News Article

Feature: Looking at the 3DS Revolution on its Third Birthday

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Born to be three

Let's think back, for a moment, to the DSi. The remixed version of the hugely successful DS Lite — which itself replaced the 'phat' model — included an online download store, which was a big deal at the time. It also had primitive technical capabilities while the DSi Shop, like its Wii equivalent, was a representation of troubled early days in the relationship between download developers and major platform holders; it had a mediocre layout, file size limitations and an inflexible pricing policy. That said, the DS family of systems — including the DSi — was an outrageous success, the second highest-selling platform of all time and number one in the handheld space, helped by an outstanding library of games and its Touch Generation concept that transformed the potential audience for portable gaming.

The 3DS has never had a hope of matching the DS in raw sales, as it arrived after the landscape for on-the-go gaming had changed irreversibly. In fact, its mere survival borders on extraordinary, as there are hundreds of millions of smartphones and tablet devices in the world, grabbing much of that Touch Generation and programming the expectations of consumers to expect quick five-minute diversions for free or for the cost of a candy bar. The DS faced none of that while it made hay in particularly bright sunshine.

It's also easy for us all, as dedicated and enthusiastic gamers, to expect a great deal and overlook some of the innovations that the 3DS has brought us. When considering generational leaps in hardware, the 3DS did provide a jump in graphics, yes, but it's in every other area that we take for granted that the little system was and still is a huge leap in portable Nintendo systems. Considering its predecessors were DS and Wii, which were both overly-simple in multiple ways, and that Wii U was still on the way, we should remember just how significant these changes were.

Changing how we interact with Nintendo hardware

Of course, the 3DS took time to gather steam. In fact, it was a bit of a bare shell at launch, which somewhat typified what was a problematic early life for the system. The launch line-up delivered some nice experiences — with titles such as Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition showing graphical grunt — but not even the 3DS eShop was there on day one. One of the new ideas to play with was AR (augmented reality) which, in truth, has proven to be fairly gimmicky and underused. Face Raiders was a fun launch app as well, and at least showed off the motion controls on the system that, while not used a great deal, can be neat under limited circumstances.

It's enlightening to think back to those days and look at the modern-day system. The first 6-9 months were a painful run of abysmal sales and an underwhelming eShop, but let's just consider the features we have (from day one and through its evolution) that were inconceivable or excessively limited on DS.

Glasses-free 3D — In an early draft of this article we didn't even mention glasses-free autostereoscopic visuals. Representative of the dark early days of poor sales, the feature didn't capture the public imagination, and we certainly know plenty of gamers that don't even use the effect. This writer plays everything in 3D all of the time, and let's not forget the wow-factor and black-magic wonder that the top screen prompted for many when the system launched. It's rad, just not vital to the system.

StreetPass — This was a day one innovation, allowing those that pass in the street to exchange puzzle pieces, play mini-games and exchange game data. There are dozens of regional groups that meet regularly under the guise of this feature, bringing gamers together, while optional paid extras add even more depth.

SpotPass — Not extensively used by Nintendo, but still a neat feature that allows information to be shared and extras to be sent via the web.

Miiverse — A recent addition, along with Nintendo Network IDs, that brings Nintendo's bespoke social network to the portable. It's possible to post messages and screenshots and follow others.

eShop — This is the most notable area of substantial improvement over its predecessor, which also laid the groundwork for the Wii U's store. The quality and diversity of download titles on the store includes some light experiences, for which DSiWare was best known, but also far more involved, detailed games.

The eShop has changed the game in multiple ways, however, in combination with the solid Nintendo Network infrastructure. August 2012 brought us New Super Mario Bros. 2 as a retail download, a new venture for Nintendo that has now become standard for all first-party games and a number of third-party publications. Although the system-based account system isn't optimal, cheap memory expansion through SD cards has made digital retail gamers of some. That first retail download title also included paid-DLC, an idea that's since expanded in subsequent releases as Nintendo gradually ups-the-ante in that area.

The eShop has also made demos a little more common, but its most significant enhancement over the DSi Shop is its dynamism. Sales and discounts are now common, videos and trailers are regularly uploaded, and Nintendo has started to explore free-to-play ideas just recently through Steel Diver: Sub Wars.

