So, the 3DS approaches its third E3 in good shape, having passed its second Birthday while enjoying a run of strong sales worldwide. It also has a games library, both current and coming in the next six months, in exceptionally rude health; the upcoming lineup in 2013 is packed with potential blockbuster hits, so much so that Nintendo plans to sell 18 million hardware units in the current financial year. It's all a far cry from the doom and gloom of Summer 2011, when sales were tanking and some were calling time on dedicated handhelds.
How times change — hopefully a sign for the future potential of the Wii U — and now the 3DS is basking in the glow of positive press and serving as the backbone of Nintendo's business. As the coming weeks are likely to have a big focus on the Wii U and its campaign for success, we thought we'd take this opportunity to contemplate the 3DS as it stands today, and what could come in the future.
Joining features editor Tom Whitehead — for possibly the most crowded round table Nintendo Life has ever seen — are reviews editor Mike Mason, editor at large Jon Wahlgren, events coordinator Katy Ellis, news reporters Andy Green and Orla Madden, U.S. reviewers Ron DelVillano, Morgan Sleeper, Stephen Kelly and Dave Letcavage, and contributors Gaz Plant, Ken Barnes (also editor of sister-site PureXbox.com) and Martin Watts.
We had a good long chat, so grab some snacks and join us.
Tom Whitehead: First off, can everyone please introduce themselves to the readers?
Mike Mason: I'm Mike, reviews editor and slave to my backlog.
Jonathan Wahlgren: I'm Jon, Nintendo Life editor at large and a somewhat organic human being.
Ken Barnes: Hi, I'm Ken, and I'm the Editor at PureXbox.com
Ron DelVillano: I'm Ron, a US reviewer with the site’s most handsome beard.
Morgan Sleeper: Hi! I'm Morgan, I review games and drink an awful lot of tea.
Orla Madden: Hi, my name is Orla, and I'm a News Contributor and currently in rehab for playing too much Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate.
Gaz Plant: Hi I'm Gaz, probably the only person in the world who is still trying to finish collecting all the Kid Icarus: Uprising AR cards.
Andy Green: I'm Andy, I do the news and I've just had to soft reset in Fire Emblem: Awakening... again.
Martin Watts: Hi, I'm Martin and I'm a contributor. Like Orla, I too am suffering the effects of being addicted to Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate.
Katy Ellis: Hi I'm Katy, and I just want to take a moment to confess to Orla that no, I still haven't completed Skyward Sword. Shame on me.
Orla: For shame...
Gaz: So you haven't seen that bit where [REDACTED] yet?
Dave Letcavage: I’m Dave, US Reviewer at Nintendo Life and sometimes contributor on PureXBOX.
Stephen Kelly: Hi! I’m Stephen Kelly, US reviewer for downloadable things. Also a Sonic the Hedgehog apologist.
Tom: And I'm Tom, the features editor that has the misfortune of transcribing these round tables. So we're catching up to talk about the 3DS - first of all, let's start off with the big question. What do you think of the 3DS right now, in just a couple of short sentences?
Ken: The 3DS is clearly the dominant force in the handheld market, and the software available for it means that it's in that position based on merit, rather than advertising.
Mike: 3DS has really come into its own over the last few months — the line-up is looking fantastic, and I carry mine around with me everywhere. That said, I still don't have the same buzz from it as I did from DS. It's still going to take some beating, but with Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Pokémon X / Y and Ace Attorney 5 coming in the near future, it might not take too long to change my mind...
Katy: The Japanese 3DS is now officially superior as it has 3D Altered Beast on the eShop.
Orla: I think it's finally hitting its stride, fantastic line-up of games, with a great summer ahead!
Jon: I think it's just swell. I spend most of my spare gaming time on it nowadays — not just because I have a long commute but because its library is filled with fantastic time-sucks. Especially lately, posting dozens of hours each with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, Fire Emblem: Awakening and Animal Crossing: New Leaf.
Ken: I've not played any handheld game as much as I've played Fire Emblem: Awakening , ever.
