“What if everything you see is more than what you see–the person next to you is a warrior and the space that appears empty is a secret door to another world? What if something appears that shouldn’t? You either dismiss it, or you accept that there is much more to the world than you think. Perhaps it is really a doorway, and if you choose to go inside, you’ll find many unexpected things.”
“The following is a contributor post by the Techie Mage.”
The Nintendo 3DS had a tough act to follow, thanks to the success of its older brother. The DS sold a whopping 154 million units across its various different models, continued Nintendo’s strong pedigree in the handheld games market and was practically a cult phenomenon to boot. At first, it would seem like the new kid on the block would get an easy ride.
However, this hardware generation was placed awkwardly in the midst of the smartphone boom, begging the question of if the market for dedicated handhelds was shrinking. In addition to this, the Sony PSP was making waves as a competitor, thanks to the gigantic library of downloadable titles from Playstation’s history, a strong offering of blockbuster titles, media playback and internet browsing capabilities. Sony’s machine was starting to claim a sizeable chunk of the handheld market for itself.
Nintendo responded in kind with a new device that furthered the capabilities of its best-selling game console to date; the Nintendo 3DS featured largely the same clamshell design of its predecessor, but iterated on it with a flashier, glossier look, better specification and the big headline-grabber; a glasses-free 3D experience. Coming hot off the heels of a boom in 3D film-making triggered by the release of Avatar in 2009, stereoscopic 3D was the trend for any kind of tech release. What made the 3DS stand out was that it promised to deliver 3D visuals without the need for any kind of bulky 3D glasses, which were pretty much the main method of delivering such eye-popping spectacle.
Nintendo had been experimenting with delivering 3D visuals for a long time by this point, with history dating back as far as the Game Boy itself. Since the aberration that was the Virtual Boy, this was the first time Nintendo was confident enough to integrate 3D into a mass-market device.
In addition to this hardware innovation, the 3DS boasted the kind of spec that was to be expected of a new console line. Thanks to bumped-up console power, the handheld space was quickly approaching a level of visual fidelity hitherto only dreamed about. Overall, the console iterated on the DS in expected ways, but most notably a circle pad took up the place previously occupied by the D-Pad, which was now relegated to the bottom-left of the console.
Specifications for the 3DS were as follows: a dual-core ARM processor, 128MB RAM, 26MB VRAM, and 2GB internal storage. The integrated displays were LCD and sound was handled by stereo speakers; placed either side of the topmost screen. The 3DS also boasted one front-facing camera as well as two cameras on the front of the device. The battery life came from a 1300mAh, lithium-ion cell that promised approximately three hours of playtime.
With bumped up specs and a new design, plus practical market dominance from its predecessor, one would have expected the 3DS to be a runaway hit. However, Nintendo’s new darling experienced terrible sales at launch. Thanks to a high price tag of $249.99, the runaway success of the booming smartphone market, and a lack of compelling launch titles, the Nintendo 3DS looked to be Nintendo’s first major hardware hiccup since the aforementioned Virtual Boy failure, with below-expected sales.
However, in what was perhaps the most significant turnaround in gaming history, Nintendo responded to the market conditions with aplomb. First, they announced a dramatic price cut for the system, down to $169.99. While early-adopters grumbled, they were compensated with a Nintendo 3DS Ambassador Program, where existing 3DS owners could download a number of fan-favourite NES and Game Boy Advance games for free. Then, the big hit games trickled through. Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and many more gave the 3DS a much-needed kiss of life, and brought the console back from the brink of failure. To this day, the Nintendo 3DS survives still. While nearing the end of its life-cycle as a whole, no gamer can deny that the handheld defied expectation to become a true fan-favourite and a success story. On the other hand, Sony’s PSVita languished into discontinuation, and smartphone gaming, while definitely eating a chunk of the handheld market, was not enough to challenge such a strong mainstay as Nintendo.
The Nintendo 3DS was significant because it offered a great way to play some of Nintendo’s best titles. Thanks to a strong offering of Virtual Console and the significant evolution of downloadable titles on the handheld, the 3DS was a strong contender for fans of new and old Nintendo alike. Not to mention that it boasted an absolutely gigantic library of blockbuster games.
The most significant games included Super Mario 3D Land; which was perhaps the first real game to make the case for the 3D visuals that were beginning to be seen as a gimmick. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D was a strong launch title, because it’s freaking Ocarina of Time. Animal Crossing: New Leaf was the most charming and habit-forming experience that defied description. Mario Kart 7 brought Nintendo’s frantic fan-favourite racer to a whole new level, notably including under-water and gliding sections. Then there was Pokémon, perhaps the most important release on any Nintendo handheld, which found new life with 3D visuals and a whole new region to explore. The series saw new releases in the form of versions X and Y, the remakes Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, as well as Sun and Moon and their Ultra sequels. Oh, and the original Red, Blue, Yellow and Gold, Silver and Crystal versions were rereleased as downloadable titles as well. Then there was Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. A whole new Smash Bros. even found its way onto the system, as did another Zelda remake in the form of Majora’s Mask.