Finally, let's not forget the Virtual Console. It should be better, and some will wonder why Game Boy Advance is coming to the Wii U but not 3DS at present. Yet gamers have enjoyed a variety of titles from Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Gear and NES on the go, without resorting to ROMs and iffy touch screen controls. The 3DS has brought us the first handheld Virtual Console, and so deserves kudos.

Proving the ongoing value of portable-only games

The greatest achievement of the 3DS to date is achieving over 40 million sales and convincing those consumers that a smartphone alone is simply not enough. We may have one free-to-play game available with tentative further steps on the way, but Nintendo, retail publishers and download developers have nevertheless sold impressive quantities of games.

While the DS, over its many years on the market, accumulated an impressive collection of retail games, the 3DS has certainly begun to developer a core of exceptional titles of its own. Committed gamers may well point to titles such as Fire Emblem: Awakening as standouts, though Nintendo has arguably defied the odds in releasing a number of games that have enraptured a sizeable, mainstream audience, persuading millions to invest in full price games. Examples such as Mario Kart 7, Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Pokémon X & Y have sold millions each and succeeded in gaining the praise of dedicated gamers and those that are less experienced. X & Y was no surprise, but New Leaf demonstrated that Nintendo can still create premium experiences to generate buzz in this social media era, with image sharing tools contributing to that success. We're barely scratching the surface, with The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds the latest award winning title to achieve impressive sales and critical acclaim.

Outside of retail, the eShop has also maintained a certain sense of value to its download-only offerings. An era of games being free or costing pennies / cents hasn't arrived, and the steady stream of new releases show that developers have found it a worthwhile platform. The pricing flexibility outlined above has also helped developers, and it's clear that it's been a platform with greater accessibility and options for small businesses.

Winning a market share against the odds

As we celebrate three years of the 3DS, and consider some of its advancements and features to date, we should conclude by simply reiterating that its mere survival is an achievement. It's taken multiple models — the XL and 2DS joining the original — and a drastic year one price cut to help, but the system has thrived in a market area some said no longer existed in 2011. The troubles of the PS Vita, and recent efforts by Sony to ally it with the strong-selling PS4, show how difficult it is to launch a dedicated portable gaming machine and survive when the vast majority of people have such a device in their pocket all of the time. There was certainly credence to those that predicted doom in 2011, with arguments that physical buttons and retail prices wouldn't work in an era of Angry Birds.

Yet here we are, with the 3DS and its exceptional games topping multiple charts in 2013. Its challenges will only become tougher this year and beyond, but there's a sizeable userbase that have invested already. Nintendo, with its 3DS / 2DS family, has carved its own space in the market; we all benefit as a result.

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User Comments (74)



shane1228 said:

Ahhhh the Zelda LBW edition 3DS is still just as gorgeous to look at as the day I got it!!



Xjarnold said:

Why will the 3ds journey get tougher? With great games on the system and a sizable fan base along with smash bros 3ds on the way I'd say the 3ds has done its home. If Nintendo were to close for good on the .000000000000000001% chance that happens in the 3ds era than it won't be the 3ds's fault. With over 40 million systems already sold, the 3ds has climbed over its rough start and truly had three years of success. Happy third 3ds and keep the good games coming



AyeHaley said:

I still use mine every day, I even got my sis to play (she rarely plays games) X and Y since its the pokemon game she's always dreamt off. (She restarted her game 3 times already, combining total play time: 600+ hours

The 3DS XL is my most favorite gaming device to date and I always use 3D cause it still amazes me every time I turn it on.(Glad they didn't ditch it!)



ericwithcheese2 said:

The 3DS is my favorite gaming hardware. With its Street Pass and other out-of-the-box fun, it is an amazing system that I am so glad got past its rough launch. It was last year's highest selling game console and that says quite a bit even if sales were winding down on last generation's stuff.



sonic_brawler95 said:

Had a 3DS since day 1, and while it had a rough launch, it ultimately became one of my favorite video game systems.



luke88 said:

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I think the 3ds is my favourite ever gaming device; all things considered.



Jazzer94 said:

Yep the 3DS is awesome and has been going from strength to strength since August 2011.



