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Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

There's no denying the fact that the 3DS has been a key hardware release for Nintendo. Not only has this plucky handheld seen some of the best Nintendo games in recent memory – including The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Mario Kart 7, Super Smash Bros. For Nintendo 3DS and countless others besides – but it arguably kept the company (and this very website) in business during the barren years of the Wii U. It may not have reached the same dizzying heights as its predecessor, the Nintendo DS – that console sold a staggering 150 million units during its lifespan – but the 73 million 3DS systems retailed since 2011 is not to be sniffed at by any means, especially when you consider that the DS didn't have smartphones and tablets to compete with for the majority of its existence.

The 3DS turns eight this coming March, and has enjoyed a level of longevity that is only matched by the monochrome Game Boy. However, while it has made perfect sense for the company to have a handheld and a home console on the market together in the past, the launch of the Switch has drastically altered Nintendo's strategy. Switch consolidates the company's handheld and home interests into a single platform, negating the need for a 'new' dedicated portable – and this is surely the reason why Nintendo hasn't chosen to replace the ageing 3DS in the past 24 months, despite its advanced years.

While Nintendo has insisted that the console still has a place in its plans – especially while the Switch remains so expensive – that position is becoming increasingly untenable as consumers lose interest and divert their attention (and money) towards the new hybrid platform. If you needed evidence of this fact, then consider this: we're now seeing obvious signs of the console's decline in the market which loved it most.

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Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

Yesterday, the news broke that recent AAA 3DS games had flopped at retail in Japan. It has been reported Luigi's Mansion has only managed to sell 82,577 copies in just over two months on sale in Japan, while Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story + Bowser Jr.'s Journey – a Christmas release and surely one of the console's last big games – limped to 9,178 copies in its opening week of sale. 2015's Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam sold 49,266 units in the same period of time – and even that was considered to be a poor showing.

Given the incredible popularity of the 3DS in its homeland – where it has traditionally sold much better than elsewhere in the world – such figures aren't just worrying, they're fatal. The 3DS has served Nintendo well, but it would be foolish to suggest it's doing anything but circling the drain right now; outside of the aforementioned ports (which include the upcoming Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn), the system has been starved of exclusive content for months and eShop releases have all but dried up. Nintendo continues to push the console (indeed, it figured in the firm's Black Friday and festive retail line-ups) but we suspect that this is simply to offload existing stock; the company is famously cautious about holding too much inventory and when the last of the 3DS and 2DS systems are sold, it's hard to imagine any more being produced.

While all of this might sound needlessly downbeat, it's vital to remember those eight glorious years of service. Few consoles get to that age – heck, the original Xbox lasted half that time before it was replaced, while the Dreamcast only truly existed in Sega's plans for less than three years. By contrast, the 3DS has enjoyed an unnaturally long lifespan, partly down to Nintendo's all-in-one approach for the Switch (which meant no direct successor was required) and partly down to the fact that as a platform, it has been ideally suited to a wide range of genres, including platformers, RPGs, 3D adventures, puzzlers and racing games.

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Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

The system's autostereoscopic gimmick may something even Nintendo itself has tried to shake off in recent years, but it remains impressive, even today. While later 3DS titles have ignored this feature in order to optimise performance, others – such as the aforementioned Luigi's Mansion – have harnessed it to give us a unique perspective which Nintendo wanted to deliver years ago; the GameCube original was designed with 3D televisions in mind, but the feature was never realised, until the 3DS release last year. It's not just AAA games which have used the glasses-free 3D effect well over the years; M2's line of restored and updated Sega arcade games has provided fans with the definitive means of experiencing classics like Out Run, After Burner and Super Hang-On – outside of tracking down the original arcade versions, perhaps.

In fact, it's not too much of an exaggeration to say that in time, the 3DS will be considered to be one of Nintendo's most assured hardware releases. A quick glance over its library shows a real embarrassment of amazing games – both physical and download-only – and in years to come, we imagine it will rank pretty highly when fans debate which Nintendo system is host to the best selection of software. As such, we should probably be more thankful to the 3DS than we possibly are already; if Nintendo's DS successor had been a dud, would the company be in the position it is now? The failure of the Wii U meant that Nintendo needed a sizeable crutch to lean on, and as far as crutches go, the 3DS was brilliant. It's not too outlandish to suggest that the 3DS kept the company in the hardware business – the late president Satoru Iwata would arguably have had a harder time convincing shareholders to stick with the expense and risk of producing hardware had Nintendo been staring down the barrel of both home and portable disaster.

All of which makes it hard to say goodbye, but that time has most definitely come. Nintendo needs to have all of its attention on Switch, and part of that is slowly pulling the 3DS out of the public eye so that Switch sucks up every possible dime. It's possible that Nintendo's 2019 plans for the console include new SKUs, one of which could potentially be the mooted 'Switch Lite', a system which sacrifices certain aspects of the console's functionality to hit a lower price point, thereby making it more appealing to those parents who, 12 months ago, would have picked the 3DS for their children. If this comes to pass, then the older handheld really does become redundant.

Nintendo 3DS, we salute you – but your time is indeed up.

Should the 3DS be put out to pasture?