On the 27th of March 2023, the Nintendo 3DS eShop will be shutting down, signaling the true end of the console’s life, (not to mention several of its best games skyrocketing in price).
The 3DS was a unique console. What was at first written off as a gimmicky attempt to do 3D gaming without glasses ended up being one of the most successful consoles of the 8th generation pretty much carrying Nintendo through the poor sales of the Wii U?
Today let’s go down memory lane and take a look at the Nintendo 3DS, how it started, some of its best games, and how it would play a part in the success of the Switch and the future of many popular franchises.
The Launch of The Nintendo 3DS
I still remember the first announcement of the Nintendo 3DS. Nintendo was soaring high at E3 2010 with the announcement of several big Wii titles but ended their press conference with an onslaught of news about their new handheld.
The 3DS made a good impression, it looked sleek and modern with a metallic blue shell, a new analog circle pad, and a slew of impressive games. The big showing was Masahiro Sakurai’s reboot of Kid Icarus, but there was also a Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time (OOT) Remake, Animal Crossing, Mario Kart, and even Metal Gear Solid 3 all coming to this device. The 3DS came out swinging and its future looked bright.
Opening up the original model 3DS offered something that felt so much more advanced than the DS. The buttons were far more clicky than the DS’ mushier controls and I really enjoyed its’ smaller touches. The 240p 3D pictures and AR mini-games don’t seem like much now, but back then they were a cute novelty that was fun to fool around with.
There was also the addictive fun that was Street Pass. If your 3DS passed another 3DS on the street, it would record the other user. Seeing people’s different miis and what they were playing on their consoles was always cool. You could also use their miis in an assortment of fun mini-games in the Mii Plaza. These were simple games like completing puzzles or a simple RPG but I was taking my 3DS out everywhere to finish these. They were that fun and really encourage using the system more.
The Lukewarm Launch
Unfortunately, in terms of full-priced games, Nintendo had a bad case of “announce now, finish later” back in the day. Almost none of those cool games at E3 would launch in the system’s first year. In fact, the 3DS had a pretty poor first year altogether when it was first released in the spring of 2011.
The console had a poor launch lineup with the highlight being Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, an impressive port of the fighting game but outside of that, well, hope you like Pilotwings.
The next few months would give fans a few solid titles like Zelda OOT 3D, and Star Fox 64 3D but it was still scarce month by month. It also didn’t help that Sony had announced their own new handheld console, the PS Vita which was far more powerful than the 3DS and was launching at the same price of $250 USD.
Thankfully, the 3DS able to turn it around by winter. They cut the console’s price to $170 USD and released two staple pillars of any Nintendo console: a new Mario game in Super Mario 3D Land and a new Mario Kart. Sales shot up and it was mostly smooth sailing from there. Today the 3DS has sold over 75 million units worldwide making it the second best-selling console of the 8th Generation after the PS4.
The Nintendo 3DS followed in the DS’ footsteps with a large diverse range of games. We can’t speak about all of them but here are a few that are worth mentioning. Of course, it had all of the Nintendo staples like Mario, Zelda, Kirby, and bringing Metroid back out of hiatus but I feel you’d expect a Nintendo console to have high-quality games from their classic IPs. Here, I want to speak more on the game that truly stood out and made an impact on 3DS.
Animal Crossing New Leaf
Animal Crossing New Leaf to this day is considered the best game in the series. Firstly it’s the game that introduced Isabelle and everyone loves Isabelle.
Aside from that, not only did it bring near console-level graphics to a portable console but it was so customizable. Being the town mayor lets you open up new shops and landmarks, truly letting you make the town of your dreams. Or if you’re like me, you’ll spend all your time catching fish and bugs for the museum on that new island you can unlock with plenty of exclusive items to find.
