Feature: One Year of the 3DS eShop

Happy birthday!

You might not have noticed with a little thing called E3 going on, but last week the Nintendo 3DS eShop turned one year old. Though the service started slowly, not even making it to the system's launch, it has morphed over the course of the last 12 months to become the decent digital portal that DSiWare and WiiWare should always have been. Join us as we don party hats and slice into some delicious 3DS cake to celebrate a year of the download service.

Something outta nothing

The 3DS's online ventures started not with a bang or even a whimper, but a delay. Though the eShop was promised for launch day, it ended up missing day one and arrived a few months later instead, giving Nintendo extra time to get it 'right'. When it eventually did arrive at the start of June 2011, it was thankfully a significant improvement over Nintendo's previous digital store fronts. Not that it would have required much to best the slow, web-based WiiWare and DSiWare channels.

The eShop arrived with a couple of free titles to placate fans: 3D Classics: Excitebike and Pokédex 3D. It was a platform built for speed and ease of access. Nintendo Points were no longer used for purchases; the cost of downloads was now far more upfront, priced in actual money. Virtual Console came to a handheld platform for the first time, starting with Game Boy titles. File size limits were lifted over previous services. Videos and information were available for titles. After a few weeks, Nintendo Video was made available for free download. A decent start, all told.

Little shop of horrors

Yet there were still a few problems; the shop front, though reasonably fast to use, was a single, confusing long line of sub-sections and titles; there were no central locations to find all DSiWare or 3DS-exclusive titles, for example. The search was the only way to find anything specific; it wasn't simple to browse around without purpose or specific titles in mind. Pre-pay cards weren't available in brick and mortar shops on time, shutting some off from eShop purchases for a while.

These problems added to other issues that 3DS was experiencing. The eShop was the portal to compensation when Nintendo quickly dropped the price of the underselling 3DS, offering free downloads of 10 NES and 10 Game Boy Advance Virtual Console titles as long as the console had been purchased before a certain date. Gradually, though, fixes came. Downloadable content, demos and sleep mode download for several items at once were made available.

Plans for web and mobile access have not yet come to fruition, but have been announced. The complaint of a lack of messaging on 3DS was addressed in part with the emergence of Nintendo Letter Box (Swapnote). And let's not forget the time that Nintendo Life got its own section on the eShop for a week.

A further spruce up came a few months ago and overhauled the look of the service. Multiple rows were added to the eShop's menu. The weekly updated 'shelves' remain but are now complemented by static options containing DSiWare, demos, 3DS-exclusive software, videos, the numerous Virtual Console formats – now including Game Gear – and a recent release list to promote retail titles. It's more cohesive, much easier to understand and browse, is regularly updated with demos, videos and information, and generally looks more prepared for the future.

Which is good, because there are a lot of games are on the way.

Plenty to play

During the last year, nearly five dozen 3DS-exclusive games have been announced or released on the eShop, not counting Virtual Console releases. The line-up started off slowly, with just a few quality titles such as Renegade Kid's Mutant Mudds and WayForward's Mighty Switch Force! gracing the service, but in recent months the output has amped up considerably.

There are now several worthwhile titles on the service from numerous developers. Intelligent System's Pullblox (Pushmo) is a wonderful puzzle game, Vanpool experimented with new IP Dillon's Rolling Western, Nicalis released Terry Cavanagh's retro ace VVVVVV and have NightSky in the pipeline. Colors! 3D put painting power in the palm of your hand. Shin'en's wizards put out Fun Fun! Minigolf TOUCH! and Art of Balance TOUCH!, with a new Jett Rocket title on the way. Zen Studios' pinball titles have impressed, while the same developer's CastleStorm looks great. Bizarrely, FMV game Mad Dog McCree is making a return. The Game & Watch-inspired Johnny Kung Fu is one to watch. Other forthcoming games include Alien Chaos 3D, Pokémon Dream Radar, Unchained Blades, Aban Hawkins & the 1,001 Spikes and Viking Invasion 2: Olaf's Return.

There's a lot to look forward to on the eShop, and the service seems to have proven itself profitable – at least to Nintendo – too. The turnaround not only from DSiWare to the eShop, but also from the last year's eShop to today's, is great. There's much more to come, too: with Wii U arriving, that mobile and browser connectivity is certain to climb higher up the priority list, and there's the promise of full downloadable retail games starting with New Super Mario Bros. 2 this summer. We can't wait to see how much the service has expanded in a year's time.