As regular readers of the site will attest, we are very fond of the Nintendo 3DS, which despite a maligned launch has picked up the pace and is now regarded – rightly so – as a great piece of kit, with a good line-up of released titles, complimented by some great upcoming ones. However, there is something that I find a little concerning about the manner in which Nintendo has been handling the console, especially in relation to the WiiU. So could it be that Nintendo is going to stop making the handheld device in the traditional sense? I think so.
Since the launch of the Game Boy back in 1989 Nintendo have pretty much dominated the portable game console market – despite strong efforts from Sega, SNK and Nokia (Snake on a mobile was a revelation to me) – with the only real competition coming from Sony and it’s feature-heavy PSP devices. What made the Nintendo machines so desirable to many was the simplicity. While Sega was pumping out colour games on the Game Gear, the mono-chromatic gaming on the Game Boy meant that you could game longer, and save a lot of money on batteries. The design of the devices has always been an odd blend of clunky, yet practical, that then get’s refined. The original Game Boy saw redesigns into the pocket, the light, then a ‘color’ version launched, again adding in basic colour to the games that had sold so well. The Game Boy advance ramped things up a little more, but retained backwards compatability with original Game Boy/Game Boy Color games up until the GBA Micro was launched. The support for older titles, coupled with the persistent refinement ensured that gamers always had a reason to move forward, without the loss of a game library. When the DS launched, with support for the older GBA carts (again until later models removed the option) the same was true. A large clunky machine, with a great concept that has seen constant redesign. But of late this approach has been bemoaned by gamers who even before the 3DS launched were anticipating a redesign within a year. With digital distribution becoming ever more prevalent in the gaming world, and the 3DS’s store becoming full of titles to pay to download the necessity for redesign falls to the wayside somewhat, and the release of the circle pad pro ensured that titles that required a new control layout could still work fine on the launch model. Rumours usually surface in the run up to E3, and to be entirely honest I was fully expecting Nintendo to announch a redesigned 3DS this year. I don’t see a need for a redesign, but history does have a habit of repeating itself when it comes to Nintendo. Yet in all the leaked documents, game lists and crib sheets that has been now strong suggestion of the 3DS having any ‘big’ news at E3.
Now obviously this is mostly down to the official reveal of the finalised WiiU taking centre stage, but the WiiU console itself does seem to mark a concerted effort from Nintendo to marry up the home console with the handheld. The WiiU tablet controller was initially hyped on the potential to take the game from the main monitor and to play away from the lounge on the tablet itself. This has always troubled me somewhat, as while I like the freedom of roaming gaming, and have made use of a similar feature on the PSP, remotely accessing the PS3 and playing games/watching videos etc, it seems a very expensive feature to implement, and one that doesn’t exactly aid the multi-player aspect of the console at all. But then we also know that Nintendo is aiming to push people on-line for their gaming through the relatively recent ‘Nintendo Network’.
So with ‘handheld’ gaming on a tablet being so popular, and Nintendo adding it into their next console release is it not feasible that this will represent a new direction for the company? Downloads of WiiWare type titles to the console that can be played on the tablet as well as the home console? If so, then the future for the traditional handheld devices may well be looking bleak, and I find that quite sad really. The PS Vita and the 3DS represent great leaps in their respective fields, but with the cost implications and the added benefits of a central system (not forgetting that even Sony has made moves towards universal content on the PS3 and the Vita) that hosts all of the content that can be shared with devices.
Now when I talked to a customer at work about my feelings they argued that the 3DS has a bright future as a peripheral for the WiiU, and there was talk from Miyamoto on the subject of pairing the 3DS with the WiiU as a secondary controller:
“We are doing research about if someone brings their controller to their friend’s house and they want to play together on Wii U to whether or not something like that would be possible.”
And it would be a huge improvement on the current system – speculative, obviously – of using Wii Remotes for all extra players. The 3DS does have a similar control layout, a touch screen that could interact with on-screen items in the same what that the tablet controller does, and I’d welcome it. BUT. It’s not really a bright future.
Nintendo has paired it’s handhelds with it’s consoles in the past and with little success. I think the only one that I ever enjoyed was pairing the GBA with the GameCube and playing a bit of PacMan VS. (and even then I had to go to a retro convention to even play the damn thing). Sony made a big point of showing off the fact that the PSP could be used as a rear view mirror in some games, which was also met with the expected levels of enthusiasm.
The 3DS deserves better than to become a surrogate control pad, it deserves a legacy, it deserves a couple of design revisions that aren’t limited to a large piece of plastic that throws out the ergonomics, or a stand to enable a badly conceived control layout to be used without crippling the fingers of the gamer. With game patches and DLC possibilities the future could be very bright for the glasses-less handheld, but all signs seem to point to a blurring of the lines, and a future without a proper Nintendo handheld.
Just consider that.