Nintendo has traditionally released many iterations of their handheld consoles so the 3DS XL isn’t too much of a surprise. What is startling is that this iteration doesn’t continue the mission of setting the tone of portable gaming for the rest the 3DS lines life. The first redesign has traditionally set the tone for Nintendo’s handhelds for the rest of its’ life. If the 3DS is truly similar to the past redesigns of the system then I cannot get on board for Nintendo’s vision of handheld gaming.
System redesign’s normally don’t indicate failure but this one is not a complete success. To understand what that means in the context og gaming handhelds and Nintendo, we must look at their history.
The original GameBoy line iterated based upon further sculpting the portable hardware to meet the needs/wants of the portable gamer. From the original Brick [10-20 hours, hard to find solid proof online] we went to much smaller GameBoy Pocket [10 hour battery life]. It retained screen size and changed the monochrome look of the screen to something more neutral and eye pleasing.
The GameBoy Color [30 hours of battery life] added a little bit more heft to the system, but it was done so that battery life would not be sacrificed while adding Color and IR ports to the system.
The GameBoy Advance [15 hours of battery life] Brought increased sound, graphical ability, controls, portability, everything. It brought better everything while also maintaining highly superb backwards compatibility.
The GameBoy Advance SP [10-18 hours of battery life] made the GameBoy more compact, it’s clam shell design offered increased protection to the screen while also adding a backlight and rechargeable battery to the packaging.
The GameBoy Micro [5-8 hours of battery life] was an experiment in compacting the form factor and making the GameBoy into the equivalent of a keychain add-on. Its’ sacrifices were worth it for some folks and it wasn’t hostile towards expanding portability of gaming. It was however targeted at the most extreme end of the market and only at GameBoy Advance players since it killed backward compatibility.
The DS Phat [6-10 hours of battery life] brought in new concepts that people loved with hand held gaming. It increased the tech inside the system again, kept the best innovations from the GBA SP along with full backwards compatibility with the GBA line. It had built-in wifi which when combined with Download Play helped to revolutionize local multiplayer and game sampling. The GBA had this feature and the GB also (if I remember correctly), but it was never as prominent as it was with the DS. The DS was arguably the most ambitious step forward in portable gaming for Nintendo.
The DS Lite [5-19 hours of battery life] streamlined the physical design of the DS Phat, made it more portable, double its’ battery life, killed of backwards compatibility for pre-GBA titles, brought better sound, a better screen, released with a flood of games released when developers finally began to understand the system and it made the stylus a much better item to use (although I prefer and still do use the thumbstrap in about half of my games).
The DSi [3-14 hours of battery life] brought us a handheld that had a slightly larger screen, better stylus, better sound and built-in multimedia abilities along with the ability for persistent digital game storage. You could buy games from the DSi Shop to complement what you had on your cartridge. You could pop in an SDHC card to listen to music while on the go and it had a custom version Opera as its’ web browser. This was an approach toward the opposite end of the market. The Micro targeted those completely hooked on current games and just wanting to do it anywhere. The DSi started to target the type of gamers that wanted more utility from their handheld while trying to be inclusive with their current customers. They killed of legacy GB support completely.
The DSi XL [4-17 hours] brought us a handheld designed for those that wanted something larger, wanted a hand held designed to not be very portable or just wanted something different. Personally I liked it but it could have never been a suitable primary system for them to push solely on its’ own. It wasn’t marketed that way either, unlike the 3DS XL unless Nintendo has more to announce.
The 3DS [3-5 hours] brought this system. It removed the equal sized, parallel screen design of the previous series and replaced it screens that offer their own features at different aspect ratios. Real world and potential battery life are the lowest that they’ve ever been in a Nintendo handheld. The system from the beginning wanted to be a utility but was marred by Nintendo’s quirks (random 3D music video’s, no progression in digital content ownership). I haven’t mentioned this in past posts, but the games are also much more expensive when compared with the other handheld systems. Inflation may tell a different story with their being some similarities in the beginning.
Anecdotally speaking, the games for the system are the least affordable games of any Nintendo handheld ecosystem. It’s the first handheld that centers itself around 3D and around features that are not eaily enjoyed or conveyable to potential customers. Despite the fact that 3D can and often is disabled, it is viewed as the 3D DS. Consumers as whole, judging by their reactions and spending, do not care about or like 3D. A significant portion do but it’s arguable that there aren’t enough that care about in a handheld gaming context.
The 3DS XL [3.5 to 6.5 hours of battery life]. It may have a focus similar to that as the DSi XL. The major difference being that it appeared at the series life cycle where Nintendo would normally introduce the product the atones for the sins of the original system. This is usually the handheld that helps to set the tone and expectation for the core handheld gaming experience for the rest of that handheld series life. Either Nintendo is introducing their ancilliary system earlier or the rest of the 3DS’s life is going to be about chasing smaller portions of the handheld nation with iteration. Again, that’s a job of the backup/side iteration to do. Not the one that has historically smoothed things out.
I like Nintendo and I have always owned one of their handhelds. I’ve personally owned them all except for the Japan exclusive systems, the VirtualBoy and the 3D systems. I’ve played the 3D systems quite a bit, they’re not much fun to play yet. The library is growing but it’s not what I expect from a handheld gaming system. The 3DS has been a constant disappointment that doesn’t have titles pushing gaming (not gaming technology, but gaming) in a way that the DS series couldn’t be doing itself. Nicer graphics are nicer, 3D is fine for some, but there is nothing on the system that can compare to the excitement brought by games like Trauma Center or to the experimentation in games like Guitar Hero on Tour, Ouendan, or Moon.
We don’t have the rebirth of old genre’s like we saw with Etrian Oddyssey nor any of the awesome porting of under/no-served genre’s in games like Phoenix Wright or Metroid Prime Hunters. It’s just been an almost endless barrage of trying to sell me on 3D being fun instead of the game. There are good games available, even some that don’t try to force the 3D on players.
I highly doubt that the 3DS line will be as popular as the DS line because of its’ focus on porting games from other systems (very old and semi-old) and on the upcoming cinematic focus/console bloated-type titles. I’m mainly a handheld gamer, I stay here to avoid that crap but they’ve finally found a way to attack that. It’s awesome that Fire Emblem is coming, but I have no faith in Nintendo’s direction or ability to bring more handheld focused games.