to top-up funds with a small amount to make a purchase, alleviating frustrations at spending £10 when all you need is £1. You can save credit card details onto your console, not Nintendo’s servers for those concerned about account hacking, so that purchasing funds is quicker. In addition, it’s now possible to select multiple purchases, put your 3DS into sleep and leave it to download them all at once without interruption. These are all simple features, found on smartphones in particular, but welcome upgrades to the eShop, improving some of its clunky original design.

If Nintendo and third-parties use this DLC capability to expand titles beyond their original content, this could prove to be a welcome and thoroughly necessary addition to the console.

The eShop has more upgrades in store that will further bring it into the forefront of gamer’s minds. The capability now exists for retail demos to be distributed as downloads, with the first titles already available in Japan. A concept common on competitor’s home consoles, and to a limited extent on the Wii, it will be a boost to gamers to try before they buy. Also on the horizon is DLC (downloadable content): while this does raise some fears of developers holding back standard content to simply charge for it at a later date, a less cynical view raises the possibility of new tracks being released for Mario Kart 7, additional stages for Super Mario 3D Land or even new dungeons and side-quests in a future 3DS title in The Legend of Zelda series. If Nintendo and third-parties use this DLC capability to expand titles beyond their original content, this could prove to be a welcome and thoroughly necessary addition to the console.

Finally, the Friends List application has received an all-important update. In its launch day form this feature wasn’t particularly useful: it was possible to see if friends were online, read a very short message and see their favourite game, but it wasn’t possible to interact in any way. That was a disappointment, but the recent upgrade has added the ability to join a friend’s online game directly from this area. Coinciding with the release of Mario Kart 7, the ability to pop into this screen and simply join a game is a level of intuitive and instantaneous online connectivity not necessarily associated with Nintendo. With a messaging system also on the way, friends will also be able to exchange more detailed messages in future.

The major firmware updates since launch, alongside features just around the corner, are allowing the 3DS to evolve into a console capable of meeting its consumer's expectations. By releasing major firmware updates regularly in this manner, with significant functional upgrades, Nintendo is demonstrating that it's adjusting to the new gaming landscape. Connectivity and a diverse feature-set are important in modern gadgets, particularly with smartphones that emphasise the fact, and the 3DS is slowly and surely starting to join the modern age.

What do you think? We’d love to hear your opinions on the updates so far, those that are on the way and what Nintendo should do next. Are these features making 3DS a truly ‘next-gen’ console, or is there still a long way to go?

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