By David Radd
Last year at E3, the 3DS absolutely stole the show. Nintendo’s boffo press conference was highlighted by the 3DS, with a plethora of new titles and a glasses-free 3D effect that had to be seen to be believed. Nintendo has owned the portable console space since they launched the Game Boy onto the scene in 1989, and there was every reason this would continue, Sony and Apple be damned.
Analysts agreed with the initially heady assessment of the 3DS, with Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter noting that “you’ll never see one in stores in 2011,” and there was no reason to think otherwise. After all, Nintendo has had the golden touch under the guidance of Satoru Iwata. The DS really captured people’s imaginations when a lot of people thought that Sony would just steamroll over Nintendo with the PSP, and the success of the Wii immediately after its launch was unprecedented. For nearly three years, it was very difficult to find a Wii at retail, and in the initial months after it released finding one outside of eBay was next to impossible.
So when in the aftermath of the launch weekend the 3DS remained readily available in stores,despite heavy pre-orders, we were a little confused. Conferring with our colleagues at Eurogamer, we verified that the situation was much the same over in the U.K. and mainland Europe. This isn’t necessarily a sign of a failure – a part of this is that Nintendo supplied the channel properly. That said, there just isn’t the electricity surrounding the release of the 3DS the way there was for the Wii, not even close.
This may all be part of the plan with Nintendo to have a “slow burn” with the system. The DS performed well for years quietly selling lots of systems with copies of games like New Super Mario Bros., Brain Training and Mario Kart DS after all. Considering the huge expectations that built up since last year’s E3, the response to 3DS so far is underwhelming compared to the Wii. Here are 10 reasons why that may be.
10. Nintendo eShop/Internet Browser isn’t available yet
Modern consoles can receive updates that augment their abilities via firmware updates. This has proved instrumental in making home consoles more viable as entertainment platforms; anyone who has enjoyed Netflix on their console can be thankful for this. However, it also means that some announced features for the 3DS just aren’t available at launch. The Nintendo eShop is the company’s revised downloadable platform, with unique games, trailers and demos available… when a firmware update comes in May. There will be an internet browser that the 3DS doesn’t have to quit a game to use that should be neat… when it’s available in May. AT&T will provide free access to hotspots, again in May. There will be a 3DS Virtual Console, with GameBoy, GameBoy colour, TurboGrafx 16 and Game Gear games, but that’s tied to the eShop, which, again, won’t be here until May. Finally, Netflix will be coming to the 3DS, but not until May. All of these things may be awesome, but they’re not helping the 3DS until they’re made available.
9. 3D potential mostly unrealized
The big wag of the 3DS is the ability to play titles in the system in 3D without glasses. There’s no doubting that the system does do this, and pretty well I might add. There are problems with headaches for some, and you have to hold the system straight on, but the technology works like a charm. The problem is that nothing has come out for the system that really makes full use of the 3D, not yet anyway. Steel Diver makes the most honest effort at utilising the 3D, but most reviewers have said it’s not polished or long enough to warrant buying the system for. It’s a little disappointing, but there almost certainly will be a game in the long run that fulfils the manifest destiny of 3D in the system… it’s just not here today.
8. First iteration = worst iteration
When you release a piece of hardware, chances are that a new version of it will come into the pipeline if it’s successful enough. There have been countless versions of the iPod over the years, and home consoles get switched around every so often. For many gamers, though, thoughts of hardware iteration probably make them think of Nintendo portables. The original version of the Game Boy Advance had an infamously dark display and no rechargeable battery – something addressed in the Game Boy Advance SP. Less than two years after the launch of the original DS, Nintendo released the lighter, slimmer, brighter, sleeker DS Lite. Add in that a lot of people probably upgraded to a DSi or DSi XL not too long along ago and factor in the rather poor battery life of the 3DS (3 to 5 hours for 3DS games), and some people might just be waiting for the second version of 3DS.