GalacticMario28 said:

It took a long time for me to finally get a 3DS, but I'm definitely happy I bought one. Now if I could only afford all the games I want for it . . .



CDBz said:

Should be getting one when I have the money! Loved my DS and love my wii and wii u so definitely gonna give this one a crack!



Vee_Flames said:

Yesiree! The 3DS is definitely part of my best systems. Fun, cool 3D, StreetPass, Miiverse and Eshop are the best part of it.



Tops said:

3DS is awesome! I have so much to catch up on and still more great stuff on the horizon!



XFsWorld said:

Still have my early 2011 3DS, I really need to upgrade soon because my battery only last for 90 minutes now after fully charged . (Used the heck out of my 3DS).



cfgk24 said:

@XFsWorld - I rang Nintendo Customer Services (UK) and they sold me a new Battery! This was before Nintendo Online store was up and running but ring them - they are soooo friendly and helpful. . .



cfgk24 said:

My Launch Day UK 3DS is 3 years old! It has been with me to Japan, China, Spain, France, It got rescued with me from an abandoned yacht 200 miles out to sea, it played an international music festival using 3DS exclusive software. I do all my artwork on it, I compose music on it, It looks fantastic, it works fantastic. I use it as my main music player and it goes hiking with me wherever I go. I love Streetpass, I love the pedometer. I use it at work and as a strong basis for my social life. It feels good in my pocket travelling through airports and on trains - like an old friend travelling companion. It brings me joy! In the meantime - I am on my 3rd out of date/broken smartphone, my 3rd laptop and sold my tablet in those 3 years. . My UK Launch Day Cosmo Black Nintendo 3DS Console is still Completely Current, working perfectly and achieves more than I ever thought it would! Nintendo - I thank you!



64supermario said:

3DS has a huge library of game, I swear by the end of its lifetime my collection will be as big as my Gamecube collection was...and that's freaking huge.



ThomasBW84 said:

@Xtremetdifan I think it'll get tougher simply because it's unclear how large the remaining audience is, in terms of sustaining strong sales. With the speed of technological process in smartphones in particular, too, Nintendo has to keep making the 3DS attractive even if, in terms of raw capabilities, it's miles behind other alternatives. Last year's lineup of games was fantastic, too, so maintaining that will be tricky.

I have faith and optimism, but do feel it'll only get harder. Thankfully it has a strong userbase and momentum to help it.



geozeldadude said:

i hate to play favorites, but i too feel like the 3DS is becoming one of my favorite platforms ever. it's not quite there yet b/c its library is still far behind the sheer greatness of the DS, but it's def. getting there.



HylianJowi said:

Nintendo 3DS is by far my favorite gaming device. I'm so happy to see others share the same feelings for the little powerhouse here!



unrandomsam said:

Funnily enough I just bought a DS Lite and Warioware Twisted. (about £52 of which £0 went to Nintendo. The probability of me ever buying a GBA game on the Wii U is now exactly zero.) I also have a whole stack of DS games I have never played due to the scaling on the 3DS XL.



Melkac said:

Anyone notice the kisses and hugs on that 3DS XL's sticker? ...No?

The 3DS needs to do only ONE thing on its third birthday...localize more japanese games and have more retail releases:
-Level-5 games: Inazuma Eleven 1·2·3: The Tale of Endou Mamoru, Inazuma Eleven GO (...ok, maybe for its fourth year), Phoenix Wright vs Professor Layton, Yokai/Ghost/Phantom Watch, Time Travelers (it didn't sell very well in Japan...perfect excuse to bring it to the west!), Ni no Kuni: The Jet-Black Mage...what the hell, Level-5, start localizing more stuff!
-Tomodachi Collection
-EX Troopers
-Project Mirai 1·2
-Beyond the Labyrinth: Just read what I said about Time Travelers up there, exactly the same case.
-Dragon Quest VII: Duh.
-Dragon Quest Monsters: Terry's Wonderland
-Dragon Quest Monsters 2: Fourth year...?
-Fantasy Life: Eh, let's not consider it a Level-5 game, but a 1-UP Studios/Brownie Brown game.
-Final Fantasy: Type-0 3DS: Ok, this doesn't even exists, but it may as well do.