Stephen: The 3DS is my go-to system of choice. If I’m not playing something on Steam, that’s where I’ll be.
Martin: I'm really impressed with the system; the software library is packed full of solid titles, and I think the upcoming release schedule is really looking strong.
Orla: Animal Crossing: New Leaf. 'Nuf said.
Ron: There's so much that I could say about how great the 3DS is right now, but I'll put it simply - I use it every day, and I never leave the house without it.
Katy: Aww Ron, that's so sweet!
Ron: Thanks, Katy. And don't make jokes about Altered Beast. I'm very serious about that game.
Katy: You KNOW that was no joke!!
Morgan: It's my favourite modern system. I've always got something I'm looking forward to playing on the 3DS, and like Ron, I never leave home without it - StreetPass is the best thing to happen to handhelds since backlit screens!
Gaz: It's finally making good on the promises Nintendo made two years ago, and it's got probably the strongest line-up any Nintendo system's ever had still to come
Andy: I personally think the 3DS is the best console on the market right now full stop. It might even be my favourite system of all time - sorry Martin, you know I love the N64 a lot, but man, look at the line-up on the 3DS!
Martin: Andy, I think I can forgive you — it really is a cracking little system!
Dave: I would have to agree with Andy. At this point in time, I think the 3DS is the best console on the market, handheld or otherwise. I honestly haven’t enjoyed a library of games this much since the Nintendo 64.
Tom: For my part, I generally agree that it's come into its own. I actually think the limited tech is in its favour, as clearly development turnaround and budgets are reasonable.
I think Ken made a good point about the system being there on merit, and not due to advertising. Is this a case of an evolving library hitting its marks, or is it unfair to suggest that Nintendo's press and advertising efforts don't deserve more credit?
The software alone is driving the hardware, which in turn drives more software. Beautiful position to be in for Nintendo.
Morgan: As someone who's never seen a single 3DS advert outside of YouTube, I'd say Ken's right on there. I know advertising helps get the name out there, but I feel like with Nintendo's handhelds especially, it's word-of-mouth and big games that really get things going.
Gaz: Let's face it, Nintendo's advertising was all over the place at launch. No system should have the tagline "this is not DS, it's 3DS" (or similar) to emphasise what it is. But as Nintendo always show, games drive sales, and they brought that in spades.
Ken: I think Nintendo's press and advertising is terrible, frankly. Lifestyle adverts is all they have in the locker. The system's software line-up is hitting its marks, whereas the PS Vita - which has some decent games - is suffering from having a library which is somewhat thin in comparison.
Ron: Obviously press and advertising has had something to do with it, that's what it's there for. But I also think it's a matter of gamers recognizing a great portable console when one finally shows up. The 3DS had a slow start, but once it started picking up games, gamers took notice.
Ken: The software alone is driving the hardware, which in turn drives more software. Beautiful position to be in for Nintendo.
Dave: It’s all about the games. Sure, the advertising plays a part in the grand scheme of things, but right now Nintendo is making games for gamers and finding great success in doing so.
Jon: If it doesn't have any games to advertise then marketing can only go so far. Without a critical mass of great games the handheld would be dead in the water, although by now I think that critical mass has been achieved.
Mike: I'd put most of 3DS's success firmly at the door of the library so far. There have been some good advertising bids for the likes of Luigi's Mansion 2, but really I think it's word of mouth and strong titles more than anything. Nintendo Directs have definitely helped, though — they've built hype within the core, and I think from there positive feedback has filtered out to others. The clever giveaway promotions are sure to have given it a boost, too: the most recent "Too Many Games" initiative is a smart reminder of the packed line-up that also serves as something of a consumer friendly goodwill gesture.
Andy: I think Nintendo has been pretty smart with its marketing for the 3DS to be honest, a few good promotions to build up a user base followed by plenty of games for people to buy. Not to mention the fact there really is a game for all tastes on the console!
Martin: I've got to agree with Gaz and Ken, Nintendo's advertising efforts are poor. It's really down to the first-party games, which seem to have received endless critical acclaim. It's the quality that seems to be driving people to the system.
