Feature: 3DS and the Trend of Colourful Handhelds

Who needs rainbows?

It’s been on the market for less than a year, yet the 3DS is already available in five distinct colours, with multiple limited edition console designs also in stores or on the way.

The reaction to new colour announcements is always interesting: while some bemoan yet another ‘new’ 3DS hitting the market, many seem to accept it as an inevitability. Looking at Nintendo’s major handhelds, it’s easy to see why colourful variations are expected, as it’s been a trick of the business with every handheld variation. Let’s take a quick look at the history of this trend.

Game Boy to DS, so many choices

To trace Nintendo’s habit of multi-coloured handheld consoles, it’s necessary to go all the way back to the Game Boy. That said, the original light grey model had the market to itself for years after its initial launch. It was in the mid 1990s, as the handheld began to age and revisions were in the pipeline, that Nintendo released a range of new colours, known as the ‘Play it Loud’ series in North America. In the UK, meanwhile, there was a limited edition console with Manchester United branding – not a handheld to play near rival fans.

It was with the release of Game Boy Pocket, in 1996, that the concept of selling multiple variants seemed to take off. A number of new colours hit the market, including some snazzy region-specific limited editions. In fact, there was such a variety of different iterations within a limited space of time that finding accurate historical details of release dates and territories is decidedly tricky. The Game Boy Light was also released with some intriguing designs, though this particular console iteration was only available in Japan.

The Game Boy Color took the concept of multiple editions to a new level with the logo itself, the word ‘color’ written in five different colours to represent the variety of options available at launch. Limited edition models with new colours or designs were particularly common in Japan, while special editions matching particular brands or gaming franchises were also available. A lot of these models arrived within a short time of each other, meaning that a newcomer to the console in 1999/2000 would have – if enthusiastic in tracking down different models – a lot of options from which to choose.

The trend would continue with the Game Boy Advance and the DS ‘family’ of consoles. The GBA SP in particular had a large number of special editions, no doubt due to the possibilities of special designs on the outside case of the ‘clamshell’ design. The similar, albeit larger, design of the DS consoles led to a significant number of special and limited editions, both promotional and released on a larger scale. The modest number of standard colour designs doesn’t seem excessive, but the sheer range of additional designs and themes are self-evident. Some celebrate major anniversaries, such as the Mario DSi XL pictured, while others are exclusive to particular stores or regions.

Which 3DS colour is ‘me’?

Is that a question that current consumers are asking? As our very brief outline has highlighted, buying a Nintendo handheld isn’t a simple process of walking into a store and picking up the only version on the shelf. With the 3DS there are mainstream choices such as Aqua Blue, Cosmo(s) Black and Flame/Metallic Red, other plain colours such as Ice White or Coral/Rose Pink and the rather attractive limited edition Zelda 3DS console. That doesn’t even take into account the interesting redesigns currently on their way to Japan or elsewhere as prize giveaways: the Metal Gear-themed 3DS is an example and gives a new twist on Cosmo Black, while three wonderful Mario 3DS consoles will be up for grabs via Club Nintendo promotions in Japan, Europe and Australia.

On the one hand, it can be frustrating for early adopters and Nintendo fans without a stable bank balance to see attractive handhelds continually roll off the production line: not to mention the outrageously gorgeous Japan-only exclusives. There's probably a reasonable number of 3DS owners looking at their launch day consoles and thinking, begrudgingly, that it’s not as easy on the eye as the latest special limited anniversary edition. Nintendo isn’t alone in this regard with Sony’s PSP, for example, also available in a number of different colours and designs.

So 3DS has clearly wasted no time in expanding its range, and with more on the way there’s one inescapable fact that explains why Nintendo handhelds are available in all the colours of the rainbow: they sell. The practice of releasing multiple versions of these consoles is now over 15 years old, and as the saying goes "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". If it helps the 3DS to succeed like its predecessors, then it’s easy to see why the 3DS designs are already becoming so diverse. Gamers with light wallets, meanwhile, can only look on at shinier, more attractive versions with envy.

What do you think of the different 3DS colours so far, and which do you want to see in future releases? For those of you with special edition Game Boys or DS consoles, which is your most treasured possession? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

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