Feature: 3DS - A Report Card Ahead of Its Biggest Year
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
You're doing well, young one
Earlier this week British tabloid The Sun somewhat defied its own 3DS-bashing tradition, when one of its writers rather boldly proclaimed that Nintendo's portable is "the best console ever". While we're not sure about that just yet, we do think the handheld has come a long way since its early days of non-existent sales and "3DS is doomed" headlines of Summer 2011 — that reminds us of another, more recent Nintendo system.
Still, we do feel that the 3DS is a pretty powerful reminder that sometimes a little patience, a juicy price cut and a lot of excellent games can all go a long way. Nintendo clearly thinks so, too, as a new video below does its best to reinforce the point that, really, the 3DS is the console to own at the moment.
With the 3DS embarking on its third full year on the market, and with a blockbuster lineup so hot the company is projecting 18 million hardware sales for the financial year, let's break down where it stands, from our perspective.
The most important category, we feel most would agree. Prior to Winter 2011 the system arguably had a fairly slow start, but Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 soon sorted that out. There's been a fairly impressive run since then, with plenty of genres covered throughout 2012, including standouts such as Kid Icarus: Uprising, Resident Evil Revelations and plenty of Mario, with tennis, 2D platforming and RPG-lite fare featuring the mascot.
And yet, 2013 feels like the most vital year for the 3DS, particularly in the West — some of the year's big-hitters graced Japan in 2012. We've already had the brilliant Fire Emblem: Awakening and Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, while Animal Crossing: New Leaf has blockbuster potential. Then there's Mario & Luigi: Dream Team coming in the summer, as well as a certain Pokémon X & Y in October. If that's not enough, there's always The Legend of Zelda 3DS on the way; there are more, but you get the idea.
We can't do justice to the full lineup on the way, but what are the shortcomings, if any? Perhaps one is the overriding reliance on first-party content, making the sales success — or otherwise, as may be the case — of titles like Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate and LEGO City: The Chase Begins of particular interest. The big reveals have focused on Nintendo's titles, or those made with close second-party partners, and E3 may be an important testing ground to see how many major third-parties are bringing games to the system — we know of some like Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, for example, but the more the merrier.
How's the 3DS library stacking up in terms of diversity? Rather well, if you know where to look. The DS family of systems was particularly well-served by RPGs and games generally considered to be 'niche', perhaps due to the genre being a good fit for the limitations of the hardware, whereas the 3DS is far more capable. Niche titles and experiences are out there for the 3DS, with the issue perhaps being more about availability. We have the likes of the Shin Megami franchise continuing on the new handheld, with Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan being another, but not all regions are promptly served. That said, the recent confirmation of games like Project X Zone and Bravely Default: Flying Fairy for the West certainly bodes well.
The eShop has evolved a great deal during the system's lifespan, incorporating re-designs, demo downloads, retail downloads and plenty of video content since its humble beginnings. It's also been the vanguard for smaller indie projects that are allowed greater scope, escaping the restraints of the DSi's humble tech and painful file size limit.
Generally we've seen a steady stream of new releases, ranging from borderline classic platformers and puzzle games, to genres as broad as shmups, racing, music rhythm and more. Rather like DSiWare, there's a core of steady, high quality and committed developers stepping up on the platform, while newcomers from the smartphone world, such as Bertil Hörberg with Gunman Clive, are very welcome. If you have more retro leanings, you can also dive into the Virtual Console or the almost full DSiWare back-catalogue.
We'd argue that the eShop's current accumulated library is strong both in quality and size, and certainly beyond what we saw on either the DSi or Wii Shops; the increasing willingness of Nintendo to run price promotions and make retail games available are also big benefits to attract gamers online — Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies will also be a high-profile eShop 'retail' exclusive. If we were to pick some negatives, there's the high retail download prices, trickle of Virtual Console games that are lacking in unique offerings — lots of NES games we've seen before — and, as with any platform, there can be some abominable shovelware.
