Is the 3DS Still Relevant?
And is it too late to dive in now?
Ever since the Nintendo Switch was first revealed, I noticed an almost immediate assumption arising — both within the games media and among many gamers — that Nintendo might retire the 3DS line of products (including the 2DS) and opt to pour all of their resources into developing games for the Nintendo Switch.
Switch vs 3DS?
On the surface, it certainly made sense. And I think there are probably a lot of people who still think it makes sense today. After all, Nintendo had consolidated both its hardware and software teams as part of a restructuring program in 2015. As well, Nintendo had infamously struggled to maintain a consistent cadence of first and second-party releases for the Wii U during its lifespan (a problem that became even more evident when third-party support rapidly dried up, leaving gaping chasms in the platform’s release calendar).
Given this situation, it seemed obvious that Nintendo would want to double-down on Switch development. Remember that in 2017, we saw a massive number of major first-party releases from Nintendo, prompting the Switch install base to soar to around 20 million units globally in less than two full years on the market.
So, there’s pretty clearly been — and continues to be — an enormous momentum behind the Switch. Not only are Nintendo supporting the platform, but it’s being backed by a massive number of indie studios, and now some of the biggest names in gaming are putting their weight behind the hybrid device.
And yet, the 3DS continues to hang on. When I was at E3 2017, I spent some time at Nintendo’s press booth, and I went hands-on with the New 2DS XL (pictured left). There was so much excitement about the Switch last year (Super Mario Odyssey dominated Nintendo’s presence at the event), but the company were still keen to demonstrate what they were doing with their dedicated handheld line. It must be said, too, that the New 2DS XL is a pretty refined piece of hardware. The screens are bigger and clearer — I haven’t seen such a crisp display on a dedicated handheld — the overall shape is thin and light while still feeling incredibly sturdy, and the buttons are easily the most comfortable I’ve used on any Nintendo handheld to date. Of course, I’m excluding the Switch in this case, given that it isn’t a dedicated handheld (although I know there are Switch owners who never dock the console).
It’s still alive
If the New 2DS XL weren’t enough evidence that Nintendo aren’t giving up on the platform yet, there’s also the not-insignificant fact that the company continues to spotlight the product during their financial briefings. While there might be less new games coming out over the next year than we’ve seen previously, it’s also true that Nintendo’s official position is that they intend to continue supporting the platform at least through 2019.
So, in other words — at least for now — the 3DS/2DS line isn’t going anywhere.
Nintendo continue to promote the platform through numerous special edition versions; I won’t list them all here, but two of the most common varieties at the moment are the Pikachu Edition (pictured left), as well as the rather lovely Animal Crossing Edition. I actually picked up the Pikachu Edition recently, despite not really being much of a handheld gamer (more on that in a moment) and despite the fact that I already have a New 3DS. On the one hand, I assume it’s very uncommon for consumers to own multiple fairly new 3DS/2DS models — on the other hand, it’s worth remembering that the New 2DS XL retails for $149.99USD (which is a whopping $150USD less than a Nintendo Switch).
This awkwardly dovetails into my next point, and the main reason I’m actually writing this article: I recently discovered how incredible the 3DS is.
That statement may sound bafflingly stupid when I tell you that I actually also own an original Japanese 3DS from the Japanese launch. So that means I now have 3 variants of the same machine. How can this revelation have only just occurred to me recently?
Well, much as I’ve enjoyed some of Nintendo’s handheld games, I’ve never really been a big handheld gamer. I always prefer playing games on a TV screen — my Switch spends a good 80–90% of its time docked, for example. Over the years, there were some handheld games I simply couldn’t miss, especially games like The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening — these are true Nintendo classics that I felt I had to play, even though I didn’t really enjoy peeking into a squished little screen that only made me want to go back to my TV even more.
