When Nintendo hits it out of the park, they tend to go all in — and that’s definitely been the case for the Nintendo Switch. The plucky little handheld hybrid that could has, after all, now comfortably eclipsed its esteemed SNES ancestor in sales numbers, and is the hottest must-have machine on the market today.
Cast your mind back to the system’s launch, though, and one thing that was often applauded when the machine came out was its interface. Crisp, clean, minimalistic and easy to navigate, the Nintendo Switch home menu keeps clutter at bay with a quiet yet playful elegance.
Of course, at the time of the console’s release, nobody had any complaints about this simplistic approach. Heck, we were all too busy foisting the machine at people as soon as we undocked it, shouting “Look at that! Look at iiiit!” or, indeed, pretending we didn’t want to see what the game cartridges tasted like. Some of us even spent time playing some actual games on the thing, too.
Nowadays, it’s a bit of a different tale. Rumblings are emerging — Switch users want themes for their home menus and fancy tech to run mightier games and all that other fun stuff. But for your humble writer here, well… there’s one nod to Nintendo’s handheld past that’d be a perfect fit for the Switch (because everything is apparently a perfect fit for the Switch these days), and it’s a nod so entirely missing in action I’m worried there’s something wrong with Nintendo’s neck.
The 3DS is a marvellous system — and one that, it’s easy to forget these days, wasn’t viewed with anywhere near as much consumer confidence when it first came out, compared to the Nintendo Switch and its near universal acclaim today.
Being the neat little fold-up box of tricks that it was, the Nintendo 3DS launched with a bevy of gizmos. The 3D stereoscopic gubbins was the star attraction, but actually fell by the wayside somewhat as the handheld’s lifespan continued, being supplanted in popularity by the other features of its design — StreetPass being one of them.
Why StreetPass wasn’t supposed to work, but did
StreetPass was the means by which two Nintendo 3DS consoles that were within wireless range of one another among groups of passing strangers could interact.
It sounds rather ruddy insidious when I put it like that, doesn’t it? Especially in today’s world. The very notion is so ripe with unprotected, harvestable advertising data potential you can practically hear Zuckerberg making a peckish little squeak from here. Hands rubbing together with the sordid scritch of sandpaper. An aide arrives to dab the desirous spittle forming in a glinting, pregnant globule at the corner of his lips.
It is possible that I am getting distracted.
StreetPass had its roots in older DS games in Japan, a handheld console generation beforehand.
The point is, StreetPass was ingenious, enabling you and fellow gamers, unknown in the crowds around you, to swap goodies, trinkets, Mii anecdotes, Mario Kart ghost data, armies to take over kingdoms, ghost hunters to tackle towers of spooky doom, you name it. There were as many ingenious ways of using StreetPass as there were people using it and games compatible with it.
StreetPass had its roots in older DS games in Japan, a handheld console generation beforehand. More specifically, it was Square Enix’s Dragon Quest IX — the first handheld-only mainline instalment in a franchise so overwhelmingly popular in Japan that just trying to tabulate its multifarious levels of appeal makes my teeth itch — that really helped the idea of anonymously exchanging game data, hints and characters with passersby gain a foothold.
Of course, in one of the most densely populated, technologically ubiquitous countries on the planet, the implementation of StreetPass precursor “Tag Mode” by Square Enix in Dragon Quest IX was pretty much a guaranteed success. Characters and dungeon maps within the game world were swapped on the fly thousands of times a day by the ever-moving populace, and the proof of concept for an anonymous system by which players could unlock new things to do in their games without directly interacting or interrupting their day proved overwhelmingly popular and appreciated.
Seeing the success of the idea, Nintendo baked it into the 3DS as standard — leave your handheld in standby mode while going about your day, and its innocent seeming exterior would hide a thrum of data, Mii witticisms and endless freakin’ jigsaw puzzle pieces for you to open your system to and be greeted by when you got home.
From that moment, the way in which I enjoyed that handheld changed forever
This, of course, was a new and lovely idea implying human connection and general conviviality among our species, so everyone and his dog decided almost immediately that it was a waste of time and nobody was going to bother with it in the West. Who outside Japan carries a Nintendo console everywhere? Who’s got the time to, you know, put it in their jacket pocket or bag before leaving the house? Why would I carry a $200 handheld console around and risk it getting stolen when I’ve got my $1,000 smartphone right here? What about my wallet? What about my umbrella? Who are you, and what are you doing in my house?
Population spread is far different outside Japan too, and in the UK — where I happen to live, for a multitude of reasons best summed up as “I’m an idiot” — scepticism for the StreetPass concept was as intense as it would be for anything else devilishly un-British, such as demonstrations of emotional vulnerability, or not pretending you haven’t noticed someone you actually very much like in the street simply because you can’t be bothered to have a conversation with them.
And yet, my launch day Nintendo 3DS flickered its green StreetPass light at me on the very day of purchase, on my very first outing with it, and I got home to a new, grin inducing Mii guest inside it. And from that moment, the way in which I enjoyed that handheld changed forever — as did my expectations of every handheld since.
“But the Switch isn’t technically a handheld, is it?”
Oh, don’t you bleedin’ start. If anything, the hybrid nature of the Nintendo Switch is what makes the idea of having StreetPass on it so deliciously appealing. And don’t go pretending people don’t take it places too, grown adults even. I see you. We all see you. We’re all more like those original lifestyle-product trailers Nintendo dished out to announce the blessed thing years ago than we like to admit, and we’ve cheerily handed them our wallets and invited them to help themselves in exchange for hits of oh so very much colourful Super Serotonin Bros ever since.
The point is, StreetPass on the Switch would tap into that communal feeling, that old play together “any time, any place with anyone” mantra that Nintendo themselves have been dishing up for a good few years now.
Imagine getting home, docking the Switch you’ve had sleeping in its case in your bag while you’ve been out and about — or curling up in your chair with your Lite if that’s what you got instead, nobody’s judging you — and then seeing what salubrious salutations await you as you fire the home menu up.
Mario Kart 8 time trial ghosts invite you to a spin around the track. New Mii Fighters flex, bristle their fantasy firearms or glint their swords at you for a
Smash Bros showdown. League Cards from Pokemon Sword & Shield wait in your inbox, or perhaps CPU clones of that player’s team to fight against or cook curry at camp alongside or anonymously commiserate egregiously untapped graphical potential with.
Custom Skyrim quests, crowdsourced Witcher contracts, randomly generated Rocket League prizes… heck, I’d even take the dang jigsaw puzzle pieces again. There are million of Switch users worldwide, and it’s about a decade since the whole notion of StreetPass first took off. Imagine how much it could enhance Switch play — the communities that could form, the Animal Crossing shirts we could anonymously make one another, the darling digital doofuses we could Find Mii in HD all over again with.
The Nintendo 3DS was a stellar handheld that paved the way for so very much of the success of the Switch. Why should StreetPass, arguably its most innovative invention and biggest source of playtime longevity, get left by the wayside with the Switch?