Electricmastro said:

Though it did have a slow start in terms of stupendous games, it wasn't until 2013 that it really started snowballing with great titles such as Fire Emblem: Awakening, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, Pokemon X/Y, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, A Link Between Worlds, and others as well.



BinaryFragger said:

After enjoying the DS Lite and DSi so much, buying a 3DS was a no-brainer for me. The system's first year was rough but once the good games started being released, I haven't been able to put the system down. I recently picked up a 3DS XL (I still own my launch-day 3DS) which is amazing; the bigger screens are so much easier on the eyes.



navonod18 said:

3ds is arguably my favorite handheld of all time, and it's refreshing to know that it still has a ways to go. Happy bday 3ds



memoryman3 said:

@Buduski No...

I don't like it's 240p screen, limited OS and ugly graphics. The only two games that hold up well in that regard are Kingdom Hearts and Resident Evil. Plus I a not a fan of Japanese games. When I switched from 3DS to iOS, I was quite shocked by the jump in graphical fidelity and functionality.



bizcuthammer said:

The 3DS is my favorite current console, and my favorite handheld ever. Its only behind SNES, PS2, N64 and GCN on my all time list, and if it were to get a really good Metroid game, it would probably pass GCN, too.



Mk_II said:

After all is said and done, Nintendo once again proves that it is all about the games. Games make the platform, not the other way around.



ricklongo said:

Long live the 3DS. It is a great little machine and deserves its continuing success. Let's hope for even more amazing games in the next years.



cfgk24 said:

@XFsWorld Lol - You can trust them! I didn't buy online - I rang up, paid with my card and received the new battery in the post couple of days later!



Kirk said:

In my opinion, the MAIN reason the 3DS isn't in exactly the same position as the Wii U right now is because Nintendo actually took DRASTIC measures when it saw the system wasn't doing as well as it had hoped and dropped the price from $249.99 to $169.99.

Once that happened and the games began to flow it was past the hump and now it's actually a very solid system.

With the Wii U it's still not even pushed itself to the top of the hill yet.



Dark-Link73 said:

I saw what you did there Thomas (perhaps inadvertently) with the cover pic:

You used the 3 DS that features the Tri force for the article that celebrates the handheld's 3 rd anniversary. Bringing emphasis to the three 3's, you created a trio which, in turn, can revolve back to the Triforce, lol. I know, I'm stretching it a little.



ecco6t9 said:

Which is why most of us feel that the 3DS needs to GBA to have all the excellent Nintendo handheld experiences on one device.



LunarHalo24 said:

Got my first 3DS day 1 and loved it ever since. Switched over to the Zelda XL not too long ago. It really doesn't feel like 3 years... time flies!



ZurrrrBlattTron said:

Loved my 3ds (until my dog literally ate it) however this time I'm making the move to 2ds as I love the design and I can't see 3D unfortunately games like pokemon x kid Icarus Mario Mart 7 And the upcoming Kirby game are giving me no life D: can't wait for Smash and even more games to come



Mahe said:

Revolution? The 3DS wasn't a revolution, it wasn't even an evolution - it was actually a worsening from the DS and DSi. Still a good handheld that has come into its own, but one can only wonder what would have happened if Nintendo hadn't bet on the 3D screen and had made a truly revolutionary successor to the DS/DSi instead...



AshFoxX said:

It helps that the full retail games are $39.99 brand new, and worth every penny. It makes that $59.99 tag for console games look intimidating.



JaxonH said:

The biggest difference between the 3DS and DS, that I've personally taken notice of, is the drastic improvement in game quality. Don't get me wrong- the DS had its' gems, but by and large, most of the 1st party offerings on DS were sub-par to average. Nintendo outsourced many of its franchises to 3rd parties to capitalize during the heyday, and as a result, we ended up with games like Starfox Command (below average for Starfox, even compared to the GC ones) and DK Jungle Climber (just horrible- absolutely horrible).

But I look at the 3DS library, and it's all money. Large denomination. Pure coin through and through. Just Fire Emblem Awakening, DKC Returns 3D and Zelda Link Between Worlds alone is enough to outshine the DS library imo. Throw in Bravely Default, Mario & Luigi Dream Team, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, SMT4, Pokemon X/Y, Zelda Ocarina of Time 3D, Super Mario 3D Land, Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon, Starfox64 3D and Kid Icarus Uprising, and you've got one of the highest quality libraries I've ever seen for a gaming device, certainly for a handheld...

