In early 2011 I went to a public demo event for the 3DS, getting an invite through Club Nintendo. This was long before I annoyed people with my opinions here on Nintendo Life; in fact at that point I was the unfamiliar name that had written a review for Spot the Differences! on WiiWare. As some of you no doubt feel, it's all been downhill from there.
In any case I was extremely hyped about the 3DS, having spent a few years adoring my DSi, and travelled through to Glasgow (Scotland) with my older brother for what turned out to be a brilliant fan preview event. This was in the time when Nintendo was flush from dominating the industry with Wii and DS, and evidently threw marketing and events money at its subsidiaries like a demented Montgomery Burns throwing silver dollars at the public. We went in and, because Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D was a big launch game, there were actors in an introductory area pretending to be S.T.A.R.S. soldiers taking on zombies, barking orders at bemused - but excited - attendees.
What followed was a couple of hours of frantically trying out launch titles, and arguably none of the actual games were knockout must-haves. But that barely mattered - what mattered was the 3D. I'd watched videos from the previous E3 where attendees - including our own Corbie Dillard - were on film barely comprehending the mind-bending awesomeness of glasses-free 3D. My brother and I were similarly blown away, and I don't think I've been left so giddy by a bit of technology since. We babbled like excited kids on the way home, talking a lot about the 3D and visuals of the system. It was 3D without glasses, and it was amazing.
When the portable launched the feature was also a hot topic, in good and bad ways. Infamously, a British tabloid decided it was a shocking health risk that would bring on chronic headaches. A reporter wrote at length about playing it while walking down the street (!) and feeling nauseous, and made up a load of nonsense about thousands of systems being returned to stores. Nintendo UK even had to issue a response, with the dismissive tone of a weary teacher explaining to a pupil why the Earth isn't flat.
It was a very different time, a couple of years after Avatar had been the standard-bearer for 3D film blockbusters, and 3D TVs were increasingly common. Yet the 3D bubble was starting to burst, a factor Nintendo even cashed in on when revealing the system at E3 2010, with Reggie Fils-Aime talking about 'those glasses' as a negative with most 3D experiences. The glasses-free solution was supposed to be a big selling point for the 3DS, and early titles often had '3D' in the title, bringing to mind the N64 days for slightly daft game names.
After a rapid burst of early sales the 3DS had a major dip, as many no doubt recall, and various factors were blamed. A high launch price and lack of day one big hitters were problems remedied later in the year by a price cut and notable arrivals. The 3D feature was also blamed, in a sense, or more specifically Nintendo's struggles to promote it. Pre-launch ads - often mocked - showed players ooh-ing and ah-ing, with no actual look at the game in action.
Beyond all of that, though, it seems a notable percentage of 3DS owners ultimately weren't bothered about the feature. All the pre-launch fuss, the hype, Nintendo boasts - it all subsided as plenty seemed to keep that slider on 2D. In some ways the people have spoken since 2011, and often I've had conversations with 3DS owners that practically never use the effect. It didn't help that the original models had a fiddly 'sweet spot', either, which meant you had to want to enjoy the feature, keeping the system and your head as still as possible.
Personally, it's always been a vital part of gaming on the handheld. Every time I play my 3DS the slider is up to max, and when a game boots in 2D - recent examples for me include Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS and Pirate Pop Plus - I feel a tinge of disappointment. A lot of my 3DS reviews mention the presence and effectiveness of the 3D effect, though I realise now that I may be part of a minority that actually cares. I wonder, though, whether it's something that will be missed when it's gone, as seems 99.99999999% likely when the Nintendo Switch arrives.
In the system's first couple of years, in particular, the feature was used rather well. I revisited Super Mario 3D Land again today and had a jolly time, and that's a game that goes all out to use the feature. It's not just the 'puzzle rooms', but the camera angles that show Mario bouncing almost out of the screen, and the shifts to show our hero plunging down towards a distant platform. Beyond that the early StreetPass puzzles really put the effect to work, and for my money the screen has always added a 'pop' to visuals. Particularly fond memories include The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, and Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon / Luigi's Mansion 2 delivered delicious diorama-like stages. Kid Icarus: Uprising is another game that uses the effect well, and I remember loving Resident Evil Revelations. To this day I'm pleased whenever 3D is supported.
I don't think the decline of 3D - and the related interest in it - was all Nintendo's fault. It tried, not only through its games and the aforementioned StreetPass features but also with apps like 'Nintendo Video', now long gone but once a showcase for 3D content from partners like Sky Sports and Eurosport (here in the UK, at least). A key error that can be pinned on the company, perhaps, was pushing the concept while it had that notable aforementioned flaw of a small viewing sweet-spot. The 3DS was already arriving after the 3D boom was starting to subside and the company needed to replace the DSi in 2011, but by the time the New 3DS fixed the problem with 'Super Stable" 3D the jig was up, the ship had sailed.
The tech world, and many consumers, have long since moved on from 3D, perhaps only experiencing it with an occasion Blu-Ray at home or at the cinema. VR is the thing now, and it's too soon to say whether it'll be another fad that'll drift to the periphery or whether it's 'the future'. With the Switch Nintendo seems to be looking at a sensible option; a VR accessory and some support seems to be on the cards, but it doesn't seem to be an integral part of the system's pitch. Perhaps the hype and then rapid deflation around 3D stung the company from chasing such ideas.
I, for one, will miss auto-stereoscopic 3D if, as expected, it becomes a quirky part of Nintendo hardware history as opposed to a key ongoing feature. It's been part of my gaming habit for a generation, and has enhanced so many games, adding depth to experiences in a very literal way. Even when it made my eyes tingle during the first couple of days of ownership back in 2011, I still loved it, and I've faithfully kept the slider locked at the top ever since.
Will we miss it when it's gone?