Katy: While advertisement is obviously important, I agree with Ken that it's mostly down to the excellent line-up of games on offer which has driven the 3DS' sales and success.
Tom: I think Nintendo's initiatives have been clever, which I think Andy's referencing, such as the free game offers. Plus Nintendo Direct broadcasts are still genius, and the 3DS one a while ago was outstanding.
Gaz: Nintendo Direct has certainly been important, but so has getting games people want on shelves. Look at NSMB2, it wasn't what we all wanted really, but boy did it drive sales.
Katy: However, Nintendo Directs mostly only target a specific and dedicated section of Nintendo's market. The average consumer probably won't have seen or even heard about them!
Tom: True, Katy.
Martin: That's true, Tom. But given that games like Luigi's Mansion 2 and Lego City: The Chase Begins are seeing considerable sales success — heck, even Fire Emblem: Awakening reached No. 3 in the UK charts — it's got to be something beyond the Nintendo Directs which are for a very specific audience.
Andy: Indeed, Nintendo has obviously decided to put more of its budgets into promotional activities, relying a little on word of mouth instead of big money advertisements on TV, which isn't working as well as it used to for the video game industry.
Orla: I agree. The 'Buy 3 get 1 free' promotion was a great move. And like Gaz said, Nintendo Direct has been vital for the 3DS.
Andy: Fire Emblem: Awakening did hit number 3! Although I did buy a few spare copies...
Gaz: I'm worried for you Andy...
Katy: I seriously need to grab a copy of Fire Emblem - all this chat is making me extremely envious!
Orla: I picked it up last week, must finish Luigi's Mansion 2 first...
Ken: Oh, Katy - do it ASAP. Simply amazing game.
Andy: I can't run the risk of it permadeathing on me, Gaz. I just can't!
You should pick it up Katy, I've already married 4 people off!
Orla: Andy, Vicar of Manchester...
Martin: I'm embarrassed to admit that I haven't even taken the plastic wrap off my copy of Fire Emblem: Awakening. Truth be told, I'm saving it for when I have a ton of free time so that my playthrough isn't interrupted! I thought the demo was fantastic.
Stephen: It’s a chicken or the egg question: Do Nintendo handhelds sell because they have great games, or are great games supported and viable because the systems sell? I think the brand lit the fire, but the games are the fuel.
Tom: So games are key, of course. How do you think this sweet spot has come about? Is it that the 3DS titles utilise the tech for unique experiences, that they're so different from what other platforms offer? Or is that bunkum, that it's really just down to quality design?
Mike: Quality design for the most part. I can't really think of many games that have really taken advantage of the 3D or StreetPass in massively exciting ways.
Stephen: If the 3DS’ full library was on the PS Vita, would there really be a good reason to not jump ship? When push comes to shove, it’s all about the games!
Gaz: I've got to be honest, I don't feel the 3D adds anything. Sure it looks nice, but the games are the same. And that's the key point - the games are just quality titles built for a handheld system. I'm not sure what Nintendo have done, but they, and third-parties, have really got their heads around the tech.
Morgan: I'm apparently in the minority but I love the 3D effect! I leave it on all the time, and I miss it when I move to my Vita; it kills me that I can't play Gravity Rush in 3D. But that aside, I do think it's all about the games. And I agree that the best games seem to be tailor made for the portable format. Dark Moon's 20 minute missions are perfect to play before bed (especially if it's raining!) and even though I've sunk an unhealthy amount of time into Fire Emblem, I tend to do it a mission at a time.
Martin: I don't think the tech really has anything to do with it. I think it's a lot more simple than that, namely the games are engaging, fun and quite in-depth for portable experiences.
Ron: Well, I had to Google what "bunkum" meant, but I'd say it's bunkum. I think the 3DS's "wow factor" wears off pretty quickly, then people just see great games and want to play them.
Ken: Quality design, I'd say. 3D does nothing for me if I'm honest. I play with it off. The fact is that I would buy Fire Emblem, Luigi's Mansion 2, and a few notable others, no matter what system they were on, picking up the system at the same time if needed. They're THAT good as games.