I must admit though, Wii U is looking to surpass the 3DS in terms of quality games, and that's a very high bar to top. Every franchise on 3DS that's made it to Wii U, the Wii U game outclasses it in every way, and not just because it's in HD (though that is a huge plus). I look at Mario Kart 8 compared to Mario Kart 7, MH3U Wii U compared to MH3U 3DS, DKC Tropical Freeze compared to DKC Returns 3D, NSMBU compared to NSMB2, Rayman Legends compared to Rayman Origins 3D, and Super Mario 3D World compared to Super Mario 3D Land, and I can't help but wonder how long until Wii U catches fire like 3DS did...



MasterWario said:

3DS is perhaps the only console so far that I've wanted too many games that I can pay for! Of course there were several series I didn't know about back then (Professor Layton and Etrian Odyssey being prime examples), but still, it's an impressive amount of high quality games.



KingBowser said:

Do any of you know what the Nintendo 3DS Spotpass Mii and what puzzle is in the Mii Plaza? Please let me know.



Arcamenel said:

I love that the 3DS and I have the same birthday. I actually got my first one as a birthday present to myself 8D



Maladroit said:

With so many great games already available, all the 3DS needs now are new Metroid and Mega Man games and it will be the perfect gaming system. That's just my humble opinion.



Maladroit said:

Well, almost perfect. There's still the whole only one circle pad thing. But hey, there's always the circle pad pro!



Zodiak13 said:

The DS was my favorite and the 3DS is even better because I can play all those DS games on my 3DS. Plus I still have my GBA SP.



TwilightOniAngel said:

i got the 3ds with the price cut with resident evil the mercenaries 3d and the legend of zelda ocarina of time 3d. In the same day that was an awesome time for me.



Socar said:

Happy B-Day 3DS! You're my Favorite System of All time next to the DS of course!



HandheldGuru97 said:

Happy Birthday 3DS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Lord I remember grabbing mine back on launch day 3/27/2011. Upgraded to an XL last year and haven't looked back since . Last year was great here's hoping we get many more like it!!!!!



NintendoGamer said:

Just gotta say that I love my Black 3DS XL. I purchased it back in August so I've had it for roughly 7 months. After day one of owning it all my doubts and hesitations disappeared immediately. Before purchasing the 3DS I only owned the first original DS so I obviously was in need of an upgrade and I couldn't be happier with my decision to purchase a 3DS. To this day whenever I use it I always think to myself "This was such a great purchase". That kind of feeling is something I expect and want when I decide to spend my hard earned money on something. I wanna be able to look back after a few months and still feel completely satisfied with my purchase and that's exactly what I got with the 3DS. So Happy Birthday 3DS. You have provided me with a fun 7 months of gaming and I'm sure the fun won't be ending anytime soon. =)



DualWielding said:

what 3DS has going for it its awesome third party support, the third party support is so great it can make up for all Nintendo screws ups (games tied to console, region lock, ect)..... the fact that its cheaper to develop for allows it to have third party exclusives which are just not viable in other platforms



luckybreak said:

Does anyone think there is a possibility of another hardware version of the 3DS coming out? Like the 3DS Slim?

I have my day 1 3DS and haven't upgraded to an XL cuz I'm hoping they release a more portable version. Its just a little bit too fat to carry around all the time!

Or a special edition Smash Bros. XL...I would definitely get that.



DreamOn said:

People really love the 3DS. As much as the people that can't live without their mobile phone for communication and media. It's good to see.



Christoff said:

I still remember opening my 3ds box, on day one, playing the AR games and face raiders and showing everyone I could how cool it was in 3d. Since then my original cosmo blue 3ds has had hundreds of hours of wonderful play time.This is my personal favourite ever console, after my N64.

Cannot wait for Super Smash Bros!



daniruy said:

I bought this little marvel in June 2011, with my friend Felipe, back in Brazil. I got the cosm black and he got the aqua blue. Today I live in Ireland with my 3DS, which became the symbol of our intercontinental friendship - though I feel really uncomfortable with the region lock policy.