It’s hard to identify exactly what changed. Part of the reason might simply be that the weather has been pretty cold here lately (in Melbourne) and I wanted to play a few minutes of a game in bed…but I couldn’t really be bothered with the Switch. For some reason, I decided to grab my New 3DS and give it another shot. It also probably helped that I picked up a couple of 3DS games on the cheap recently — titles that have been out long enough to have warranted a price drop. I picked up Luigi’s Mansion 2 and Yoshi’s New Island brand new for $60AUD. That’s a steal, really.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been playing these games far more than I expected to. I also nabbed The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and holy hell, that’s a masterpiece.
So, at the risk of sounding like a reformed smoker eagerly sharing my pearls of ridiculously-obvious wisdom, er…here they are. ;-)
Reasons to love 3DS
If you’re reading this and you’re a die-hard 3DS fan, then I feel like it’s a good time to part ways. You can wander off into the sunset, satisfied that a Nintendo Switch fan has fallen head-over-heels for its increasingly-maligned cousin.
But if you’ve never considered the 3DS — and especially if you own a Switch — here are some pretty good reasons why you should not only want the 3DS to stick around a little longer, but why it’s actually a great time to buy one for yourself.
Here are five simple reasons why I think 3DS is still worth your time in 2018.
1. Value for money
I hinted at this earlier, but I think it’s a really worthwhile point to consider. A New 2DS XL is a full $150USD cheaper than the Nintendo Switch. Of course, every gamer has a different budget — but we all know that gaming can be an expensive hobby at the best of times. And for many of us, $150 is a pretty substantial amount of money, especially when you consider that this kind of saving could be used to buy several 3DS games to go along with your shiny new console.
There’s another point here, too — because the 3DS has been around for so long, many of its best games have been available long enough to justify fairly significant price cuts. For example, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D now retails in the U.S. for $19.99. Something a little newer, like Super Mario 3D Land retails for $29.99. Most new Nintendo titles on Switch are going for at least $59.99.
These considerations become even more significant if you’re thinking about buying 3DS as a gift for someone, or if you’re looking at getting a game console for your children.
In some ways this feels like an even more obvious point — there are now over 1,000 titles on 3DS. But I think the beauty of this is that it’s not just a question of volume but also of quality.
There are too many great games to mention, so let me call out the ones I’ve been playing recently. I’m going to credit these games with getting me back into the 3DS as a platform — they’ve really renewed my excitement for it, and they’ve set me on a path of discovering other great 3DS games I missed.
First, there’s The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. If you’re a Zelda fan at all and you haven’t played this one, I’d say that it’s a must-own. I haven’t finished it yet, so I can’t quite say where it sits in my overall view of this franchise, but I can confidently say that I’m having as much fun with it as I did when I first played A Link to the Past on SNES. That’s a big statement, I know, but it’s absolutely true. What’s really great about this game is that it isn’t simply try to ape its predecessor — instead, it actively leverages your nostalgia for A Link to the Past and presents you with some enormous (and truly wonderful) surprises.
I’ve also been playing Luigi’s Mansion 2 (also known as Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon).
This game genuinely surprised me in the most pleasant way; I enjoyed the original GameCube title a lot, but I was never really too keen to go back to it — especially in a handheld context. But after sinking a good few hours into Luigi’s Mansion 2, I’ve realised the error of my ways.
Not only does Luigi’s Mansion 2 provide more of the charm, humour and atmosphere of the original, but it expands the formula in numerous ways that don’t just feel like “more of the same”. It’s almost as though the first game was a (very polished) technical demo, with the sequel being the “full game”. In this title you’ll explore multiple mansions, each acting like a kind of themed world or biome. The puzzles are truly fantastic, in that they often require you to think laterally…but also in the sense that their solutions are often pretty hilarious. This game really leans into its quirky humour in a way that permeates the entire experience. The physical level design here is among the best I’ve ever seen from Nintendo, too; I’m constantly awed by the variety and ingenuity they’ve been able to incorporate into a game where you can’t jump, and where your only weapons are a vacuum cleaner and a flashlight.
