I want a 3DS. Really badly, in fact. Of all the shiny new tech toys I desperately want to fiddle with at the moment, Nintendo’s eye-popping portable is very nearly at the top of the list. I mean, the 3D effect looks stunning, and the brittle dam on my gushing nostalgia practically explodes at the mere mention of 3D updates to Metal Gear Solid 3 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Call me weak, but the thing’s a day-one purchase for me, and I’ll be drooling all over the packaging during the drive back home.
It’s a damn shame, however, that such a neat little machine’s being born into a world that’s already passed it by. Sad to say, the game’s changed. New players have entered the arena, and Nintendo’s not even on equal footing – let alone prepared to trade blows and come out on top. But hell, I almost can’t blame Nintendo for its current predicament.
After all, half the human race developed a near-symbiotic relationship with online-centic, always connected cell phones in – what – a couple years? They bring us information in seconds, keep our schedules for us, connect us to 24/7 social networking, (usually) function as alarm clocks, and – of course – give us access to hundreds of thousands of games. But it goes further than that.
Platforms like iPhone and Android have picked up Nintendo’s “games for everyone” mantra – the very thing the original Nintendo DS was founded on – and spread it far and wide through ease of access and simple, intuitive interfaces. Unfortunately for Nintendo, recent studies — which found that gamers now prefer to have smartphones in their pockets over DSes or PSPs — are already raining on the console-maker’s parade.
The bottom line? There’s a reason these devices are in our pockets at all times. They do it all. More importantly, though, they do it well. So – aside from a nifty 3D effect (that I’m sure phones will start aping in a matter of months) – what does the 3DS have to offer? Unfortunately, a fittingly shortsighted online plan is the first thing that springs to mind. And this comes from the company whose president recently declared Apple “the enemy of the future.”
To Nintendo’s credit, the 3DS looks to be a giant step up from the Wii’s haphazard mess of an online service, but it’s still amateur hour stuff compared to the App Stores we’ve been using for years. Let’s start with the obvious: Nintendo can’t even decide when its damn eShop is launching. It definitely won’t be installed on the 3DS when you first buy it, but beyond that, the console maker can’t get its story straight. Will there be a day-one firmware update? Or will gamers have to wait an indefinite amount of time? Will it vary from region-to-region? As of now, the whole thing’s a mess and, at the very least, shows that Nintendo’s not taking its online service seriously enough.
Even discounting that, however, the eShop’s still not up to snuff. While it’ll carry downloadable games, screenshots, trailers, and the like, Nintendo’s made it clear that retail games – its main push – will stay at retail. No downloads for major titles – just stacks-upon-stacks of easily misplaced cartridges. Again, it’s an obvious indicator that online’s just a sideshow to Nintendo. The main event, sadly, is elsewhere.
Now, at this point, you might be saying that Nintendo’s turned its nose up at online in the past and, you know, won an entire console war with startling ease, but that was then and this is now. Portable devices play a far different (and much more pervasive) role in our lives than current-gen gaming consoles, and expectations change accordingly.
At the end of the day, the 3DS is simply a couple steps behind. It lacks the convenience and elegance of the portables we’ve grown accustomed to having dominate our lives, and while that won’t kill Nintendo’s latest attempt at handheld dominance, it will put a stop to Nintendo’s reign as king of the handheld market. I don’t think the 3DS will flop per se, but here’s hoping Nintendo’s got one hell of a follow-up act planned for the Wii, because its next go-to breadwinner’s already looking ready for retirement.