It's not uncommon that, with new hardware around the corner, console manufacturers keep some content trickling onto the soon-to-be last-gen hardware. Often they rely upon third-party multi-platform titles, as we saw with PS3 and Xbox 360 after the arrival of their successors, though in Nintendo's case it has to do a lot of the work itself. Though reports mean we believe we have a firm idea of what NX is, we still await its unveiling; regardless of its form, Nintendo is keen to make it clear that the 3DS is far from finished, pitching its 2017 line-up in the recent Direct broadcasts. Talk is of the company wanting the portable to stay relevant as far as 2018, but let's just take it one year at a time.
The fate for Wii U is altogether more grim. Already supported relatively little in 2016 - beyond a handful of quality releases - it's still looking largely off the radar for 2017. The only title due next year on the home console that's truly quickening the pulse is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and that is coming to the NX as well. It's reminiscent of the dual release of Twilight Princess; many gamers grabbed it for Wii at its launch while it went almost forgotten on the struggling GameCube; sadly the Wii U's hardware sales are flattering for the GameCube.
In any case, Nintendo set its stall out early in the most recent Direct - especially in the North American version - in emphasizing right from the off that 2017 releases would be discussed. It was a logical move, too - aside from an Animal Crossing mini-Direct on the way in early November, it's possible this was a near-final hurrah (in the short term, at least) for 3DS in terms of these major broadcasts. NX looms for a March release, and Nintendo should - based on rumours and simple logic - be revealing the system within the next 4-8 weeks, to give it time to build anticipation and get its messaging established for the next generation. Throw in the need to promote its upcoming efforts on Mobile, and there may be little room - outside of an additional Pokémon Direct, perhaps - to promote the 3DS heavily through these online streams.
Overall, then, Nintendo put plenty into the 1st September presentations. It worked, too - there was a decent amount of positivity in the live chat here on Nintendo Life, and a majority had favourable views on the streams in our recent polls. There was a blend of immediate goodies with titles and DLC released on the day, a few recaps of old details, and quite a few surprises.
The key reveals, outside of the obvious example that we'll come to soon, were Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS and Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World, which are tweaked ports of two terrific Wii U titles. There are oddities in both - Super Mario Maker will lack online level uploads on 3DS, though it will be possible to do scaled-back searches of levels created on the Wii U original. Local sharing is the focus, while there'll be plenty of levels to play off the cartridge along with 'tutorials' while creating stages; with those features in mind, this will surely lack much appeal for many with the original. Yet the point is that plenty of 3DS owners don't have a Wii U, so they may be rather tempted.
We'd suggest that audience of non-Wii U owners that own a portable are the key demographic for the tweaked Yoshi's Woolly World, too. Poochy's role is expanded to offer more help in-game, and there'll be a gorgeous amiibo for the character. For those with a Wii U, though, it's a tough sell - the game is a stunner on the home console, and the limitations of the 3DS hardware mean it won't have the same wow factor. Again, though, we suspect eager Wii U owners are far from being the target audience.
The standout reveal left for the end was Pikmin for Nintendo 3DS, a title yet to be given a final name. Is this the next 'main' entry in the series, or is Pikmin 4 something else entirely? It's not clear yet, with Nintendo being deliberately vague, and it's an interesting spin on the series. It's a 2D action title - you still use your Pikmin to solve puzzles and attack enemies, but it will clearly be far more linear and fast-paced than the three previous home console entries. Pikmin 3 isn't actually among the biggest-selling Wii U games - not the top 10, in any case - and its first two entries were (Wii remakes aside) on the GameCube. This 3DS game may be an attempt to make a moderately popular and charming series a bigger hit, exposing it to a larger audience. An audience that, by the time this rolls around in 2017, may be keen for a new 3DS title to play.
So, what is the role of 3DS in 2017? It'll be an important supporting cast member for the NX, as Nintendo aims to keep a sizeable 3DS userbase interested and engaged into next year. The upcoming updates and amiibo support for Animal Crossing: New Leaf also show that Nintendo is looking at options to make evergreen titles new again. Even with the assumption that NX is a long-term replacement for the 3DS (in some form), Nintendo will know full well that not all gamers jump to new hardware right away, and the current-gen portable has been enough of a success that it's worth supporting even beyond its prime.
The Wii U, unfortunately, seems to be pretty much finished, outside of a few releases like Paper Mario: Color Splash and Breath of the Wild. Barring a surprising and unlikely U-turn Nintendo isn't going to put too much effort into keeping it going, beyond supporting and promoting some Nindie download efforts - which is still welcome, to be fair. Nintendo's own estimate that it'll ship just 800,000 Wii U units this financial year, despite its modest userbase of just over 13 million, is damning.
Strategically, the approach to 3DS is interesting, however. In bringing across a couple of top-notch Wii U games - even with noticeable downscales to get them working on the ageing portable - Nintendo is filling out the 3DS library to certainly strengthen its library and legacy. Many reading this likely own Super Mario Maker and Yoshi's Woolly World on Wii U already, but for the many that don't they're intriguing and exciting releases for the portable. Throw in Ever Oasis and the inevitable upcoming announcements - we hope for localisations of third-party titles such as Monster Hunter Stories and Lady Layton - and 2017 could be a very solid year indeed. In fact, for fans of the portable that ignored the Wii U in this generation, it could almost feel like business as usual.
The absence of a 3DS price drop, so far, may mean that Nintendo is happy with relatively modest hardware sales (though it had excellent July sales in the US, for example) but continuing momentum in software, which Pokémon Sun and Moon will help with late this year and even into 2017. Should Nintendo and its slate of releases for the portable succeed in holding reasonable momentum it'll be a solid achievement, especially considering the creaking capabilities of the system. In this age of HD gaming, 4K TVs and modern smartphones, at times the 3DS can look extremely modest on a technical level. Yet it doesn't necessarily matter; it has a sizeable userbase, and the games can still be a joy to play.
3DS will very likely play second fiddle to NX in 2017, of course, but it's not finished yet.