There are countless other brilliant 3DS games, of course. I definitely think that The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D is, hands down, the best version of that classic game. And I personally enjoyed Super Mario 3D Land a lot more than 3D World on the Wii U (despite the latter certainly being an excellent game).
One of the greatest advantages of the Switch is that you can play it anywhere, anytime. Not only that, but you can get a “full console experience” on the go, which simply doesn’t exist anywhere else.
But battery life is a major issue on the Switch. And although you can easily chuck the tablet into a case, it’s definitely true that the 3DS has obvious advantages when it comes to portability — for one thing, you can just close the clamshell and immediately resume your game whenever you like. You’ll also find that instead of getting 2–3 hours of continuous gameplay in a single session, you’ll get more like 5–7.
I managed to play A Link Between Worlds for several hours across a few days without actually charging my 3DS at all. When the power indicator went orange yesterday, I suddenly realised how long I’d been playing without being tethered to a power supply.
4. 3D is still cool
This one might be a bit controversial, because I know there are people who simply don’t care for the 3D side of the 3DS — this is obviously one major reason why the 2DS exists (as well as to drive the price down even further).
But I think it’s worth noting just what Nintendo have done here. As far as I know, this is the only mass-market device that offers a glasses-free 3D display. I remember finding the technology remarkable with the original 3DS, but Nintendo have refined it substantially on the New 3DS, thanks to the face-tracking technology that helps to keep the 3D visuals stable even when your face moves relative to the screen.
This is also perhaps one reason why I ended up falling off the 3DS wagon originally, at least to some extent — I remember getting irritated that I had to keep the position of the console so stable relative to my face in order to maintain a clear 3D image. With the New 3DS, the problem definitely still exists, but it’s been radically minimised.
While it’s true that you’ll get a clearer picture on the 2DS, it’s also true that some games really pop in 3D; so much so, that I don’t think I’d want to play them in 2D at all.
When you play something like A Link Between Worlds on the New 3DS, it really feels like you’re looking into a tiny diorama of Hyrule. It might be a gimmick, but it works — and it still looks gorgeous. The diorama effect is even more noticeable in Luigi’s Mansion 2, which looks utterly jaw-dropping in 3D. It feels like you’re peering into a little doll’s house — as Luigi’s flashlight spins around in front of you, you can see the dust floating around in three dimensions. It’s remarkable, even in 2018.
5. Virtual Console
This one feels a bit like a cheap shot, but I couldn’t avoid mentioning it: the 3DS still has a Virtual Console. And it’s a pretty good one, too! Not only can you play numerous classic Nintendo titles, but there are a ton of other goodies on there too — including some great Sega Game Gear stuff.
And, although it’s not specifically a Virtual Console point, I do think it’s worth noting that Nintendo revived a number of classic Nintendo 64 games and polished them up for a re-release on 3DS. I’ve already mentioned Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask — both of which look great in 3D, and both of which have also seen numerous other tweaks and enhancements. But there are other titles too, like Starfox 64 3D, which really feels like the definitive version of the game.
When I began this article, I touched on the business side to a degree — there are now more than 72 million 3DS consoles out there, and Nintendo apparently don’t intend to ignore that sizable market anytime soon.
That said, I wanted to focus on how the situation looks as a gamer first and foremost. Forget sales, forget Nintendo’s teams and their business strategy — forget all of it. In the end, the question really comes down to whether or not the 3DS/2DS is still a worthwhile experience in 2018. From my point of view, the answer is a resounding yes.
Who knows what Nintendo’s longterm plans are for their dedicated handheld business. They might kill it off to focus entirely on Switch and mobile, or they might introduce something brand new to succeed the 3DS. Nobody outside Nintendo knows for sure.
For now, all I see is a little system on my shelf with a truckload of brilliant exclusive games just begging to be played.