I see a lot of people nowadays say Gen 6 on the 3DS was where Pokemon started to go downhill. While I do have my own grievances with this era, we shouldn’t overlook just how much it brought to the table. I remember people were so hyped to see Pokemon in 3D with X&Y and were really excited by the introduction of mega evolutions, giving fan-favorite monsters cool new designs (and making Charizard usable in competitive battles).
These were followed by Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire which, in my opinion, are two of the best games in the franchise. They masterfully brought Gen 3 into the modern era with brand-new character designs and modern quality-of-life features. Also, gen 6 probably had the best online system in the series. It was so easy to just hop in and trade with friends within seconds.
The 3DS is also responsible for turning Fire Emblem from a niche series to one of Nintendo’s major franchises. While veterans made fun of Fire Emblem Awakening’s easier difficulty, lighter story, and waifu-focused pairing system, no one can deny that its high sales number brought in tons of new players.
If you do want a more traditional FE game, the 3DS also had Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, a remake of the second Fire Emblem game with a darker story and updated battle system that combines strategic battles with dungeon crawling.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
Monster Hunter is one of Capcom’s biggest franchises worldwide but before World and Rise, the series found a home on the 3DS with Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. The game brought more verticality to the series, allowing you to perform jump attacks and mount onto the backs of the various beasts.
It was a smash hit thanks to the 3DS’ portability which allowed for quick in-and-out Rathalos battles and both online and local co-op play. In Japan’s ravenous market for Monster Hunter, it has been a monstrous success to the point that when World was announced, there were actually people who complained that it wasn’t portable after how good 4 Ultimate was.
Of course, we can’t forget the cavalcade of JRPGs on the 3DS. I’ve already mentioned Fire Emblem and Pokemon but the large variety of roleplaying experiences extends well beyond them. Atlus and Level-5 loved the system and showered it in Shin Megami Tensei, Etrian Odyssey, and Yokai Watch.
The most notable RPG would have to be the Bravely Default duology from Square Enix. These were basically classic Final Fantasy games in everything but name, bringing back the traditional turn-based combat but with a modern twist with the brave and default system and highly customizable job system. This refreshing new take on classic ideas also extends to the story, seeing the Tale of Four Heroes of light retold with a more in-depth story with a fun main cast.
Apparently, Square Enix was surprised by how successful Bravely Default 1 was in international markets. They didn’t think overseas players would be interested in playing a more traditional turn-based JRPG. It’s arguably thanks to this title that we’re getting games like Octopath Traveler and the Live A Live Remake, continuing to evolve and innovate with the sub-genre to this day.
And Many More
There are plenty of other games I could mention that made the 3DS a worthwhile system. It gave us a fully portable Resident Evil game, charming smaller titles like Rhythm Thief, and even had some decent fighting games for a handheld with Super Smash Bros and Dead or Alive Dimensions. It even had four Pheonix Wright games, a crossover between Pheonix Wright and Professor Layton, and then a crossover where Pheonix Wright teamed up with Heihaci Mishima to fight Segata Sanshiro.
The Nintendo 3DS
I think the biggest statement of quality I can give to the Nintendo 3DS is that I haven’t even spoken about the 3D yet. That was the gimmick it was sold on, the glasses-free 3D that would be the system’s namesake. The reason for this is mainly because the 3D wasn’t that interesting. Most people I knew turned it on, thought it was cool then instantly turned it off again so it didn’t get in the way of gaming.
The thing is though, the 3DS really didn’t need the 3D. It may have been the feature used to lure casual gamers into trying the system but most people stayed for the same reason people stick with any good consoles: it had really good games. The Nintendo 3DS was able to pack so many good titles into its seven or so years on the market, from platformers to RPGs, to visual novels to even a few shooters. It helped make franchises like Fire Emblem, SMT, Monster Hunter, and Animal Crossing into the big names they are today, and its legacy lives on through the Switch where many of these IPs have received successful new sequels.
The eShop may be closing down but I know I’m still going to be playing on the 3DS long after it’s gone. The quality of the system just leaps off the screen.
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