Nintendo made a big deal of augmented reality at 3DS' launch, but it's all gone a bit quiet on the gaming-on-your-table front aside from scant appearances as extra modes in titles like Kid Icarus: Uprising, or in its various uses in horror games that don't cut it.
The 3D overlay technology, through which games and avatars can appear to dance across any surface of your choosing, is still very much the fashionable thing, though. Sony hopped onto the train with PlayStation Vita and there are an increasing number of efforts for iOS such as AR Defender; the market is ripe and ready for more. Could Nintendo use the interest in AR games, and its small existing portfolio of such mini-games, as leverage to push traffic towards the eShop?
Six cards were nestled in the 3DS box on launch day, unlocking worlds in which you could battle fiery serpents that emerged from the hidden depths of your coffee table, fish for koi in your carpet and scribble over the walls of your apartment without invoking Bowser-level wrath from your landlord. The earliest game that could be considered '3DSWare', Face Raiders, was also bundled in so that you could shoot friends, family, cats and magazine cover models in the eye. In the console's initial days, augmented reality was as much a selling point for 3DS as its headline autostereoscopic 3D screen.
It's perhaps surprising then that there have been so few further AR experiments in 3DS' first year. Pokédex 3D brought AR 'mon onto your screen but didn't do much else, and Japanese release Denpa Ningen RPG hasn't reached us yet. Other aspects of the system, such as StreetPass, have received updates, but not the poor old augmented reality suite. There are surely plentiful opportunities to expand upon the existing games: 'find the country'-style educational games on the palm-sized globe, new monsters to enrage in Target Shooting, further poses or actions for those famous Nintendo characters unlocked through the unique cards.
If Nintendo wants to up the pace of online uptake and digital sales over the next few years, developing more AR games could be a good way to go. When Sony released PlayStation Vita it aped Nintendo by including a pile of fancy blue cards in the box to use with free AR software. Its approach differed in that the games playable with them weren't pre-loaded onto the system – users had to log on to the PlayStation Store, signing up for a PlayStation Network account in the process, to claim their titles. Thanks to this clever incentive, Vita owners were introduced to Sony's downloadable wares from the very start.
The creation of new AR games could be an important cog in the gears of Nintendo's online strategy. It's still a cool new thing that people like to mess around with, and by releasing new titles solely on the eShop, for free or even a small but impulse-appetising fee, there's a decent chance that the store would enjoy a greater number of digital footfalls from new users encouraged to connect their systems online for the first time. Those fresh-faced users would not only get themselves some clever new games to show off to their friends, but also become more aware of the Internet capabilities of 3DS. They might even spend money on other products that catch their eye.
The revelation of two new Pokémon AR apps suggests Nintendo isn't done with this arena yet, but there's plenty more opportunity with augmented reality. More unique, simple titles along the same lines as the existing AR software would appeal to the largest range of people, but there is always the chance to take bigger IP in new directions. Perhaps Mario could find himself leaping from the arm of your sofa, with multiple marker cards used to map out a course. A new Star Fox could have the crew battling Andross around an unsuspecting pet. Or, for a real money maker, the return of Game Boy Color's Pokémon Trading Card Game — with Kid Icarus: Uprising-style physical cards and pop-up characters — would be feverishly welcomed by many.
Do you think that the eShop could benefit from new AR games? What would you like to see Nintendo do with augmented reality? Let us know in the comments below.