But this videogame is so amazing that I can't help muself... I love it!



Justaguest said:

Dont tease me with thath Zelda edition 3ds. Its the best looking XL outh there and I have to stick with my boring silver one



BassLostie said:

Who else got a Wii U first and a 3DS after? Is just me? LOL

I got my Zelda 3DS XL (the one in the photo) the day of the launch of A Link Between Worlds. I'm loving my 3DS since then. Playing Mario Kart 7 online is great, and the features on Pokemon X/Y keep me playing all the time. I'm still lacking more great titles like Luigi's Mansion DM, Super Mario 3D Land, Kid Icarus, and more. I'm already saving money for them



yuwarite said:

3DS has become the greatest portable game system to date, with software capable of winning GOTY's. It still has a long way to go though, and there's several improvements/ features Nintendo needs to add to it, like a proper account system and improved Virtual Console.



Starwolf_UK said:

I'm sorry I'm going to be negative as sometimes a slam into relaity is needed. The hardware is sub-par and Nintendo managed to mess up clam shell designs (both original and XL can scratch the top screens due to the bad design, yes the XL, my upper screen was starting to do that, I added some rubber feet to resolve this). The $40/€50/£40 pricing is starting to do more harm then good (a player's choice line would be great, hell even an eShop permanent discount on things like Pilotwings and Nintendogs). Software sales are non-existent for third parties outside of licensed games. Region locking now exists and the release schedules still make no sense; Europe will never get Devilish Brain Training (a sequel to one of the best selling DS games), America will need to wait months for Ace Attorney vs. Layton (as they only just got Layton 6) by which time Shin Megami Tensei 4 might have a European release date.

NNID is bolted on terribly. To go from an eShop with a seperate wallet to each country (something I took advantage of to get content not available in my country) to an account with one wallet that locks you into one country and is glued to your hardware is a step backward. Then to have the cheek and demand people have this to get free content is ridiculous. I can't use Pokemon Bank (good thing I only put 20 hours into Gen 5 then) or play Steel Diver Sub Wars because I care about owning and being able to download all the content I bought (which ironically is why many advocate such account systems in the first place).

I like the system inspite of these flaws but it would be a lot stronger without those. It looks unlikely to topple the DS Lite and I'm starting to think it won't be better than the GBA for me .

@unrandomsam You do know that holding down select when starting up a DS game on a 3DS disables the scaling. The displayed screen size on the XL is about the same as the DS lite too. I still use a DS lite though due to being able to use the rumble cart and play GBA games.



Ralizah said:

Like I've said before, even if the handheld market is less profitable than it was in the past, it certainly won't disappear. 3DS/Vita scratch an itch that mobile games just can't. Not to mention the epic roster of awesome IPs that Nintendo commands.



Brown77 said:

To my beloved 3DS: You kept me sane while living in China, provided hours of unbridled fun and deepened my love for Nintendo. So many good times and adventures together. Happy 3rd Birthday...Long live the 3DS =)))



maceng said:


I don't consider the 3ds to be a revolution but just a small step from the DSi.

Its main feature, the stereoscopic 3D effect, has been left aside by the majority of publishers as well as by Nintendo. Very few titles make use of it in a significant way. The same can be said about Streetpass, AR cards (barely mentioned on the article) as well as Spotpass. Mii universe is the biggest addition IMHO.
The graphics are a big letdown still (with fairly excellent achievements on Super Mario 3D Land, Luigi's Mansion and Revelations), as well as the lack of support for the Circle Pro (including its exclusion on the 3DS XL) and the weak multiplayer options.
I love my 3DS collection (more than 80 games and 10 consoles) and play it daily (I also own a PSVita, an Iphone and an iPad, by the way), but to call it a revolution is a bit farfetched.



Action51 said:

3DS is a great little system, and despite the odd claims of people saying they never use the 3D slider, it's really something that makes a game pop when implemented well.

Speaking of games, that is easily what makes the 3DS such a great system. Unless you are only concerned with resolution and horsepower...and that's fine...but for the rest of us, there are many quality games and an impressive selection of A+ bona-fide instant classics.

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