As we approach the Holiday season, it seems appropriate to reflect on the act of giving. Although it’s nice to say that the real pleasure is in giving gifts, 3DS owners can be honest and say that receiving them is also rather enjoyable. Nintendo have provided a lot of free content since the handheld’s launch, in a variety of ways, and we’re going to outline a few examples. We’ll also look at complimentary content given to Wii owners; that won’t take long.

So many freebies

The launch of the 3DS was lacking an all-important application: the eShop. As compensation for this, Nintendo provided two free downloads when the store launched, Pokédex 3D and 3D Classics: Excitebike. While Pokédex 3D provides lovingly detailed statistics and 3D models, Excitebike features the original NES gameplay with newly enhanced 3D visuals. They are both solid examples of how the handheld’s 3D capabilities can enhance apps and games, and as a result these are probably seen by Nintendo as a useful form of marketing for digital releases on the 3DS.

Another free download available to all 3DS owners is The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Anniversary, with this title also free via DSiWare. Arriving on 28th September, this release has a substantial amount of content and is free until February 2012. This was a notable step-up from the initial free eShop titles, with significant replay value and well implemented local online gameplay. As part of the Zelda 25th Anniversary celebrations this is perhaps another example of clever marketing, but also represents a shift towards providing significant content as an incentive to console owners. Considering the oft-repeated Nintendo mantra that software shouldn’t be devalued, it’s interesting that a well-crafted remake, with additional modes and stages, was given away for free.

In terms of Nintendo providing complimentary 3DS content, we feel obliged to acknowledge the firmware updates that Nintendo have been providing, which we covered in our evolution of the 3DS feature. While system updates on the Wii and DSi have been infrequent and often used as a means to make adjustments behind-the-scenes, the 3DS updates have added a range of new features and applications: improved friend list functionality, 3D video recording and new StreetPass content, to name a few examples. It may be common amongst its competitors, but Nintendo is moving into a brave new world of regular, meaningful firmware updates, with all 3DS owners enjoying the benefits.

It may be common amongst its competitors, but Nintendo is moving into a brave new world of regular, meaningful firmware updates.

There are more freebies to consider, of course, though they’re not available to all 3DS owners. The Ambassador virtual console games are an apology from Nintendo to 3DS early-adopters, following the drastic price cut of the console in the summer. With 20 free games in total, including ten rather impressive Game Boy Advance titles made available on 16th December, it can be argued that this is a magnanimous offering from Nintendo. There is plenty of debate about how generous this package actually is, though it should be acknowledged that Nintendo didn’t necessarily have to provide so much, if any, complimentary software to early-adopters. It was a gesture that matched the contrite language at the time of the price drop; an attempt to make amends.

The free content promises to keep coming, with more firmware updates slated for 2012 that will include eShop demos, DLC (downloadable content) and a messaging service. 3DS gamers with particular retail purchases will also be able to claim a free copy of 3D Classics: Kid Icarus, while Club Nintendo members in North America can trade accumulated coins for free downloads across all current Nintendo consoles. It wouldn’t surprise us if incentives like these continue through the coming year.

Wii have nothing for you

While the 3DS has boasted such a significant volume of updates and complimentary content, the ageing Wii is at the opposite end of the scale. Aside from the already mentioned Club Nintendo promotion there has been very little goodwill on the Wii, with DS demos – via the Nintendo Channel – and Wii Shop demos representing the only free gaming opportunities. The Kirby TV Channel, providing access to the pink one’s cartoon series, was a nice extra for fans of the franchise. Over a period of 12 months, however, those are slim pickings indeed.

It will be interesting to see what content is provided to Wii U owners to encourage them to make the most of the shiny new console and, in particular, its potential online capabilities. The 3DS has certainly set a benchmark, and Nintendo face a challenge in balancing complimentary gifts with the need to sell content and make a profit. Only Nintendo can truly judge the success of these initiatives, though we certainly hope that these promotions have boosted the number of 3DS owners going online and using the handheld’s various functions. One thing is for sure, it’s been a bumper year of freebies.

What do you think?

We’d love to hear your opinions about the freebies from Nintendo on the 3DS this year: which have you enjoyed the most, and do these updates and free games tempt you into using features such as the eShop more often? Are perks and incentives like these important in the developing success of the 3DS and, in future, the Wii U, or are Nintendo selling themselves short? Let us know in the comments below.