Jon: Apart from stereoscopic 3D and StreetPass there really isn't anything that 3DS can do that virtually any other console can't — even Vita has a StreetPass-like feature in Near — so I think it's less about the hardware enabling unique experiences and more that developers have really hit a lot of titles out of the park. Perhaps it’s a feeling of increased pressure from the competition — Nintendo's own games certainly feel like they go out of their way to show that dedicated portable hardware still has a lot to offer.
Martin: I think it's also helped by the fact that there are very few other portable/mobile experiences that match the quality seen in Ninty's first-party 3DS titles.
Orla: I barely use the 3D too, if I'm honest, or very rarely if I do. It's the quality of the titles for me, hard to put down and I love that I can take it with me wherever I go too.
Andy: I think it's just down to great games from stellar franchises. The 3D can be done brilliantly, like on Fire Emblem: Awakening and Luigi's Mansion 2 - and not to mention the upcoming Zelda, but I think it adds to the experience rather than creates it. I promise to stop banging on about Fire Emblem now...
Katy: I agree that the 3D element isn't the driving force, I'd say the fact that the Vita hasn't really done as well as Sony would have hoped have meant that the 3DS is THE place for gamers to get their handheld fix. There's just so many great, quality games on offer!
Gaz: See, I ALWAYS use 3D. And I mean always. I think it makes the games look better and I love the effect. But it doesn't change the gameplay, and that's what makes a game good.
Tom: I'm not really thinking of the 3D screen, tech wise, but the horsepower of the thing. This might get me shot, but a lot of the games have a simple, retro feel with modern touches, which I think engages the current day audience. Recently we've had a GameCube sequel, a turn-based strategy title, we've had 2D platformers. Hell, Uprising's flying sections are Space Harrier-esque. You just don't get these kinds of games on other systems, because they're all trying to show off processing power.
Dave: I’m glad you said that, Tom. I’ve been telling people for the past year that the experiences found on the 3DS remind me of playing N64 games. Icarus, 3D Land, and Dark Moon – to name a few – are games built around pure gameplay with no intruding gimmicks. I think Nintendo is winning back a major audience that they may have lost with the forced motion controls of the Wii.
Andy: You can play Monster Hunter on the 3DS, which helps too.
Gaz: While I do agree there are a few retro feel titles on 3DS, I dunno if that's the trademark of the system. To me the games all feel like bite-sized console experiences, squashed into a portable system.
Ken: See, I don't even think that they're necessarily bite-sized. I've thrown HOURS into Fire Emblem, NSMB2, Luigi's Mansion and the like. More time than 95% of the "full-size" console games I play.
Martin: Definitely, and despite being like console experiences, they just work well on the 3DS. Many of the games it's easy to come back to in small chunks.
Gaz: Oh yeah, but I meant in terms of level structure and pacing.
Andy: I think the 3DS actually offers games that are as good as home console games... Look at Ocarina of Time... Simply stunning on the 3DS! I mean, we've reached the point where Capcom are porting to home consoles from the 3DS...
Ken: I don't think Capcom porting a Resident Evil title because they've run out of ideas can be used as an example...
Andy: Well it's still a game developed for the 3DS moving over to PS3 etc…
Ken: I take the point!
Tom: I don't think many of the upcoming line-up or those recent hits would fly on Wii U, for example, I really don't. I think that's a strength, that the relatively limited capabilities are driving games back to focus on what's fun. When I look at Vita, it's bundled with FIFA, Assassin's Creed, CoD. Those work better on a home console, the reverse (3DS working better on Wii U) just wouldn't happen. That's what makes it unique.
And Revelations is better on 3DS, because it was designed for it.
Gaz: Kid Icarus Uprising perhaps being a notable 3DS title that deserves a Wii U version (or is that just me?)
Martin: I don't think you're alone there, Gaz!
Orla: Not just you Gaz, trust me...
Katy: I think I'm the only one here who hated Kid Icarus Uprising... Well, maybe hate is a strong word.
Ron: I got bored with it real quick.
Orla: You're trying to start an uprising, Katy...