You didn’t even need to buy a game to have fun with this console either; the 3DS shipped with ARCards, little playing cards that could be placed on a table and interacted with using the console’s dual cameras. You could also take a picture of either yours or your friends’ faces and load in them into Face Raiders, which turns their faces into little Space-Raider like robots to be shot down. Or you could enter the StreetPass Mii Plaza, and play a host of minigames using a cool feature, where the 3DS could wirelessly download other people’s Mii characters to be used either as RPG party members in StreetPass Quest (called Find Mii in some areas) or trade tiles in Puzzle Swap. Out of the box, the 3DS has a truly amazing set of features that other consoles could learn from.
It’s clear to see that the 3DS wound up having an absolute mountain of high-quality, revered titles, but this is also backed up by solid hardware. The clamshell design retains a lot of durability, though it does attract scratches and fingerprints easily thanks to the glossy finish of the original model. Against the PSVita, it’s clear that the 3DS’ overall graphics power leaves a lot to be desired, but that was made up for by the sheer quality of the package itself. The 3DS is also easily pocketable, when folded it’s about the length of an average smartphone, though it is twice as thick. Thanks to that glossy finish, however, I wouldn’t recommend pocketing it without some kind of scratch protection. The inclusion of a circle pad as an analog stick solution is a godsend, however, and makes controlling the games themselves a breeze. The pad itself is satisfyingly grippy thanks to being slightly indented, though it does tend to leave a mark on the upper side of the device thanks to that ever-irksome glossy finish and my disgusting, greasy fingers. The LCD screens are good enough for the time and have plenty of colour, though the resolution is a little low. There is a small amount of discoloration that can occur on the screens because of years of use, but this is not outside what is expected for a display of any kind.
The 3D visuals themselves are a gimmick, most gamers report that they keep the slider permanently down once the novelty factor wears off, and this holds true for myself as well. While the promise of glasses-free 3D was realised and it makes for a pleasant and exciting surprise at first, the practicality of the feature is limited. This is because for the 3D to have an effect you need to hold the device at a specific angle which is easily disturbed no matter how well you grip the console. There is also a lot of ghosting and less-than-optimal 3D implementation in many games. The result is often headache inducing. Many gamers report that they keep the 3D feature turned off when the novelty-factor wears off, and the same holds true for me here. Turning the slider up every now and again is still a nice treat from time to time though.
The PSVita, while languishing in console purgatory, is an excellent pick if you love indie titles. It’s also simply the best way to legally play retro PlayStation titles on the go. As a bonus, the console boasts much higher-fidelity visuals that can leave you stunned as to their quality.
Most smartphones are getting better for gaming nowadays, especially if you’re a retro and emulating enthusiast with a bit of know-how. While much more expensive than the 3DS and PSVita today, the OnePlus 6T can, if you’re willing to mess with settings, run GameCube games through its Dolphin Emulator. Yes, you read that correctly; a phone can run GameCube games. What a time to be alive. As a bonus, you will also have one of the best, most feature-packed mobile phones on the market.
The New Nintendo 3DS and 2DSXL are the most recommended alternatives. The glossy, original model as reviewed is simply the most inferior version of an amazing handheld. There is simply no reason to buy an old-model 3DS if you have the choice between it and the new versions, as they are pretty much the same great system, but with most hardware complaints fixed.
Overall, the 3DS is an awesome console, and one of the best and most important on the market. As a piece of gaming history, this device deserves its throne as among the most significant, thanks to an astoundingly-huge game catalog, a ton of fun and innovative features, and access to Virtual Console through the eShop. While the original model bears a few annoyances in design, ultimately it’s the fantastic support from Nintendo that made the 3DS a truly iconic console.
The power of the console may be limited, but it is mitigated by the amazing quality of the games, it has a ton of extra features, including a cool 3D camera, and a music editor with a lot of charming Easter eggs. While the design leaves a bit to be desired, the build quality stands the test of time thanks to the iconic clamshell. Over the long term, this device has been absolutely wonderful to use, became one of the most competitive in terms of its price factor, and is sincerely a beautiful handheld to play even today. Thanks to further price cuts as the system becomes more obsolete, you should be able to find a great deal on the little device that could, and I would whole-heartedly recommend experiencing this great piece of hardware for yourself while it’s still out in the wild.
Personal Score: 9/10
Overall Score: 8/10
The Techie Mage is a lover of all things gadget. If it’s cool, does something fancy and electronic, he probably will want to get all up in its business. You can find his Twitter at
@GamingStev3L, and as a contributor of hardware reviews at The Well Red Mage. Feel free to get in touch about gadgetry and tech of any kind!
Did you enjoy this post? Consider becoming a Warrior of Light and join us in promoting honesty and quality to games writing through thoughtful, long-form critiques. We’re building a future for games writers to get paid and find a fairer and happier alternative to mainstream coverage and culture. See our Patreon page for more info!
Categories: Hardware Review