Eleven years of 3DS: a stereoscopic throwback
Take a look inside…
In 2010, Nintendo was in a period of transition. Its Wii and Nintendo DS lines have both been wildly successful with over 100 million units each sold – the former a true whirlwind in a bottle and the latter the second best seller in gaming history. Nothing can last forever, however, as both platforms were showing heavy signs of age and consumer fatigue was setting in. At E3 2010, Nintendo unveiled a successor to the DS called Nintendo 3DS, which would be released the following year.
Today marks the eleventh anniversary of the release of the 3DS in North America, making it the perfect opportunity to look back at the little handheld that could – and did.
At launch, the big selling point of the 3DS was Stereoscopic 3D, a superior display that produced 3D images – without the need for Special Glasses™. It’s a line Nintendo’s marketing team would repeat at every opportunity. They also incorporated the Miis from the Wii in an effort to draw a connection point between the platforms. It was a tough laptop to market, because you have to see the 3D effect in person to believe it. Additionally, 3D was not suitable for everyone, as younger people were expected to leave the feature offering, and some users might experience headaches after prolonged use.
I purchased my aqua blue 3DS at launch on March 27, 2011 for the rather hefty asking price of $249.99. Although I’m a Nintendo nerd and insist on getting their latest stuff, I honestly wasn’t that excited for the 3DS. The price was a buzzkill, and the first-party launch lineup was lacking (who thought Nintendogs + Cats would sell systems?) My go-to game was Pilotwings Resort, and it remained one of my favorites throughout the life of the laptop. Sure, Pilotwings Resort might be a little thin in the gameplay department, but it was a great demonstration of how the 3D effect could work.
Uncomfortable marketing with One Direction didn’t help
Other gamers were also lukewarm on the 3DS at launch, thanks to a high price, lack of a digital store, and lack of a system salesman to convince people to upgrade. Additionally, it has been announced that the next series of Pokémon games will be on DS, rather than 3DS. This all culminated in sales taking a serious dip, and with Sony’s more powerful Vita system on the way, Nintendo had to make some adjustments.
At E3 2011, Nintendo started making corrections. A mix of eye-catching titles like Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 have been announced, along with new installments for fan favorites like Kid Icarus and Luigi’s Mansion. The missing digital piece, an eShop storefront, was also on the way. Even better, Nintendo has announced surprise plans to bump the price of the 3DS from $249 to $169 starting in August. This was a significant price cut, especially since the 3DS was only on the shelves for about four months. To reward early adopters like me, Nintendo unveiled the Ambassador Program; a way for early supporters to get twenty NES and Game Boy Advance games for free, with GBA titles being 100% exclusive to Ambassadors.
The golden ticket
In the years since, the 3DS has welcomed high-end games like Animal Crossing: New Leaf, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, two new generations of Pokémon, and more. A Wii U version of Miiverse was also introduced in 2013, and an eShop funds sharing system on both Wii U and 3DS became standard. At this point, it was clear that Nintendo had really turned things around with the 3DS.
What made the 3DS special to me was the community aspect it supported and encouraged. A built-in feature called Mii Plaza wasn’t huge at launch, but as more people bought units and carried them around, it became one of my most played pieces of software. The fun was made possible thanks to Streetpass; a way for 3DS units to passively talk to each other and trade Miis. These Miis would show up at the door of the plaza on your 3DS, with information about who they were and where they came from. Miis would also give you a puzzle piece that is part of another StreetPass minigame. For me, this aspect of the 3DS has become an addiction, as completing each puzzle has become an obsession!
Later, Nintendo introduced the Nintendo Zone feature, which only increased my passion for puzzle pieces. In Nintendo Zone locations, your 3DS would collect Miis from other players, as well as Miis from the internet. This meant you were almost guaranteed to get new Miis, as well as more puzzle pieces! Looking back, I’m embarrassed how many times I went to McDonald’s only to sit in the parking lot and pick up the Miis!
Complete this Puzzle Swap before Kirby swallows you!
Nintendo really embraced Streetpass by promoting it non-stop through “Streetpass Weekends”, another chance to visit Nintendo Zones and collect Miis from around the world. I repeat: I was addicted! I won’t even go into the details of how excited I was to take my 3DS to Comic-Con, but let’s just say reaching 200 hits in one day was a goal I didn’t know I had until I achieved it. . Even now, years after the 3DS was discontinued, I still miss StreetPass terribly.
All of this development of the 3DS community paved the way for fan-made Streetpass groups around the world. It was about small groups of gamers getting together, bringing their 3DS to have fun and play, and having a great time overall. Through these groups, I met many people who became true friends with whom I remain in touch to this day. Going to a big Animal Crossing meetup hosted by Nintendo and taking my 3DS to a Smash Bros preview event. at Best Buy remain two of my favorite memories of what the 3DS community has become.
With the “New”
Historically, the Nintendo 3DS ended up being one of the company’s most important platforms. When the Wii U started to flounder, Nintendo relied on the 3DS to stay afloat. The company suffered heavy losses during this time, but things would have been much worse without the small 3D handheld that could.
The laptop will see many revisions over its years, including several special editions and two new redesigns. The New Nintendo 3DS was released in 2015 and featured built-in NFC support for amiibo, as well as a much more stable 3D experience, while the 2DS removed the 3D aspect entirely. Eventually, Nintendo would release a very small handful of games that only worked on the “newer” 3DS models (Minecraft, Xenoblade Chronicles, and the Super NES Virtual Console game library).
This wave of support and multiple iterations helped the 3DS reach around 75 million units sold worldwide – more than four times the amount of the PlayStation Vita, but around half the DS, and just ahead of the PlayStation Portable. . Yet, in the face of the wave of mobile games, the 3DS has done very well, especially given its very difficult beginnings.
I miss this bunny.
It remains to be seen if the 3DS is really the last of Nintendo’s dedicated handheld consoles. The Switch has been incredibly successful due to its hybrid nature, but some might say the Switch Lite is the real successor to the 3DS. These points aside, there is one thing we are sure of. The 3DS and its community have left a legacy that has changed the lives of many; myself included. The 3DS helped sustain my interest in Nintendo when nothing else seemed to work for them, and it will always hold fond memories and a very special place in my heart.
A family that plays together, stays together.
Happy 11th birthday, 3DS! You have served me and millions of others very well.