Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they've been chewing over. Today, Andy McDonald celebrates and reminisces about a console that showcased Nintendo's off-the-wall creativity at its very best...
With the 3DS’ days numbered as an active platform due to the upcoming eShop closure, I decided to dust it off and pick up some digital exclusives that will soon officially go the way of the dodo, lest we enjoy re-releases or the advent of time travel. It’s always a strange feeling to see a console become 'obsolete'; how these cutting-edge devices into which we devote years of intrigue, money, and time are suddenly usurped by ever-evolving technology. My love for the 3DS, however, is particularly deep-rooted and as I browsed the storefront for some last-minute additions to the collection, my mind started wandering.
It was 2013 and I found myself back in my old hometown, having graduated from university. It’s a story that’s probably familiar to a lot of people — you go from the regimented nature of full-time study to losing that structure overnight, suddenly at the mercy of a ruthlessly competitive job market and separated from the comforts of friends and freedom. Such a shift in lifestyle can be tough to take and after the first ten or so rejection letters from potential employers, life can begin to feel a bit directionless. After a few months of this, the days sort of blend into one.
One thing was new though — my shiny 3DS. I had largely fallen out of the gaming habit over my years in academia, my last purchases having been the GameCube and original DS. But a workmate at my last part-time job — which I left to move back home and look for something in my field — had insisted I try Nintendo’s latest handheld. Giving into this one-man peer pressure, I treated myself to a red XL version. Before long, said colleague and I were sitting on upturned buckets in the store’s warehouse playing Mario Kart 7. Something dormant in me stirred.
The 3DS became something of a beacon of light in those subsequent days of job-hunting, as I immersed myself in the likes of Super Mario 3D Land, Luigi’s Mansion 2, Resident Evil Revelations, and Fire Emblem: Awakening. Much as the slow-starting console propped up Nintendo while the Wii U struggled through the mid-2010s, it likewise supported me through those difficult days. Oddly enough, I never got into Animal Crossing: New Leaf, even though its idyllic escapism should surely have made it a dream game at the time.
It was also my first experience of augmented reality. Scanning the pre-packaged AR Cards with the 3DS’ camera unlocked features including minigames. Even for the modest technology of the time, I found the snooker-golf hybrid, AR Shot, to be an impressive piece of trickery as it carved hills and bunkers out of the kitchen counter. Face Raiders, meanwhile, allowed you to take selfies which would scatter around the room as shootable targets. I might not have often seen the uni friends who were saved on it anymore but I could still fondly blast their ugly mugs. This thing truly felt like a bastion of Nintendo’s boundless creativity.
I wasn’t just sitting around the house playing video games, though. The 3DS’ portability came with its own bespoke rewards. Fitted with an internal pedometer, carrying it around would count your steps, converting them into Play Coins that could be used to obtain bonuses in various titles. I’d walk for miles with my clam-shelled sidekick, mainly to use the coins in the pseudo-social StreetPass Plaza.
This app lived up to its name; when two folk passed each other with wireless functionality enabled, their Mii avatars would later appear in each other’s plazas and could be used to take part in various activities, such as trading panel pieces to complete stereoscopic portraits or facing off against monsters in StreetPass Quest. My expanding army of fellow 3DS-toting wanderers was always an incentive to maintain an active lifestyle.
Despite all of this polygonal positivity, I couldn’t walk my woes away entirely and the job problem still loomed large. A journalism graduate, one way I had kept my skills in shape was through writing. My relative success as a freelance music journalist only served as a cruel contrast to my lack of luck with Lady Employment, having penned some hearty features for the UK’s rock mags. Ultimately, however, my experience had been that music journalism was largely impenetrable; cronyistic; unrewarding.
But now one rediscovered pastime was massaging my literary muscle. Was there still room for a small one in the UK’s gaming press?
Around that time came Pokémon X and Y, the first of the series’ editions on the 3DS. This new region of Kalos was vast and mysterious and there was a notable lack of official information following its release — some of its mysteries persist to this day. Harnessing my pre-existing knowledge of the critter-catching adventures, on something of a whim I decided to pitch a gaming publication a short article on how to competitively train Pokémon in this untamed land. It was worth a shot…
No, really, it was. That humble online piece opened a door and within months I found myself writing a multi-page preview of the forthcoming Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, remakes of Game Boy Advance games that I’d read about in the same magazine over a decade earlier. Further freelancing gigs followed, bringing in money and self-esteem when I needed them most. With renewed motivation, I eventually landed a job based around the written word.
Unemployment was a mercifully short time in the grand scheme of things but I now look back at those darker days with an odd fondness. This is thanks in no small part to the 3DS, not just as a form of entertainment but a vessel for creative and professional output. It feels doubly sad to see it being consigned to gaming history since it could well be the last in a long line of standalone Nintendo handhelds, the Switch likely signalling the permanent convergence of the company's home and portable technology.
It’s with a heavy heart that I’ll download the remaining eShop exclusives but with its stellar catalogue, communicative features, and innovative novelties, I'll always remember the 3DS as a console that made my lonely world a little more three-dimensional.