When it comes to playing habits on the 3DS there are three distinct camps of gamers - those that leave the 3D slider up, some that alternate and adjust the setting depending on the game, and others that prefer viewing their screens in 2D. This scribe has always been in the first camp, cranking the slider to maximum and enjoying the effect, but everyone has their own preferences.
For those that enjoy autostereoscopic 3D on the 3DS, however, recent releases have brought some disappointment. In recent weeks this writer reviewed both Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions and Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires' Conspiracy, both of which were 2D only. It wasn't a surprise that the latter went that way - as a late-gen port from Level-5 there was always the lingering suspicion that it'd make that concession. Mario & Luigi was a disappointing example of Nintendo cutting corners, however, and it was one of our few complaints about the release.
These weren't the first games to be exclusively 2D, not by a long stretch - Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS was a high profile example, but arguments could be made for that choice in terms of both design and technical considerations. There was no real excuse with Superstar Saga beyond costcutting, however, as the game had been revamped with the 3DS engine that had delivered attractive 3D in past entries. It stung in particular because the fantastic Metroid: Samus Returns reminded us of how engrossing and effective the technology can be. MercurySteam had done similarly impressive work with the screen in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate and showed its expertise again with the Metroid arrival.
Yet Nintendo continues to lead the way - Metroid aside - in dropping the effect, with the latest example being Kirby Battle Royale. A 2D-only warning appeared in tiny text in one European trailer we saw, and the recently released demo confirmed that the game won't use the effect; this is despite both Kirby: Triple Deluxe and Kirby: Planet Robobot making nice use of the top screen. Likewise the demo for Nintendo Presents: New Style Boutique 3 is also 2D only. Again, it's been a deliberate choice taken by Nintendo and its studios, and it's an increasingly common trend this year.
One important factor, of course, was the Summer launch of the New Nintendo 2DS XL, which has seemingly become a handy excuse to make those development choices. A lot of game trailers focus on those latest models when showcasing games and Nintendo is trying to use the mid-range system as a focus for a last hurrah; even the freshly minted New 3DS XL - Super NES Edition for North America has had a very low key announcement. There's no getting away from the fact that the sun is starting to set on the 3DS 'family', with a handful of major releases - Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon being the most high profile - set to give it a push in the Holiday season and into the early part of 2018. It's hard to see how much further the portable can then go, as even with some major releases it'll likely struggle to maintain sales momentum.
It's a pity that the 3D effect has departed the scene, for the most part, early. It's always been an awkward unique selling point for the system, however - when the 3DS launched the health warnings on the box harmed the family image of the device, Nintendo had trouble with marketing and it fell flat. While the trend of ignoring the effect entirely has accelerated recently, it's a feature that's often been on the back foot and under-appreciated, arguably, from the early days.
For some that's something to regret. We still recall being blown away at a pre-release public demonstration event in early 2011, with glasses-free 3D being quite a novelty at that point. Even with the limited viewing angles of the original model it was enticing, at least to this writer, and the New 3DS and its 'stable' effect have only made it better. Some games have also used it smartly; examples that spring to mind right away include Kid Icarus: Uprising, Super Mario 3D Land and Luigi's Mansion 2, which all looked excellent in 3D.
The era is ending, however, and while 3D was once the future - really, it was! - now the focus is on increased resolutions, virtual reality and augmented reality. With the Switch we've seen Nintendo focus on hybrid convenience, flexibility and multiplayer out of the box, and it'll be interesting to see where it goes next. Nevertheless, it seems very unlikely that glasses-free 3D will become the 'next big thing' ever again, though stranger things have happened.
In any case it's a shame that the later days of the 3DS have brought us games that don't support the true abilities of the non-2DS top screen. Looking further on, it'll be interesting to see how opinions take shape on the 3DS and its 3D effect in years to come. It seemed under-valued and ignored by many when it was a part of our daily gaming lives, but pretty soon it'll be gone forever. Maybe then it'll be missed a little more keenly.