7. Pokemon Black/White just came out
The biggest portable franchise for Nintendo is and will continue to be Pokemon for the foreseeable future. It’s hard to imagine now a portable system from Nintendo without thePokemon franchise, even though the first Game Boy got along quite well without monster catching for several years, and the DS didn’t get its first full incarnation for two years. Regardless, the point is not so much that the 3DS doesn’t have a new Pokemon title… it’s the fact that the DS does;Pokemon Black/White released not even a month before the 3DS. Why should consumers (and especially parents buying games for their kids) shell out for a new system when they just bought the biggest portable title of the year for a system they already have?
6. More expensive price, more costly games
The 3DS has a lot of features, major and minor, packed into its sleek little frame. It’s got two screens (one touch, the other 3D), an accelerometer, a gyroscope, two cameras on the outside for 3D photos, a camera above the top screen, 2 GB of flash memory, 128MB of RAM, custom PICA200 graphics processor, along with a bevy of built in elements like the activity log, AR games, StreetPass, Face Raiders, Mii Maker, etc. While estimates put the system at just over $100 in materials cost, $249 doesn’t seem like an unfair price. That said, it’s still the most expensive Nintendo portable system ever, and with retail games going for $40 (a general increase over the $30 – $35 asking price most DS games have when they first come out) the MSRP might be a bit too high for some on launch day, especially considering other factors mentioned above.
5. No ad saturation
Nintendo has never been quite as balls out about advertising as Microsoft has, who reportedly spent a half billion in promoting the Kinect. Still, the promotional efforts for the 3DS have been mostly pretty modest. There’s been a decent amount of TV advertising and some point-of-sale stuff, but it never felt like an “event.” Subjective assessments aside, it could just be that there wasn’t enough push behind the system in the mainstream to build up the hype and get people interested. Perhaps Nintendo is looking at the long term, with casual consumers hearing about the system later and picking it up later in the year – we’ll see.
4. Lots of Rehashes
A tertiary look at the launch line up for the 3DS shows one thing – it’s filled with old franchises. From Madden, The Sims, Nintendogs, Samurai Warriors, Ridge Racer, Lego Star Wars, Super Monkey Ball, there’s just a lot of stuff that we’ve seen before. Most people feel the highlight of the launch is Super Street Fighter IV 3DS, and that’s practically the exact same game that released on PS3/Xbox 360 a year ago. Steel Diver is perhaps the most original title at launch, but thecritical consensus is that it’s not very good. This points to another weakness of the software lineup for the 3DS…
3. No killer apps
What constitutes a “killer app” for a game console is highly subjective, but the general consensus is that it has to be something that excites players, creates buzz and drives sales. Right now, it doesn’t appear as though any one particular title stands out as an exceptional display of the 3DS’s abilities. There are some games on the way that have the potential to be killer apps for the system, like Mario Kart 3DS, Super Mario 3DS, Kid Icarus: Uprising and Resident Evil: Revelations, and there’s even a few anticipated remakes, like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D and Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D. Other popular DS franchises, like Brain Training, might be announced in the near future. Still, these games are months away, and until then the system’s software library seems a bit hollow.
2. It’s not the holiday season
Nintendo has traditionally shined during the holiday season. Even last year, which was generally a down year for the company, it still had good returns over the holiday buying period. So with the 3DS coming out in March… well, very few people are Christmas shopping right now. If I had to guess, demand for the system will probably be picking up sometime around September.
1. The iPad 2 just came out
Maybe this is just a coincidence… maybe the devices aren’t competing… but just maybe, the release of the iPad 2 dulled the edge of the 3DS launch. Coming out two weeks before the 3DS, Apple’s latest “magic” device had people queuing out the door – amazingly, they were still doing so in Apple Stores as of late March, waiting for the latest shipment. Analysts are upping their shipment totals for the year by as much as 10 million. Estimates in the U.K. put waiting lists at four weeks. It’s more expensive than the 3DS ($500 – $700) but it comes with much more utility, from books, to email, with applications for work and play; the iPad 2 could be snagging more adults who want a tablet computer instead of “just” a portable game system. It could also be that those interested in both devices chose the iPad 2 because it hit the market first. The fortunes of these two devices may be totally unrelated, but if they aren’t, it portends interesting times for the portable gaming industry.