Non-Gaming Software and Features
Out of the box the 3DS has some decent little extras, and the operating system is a significant step-up over its DSi predecessor. The Friend List lets you jump into online matches in select games, you can pause a game and take notes at any time, and you can use the passable web browser. The sound app isn't that far ahead of the DSi version, while the camera is as fuzzy as ever — that said, the outer camera lenses allow you to take 3D pictures and videos. The StreetPass plaza is also perfect for taking along to expos or when meeting friends, with puzzle pieces and the delightfully quirky quest being good value to raise a smile.
Extras have arrived in system updates and as free downloads from the eShop, and it's these that have fleshed out the system a little further. Nintendo Letter Box/Swapnote is a fun messaging system, that while slow and full of limitations can be an enjoyable diversion between friends. Nintendo Video is also neat, with new weekly content typically being made up of sub-5 minute trailers and exclusive content, some of which are genuinely entertaining. Add in SpotPass — which supplies freebies for various games — and Nintendo Zone at public Wi-Fi spots, and the system has a decent range of apps and features beyond its core gaming purpose.
What are we missing at the moment? That's easy but set to be fixed later this year — Miiverse. The existing Friend List and Swapnote apps will become borderline irrelevant if a fully-tooled Miiverse is brought across from the Wii U, and the bespoke social network could really take the connectivity and communication aspects of the handheld to the next level. Some regions are also lacking the likes of Netflix — which in turn lacks 3D content — while a YouTube app doesn't look likely but would, nevertheless, be nice to have.
This is an area that isn't necessarily a strong point for anyone picking up a system today. The original model's performance isn't good, struggling beyond a couple of hours with an intensive game, full brightness, Wi-Fi etc. The XL model is an undoubted improvement and can certainly go quite a distance in standby, with game performance up a couple of hours too. You can see a battery test here, with third-party add-ons being a useful — albeit pricey — option.
Hardware Iterations and Special Editions
An area where Nintendo typically steps up is with handheld console re-designs and iterations, and the 3DS is no different. We have an impressive range of colours available in the standard and XL models. One area that's a little less predominant is with unique designs in the West, such as the Fire Emblem: Awakening model in Europe and the yellow Pikachu model worldwide. Lots of colours, maybe not enough designs.
Unless you're in Japan, in which case there are too many awesome designs to recount. If even half of those came West, we'd be absolutely delighted.
As it stands, the 3DS is in rather strong shape. As of 31st March 2013 over 31 million units had been sold worldwide — while Japan accounts for over a third of those sales, this year's software lineup and Nintendo's promise to enable more Japanese releases to come West are encouraging. In fact, this year's lineup is so outrageous that, as we mentioned earlier, the company is estimating 18 million sales this financial year, and that doesn't seem unrealistic. If momentum is the key for specialist game hardware, then the handheld seems to be in a good spot, with NPD results for last month — and estimates for this month — suggesting that it's doing reasonably well in North America in comparison to equivalent periods in 2012. The Holiday season, in particular, could be a serious success story for the 3DS if Nintendo's regional teams get the marketing and release schedules right.
From a first-party and localised titles perspective, we have lots to look forward to. If there's one area for improvement, which may come at E3, it's a few more third-party big-hitters. It's simple though, if the system sells in big numbers, those third-parties are likely to follow.
Let us know about your "report" for 3DS at this stage, as we're certainly aware that we haven't covered everything. Maybe you disagree with some of what we've said, or want to highlight missed points? We'd love to read all about it in the comments section, as always, and you can give a basic view in the poll below..
Ahead of a big 2013, how would you rate 3DS right now? (369 votes)
I think the 3DS is kicking a lot of behinds, and is pure awesome awesomeness
It's doing well, and I hope for big things in 2013
It's doing OK, but with plenty of room for improvement
I don't agree that it's doing so well, it's not cutting it for me
I'm not sure, to be honest
I don't even have a 3DS, why are you asking me?
None of those answers match my thoughts on the 3DS
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