Tiny Cartridge 3DS

On the death of handheld gaming & the 3DS

In the aftermath of the 3DS price cut, many analysts and editorials have been quick to predict the console’s fate, and the effect the markdown will have on its fortunes. 

Some expect the new price to bolster the ailing system and make it more appealing to consumers while the game library slowly fills out. Others see no hope, believing the troubles of the 3DS’s launch signal the death of not just Nintendo portables but dedicated gaming handhelds.

That’s an asinine presumption to make on a platform that’s stayed strong for over 30 years, based on the 3DS’s health four months into its launch. It’s as foolish as my criticisms of the iPhone App Store four months into that platform’s launch. Or the early obituaries written for the original DS four months after that system debuted.

It’s possible the 3DS and handhelds are doomed — waiting in their graves for smartphones to shovel dirt onto their plastic bodies — but it’s too early to declare them dead.

I see the new price curing (or at least treating) one of the three illnesses threatening the 3DS’s life; the two remaining maladies being the selection of quality games, and the exorbitant pricing for those releases.

3DS vs iOS: $40 For Portable Games Is Crazy

Just as a $249 3DS was not sustainable when you have the PS Vita launching soon at the same price and the iPod Touch selling for as low as $229, the current $40 pricing for most 3DS games is untenable. It doesn’t make sense when you compare these games against the quality of $30 DS releases, and it’s looks half-witted when juxtaposed with the App Store super cheap pricing.

As Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata warned, the perceived value of games, especially portable and casual titles, has depreciated with the advent of $0.99 and free-to-play releases. Whether that’s worth cheering or jeering is debatable (definitely something for consumers to cheer over); it’s done, and there’s no going back.

That’s why it seems critical for Nintendo to drop standard pricing on retail 3DS titles to at least $30*. It’s not as cheap as the $1-3 iOS fans typically pay for apps, but I believe gamers will pay that much for titles delivering content-rich experiences that can’t be cheaply replicated on iPhones — asking for more than that isn’t wise.

And of course, Nintendo and third-party publishers need to actually release more of those content-rich 3DS games.

The 3DS’s Future: Where Are The Games?

Software-wise, the 3DS is in a much better position than the DS was four months into its launch. At this point after the DS’s launch, the best games available were Feel the Magic, Super Mario 64 DS with awkward D-pad controls, and the worst iteration of the WarioWare series. There was Pictochat, too, if you were super bored and felt like drawing the ugliest dicks ever.

Right now for the 3DS, you have above-average to great (in my opinion) games like Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, Super Street Fighter IV 3D, Dead or Alive: Dimensions, and Ocarina of Time 3D — mostly ports, admittedly. Plus Netflix, eShop offerings, and all the built-in applications that kept you entertained for about an hour.

I think that isn’t a terrible selection this early in the handheld’s lifetime, but most disagree, asking “Where are the games?” That lineup might have passed six years ago, but in this time when you have 3-5 noteworthy titles releasing each week across nearly a dozen mobile, digital, and online platforms, it’s not enough for some gamers.

Well, what’s on the 3DS’s horizon? In the immediate future, we have intriguing ports like Bit.Trip Saga, Cave Story 3D, and Devil Survivor Overclocked. On the first-party side, there’s new entries for popular franchises like Mario Kart 7, Kid Icarus Uprising, and Luigi’s Mansion 2.

Further out, there are curious original titles like Heroes of Ruin, Nano Assault, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, and Rolling Western. And one must not leave out anticipated DS games, like Solatorobo: Red the Hunter, Aliens: Infestation, and Ni no Kuni (crosses fingers).

My point is the 3DS has a respectable slate of upcoming games for those with the patience to wait for them. The DS game library (or any other platform’s catalog, including the App Store) wasn’t built in a day, or a year even.

What Do We Say To The God Of Death?

One of the articles that spurred this brooding is Rob Fahey’s "The End of Handheld?" piece at GamesIndustry (registration required). Here’s his conclusion:

"3DS and PS Vita will, quite simply, never scale the heights of the previous generation of handhelds — but if Nintendo and Sony are fast, and clever, and more than a bit lucky, there’s a good chance that they can carve out a viable, if smaller, market. 

One thing is certain — dedicated handheld gaming devices are now in rapid decline, and barring an extraordinary technological advance, they’re not going to come back. Birthed with the Game & Watch, this sector is going to end with the 3DS and Vita.”

Again, forecasting the death of the dedicated gaming handheld this early in the 3DS’s life and before the Vita’s launch is daft. As is ignoring the Japanese market, where portable gaming systems are king and where many of the world’s best portable titles are crafted.

Fahey’s point about handhelds carving a smaller market is more reasonable, but I don’t think any right-minded person felt the 3DS would certainly outsell the DS, the second best-selling console of all time behind the PS2. The phenomenal success of the DS is just that, and expecting a repeat performance from the 3DS seems naive.

Though we’ll likely never see the DS’s ubiquity again with the 3DS and traditional handhelds in general, and Nintendo’s portables will probably serve a much smaller audience in the future (especially compared to iOS), so long as reasonably priced, quality games release for them, I’m not terribly bothered by that future.

Preorder: Nintendo 3DS ($169.99 on August 12!)

Find: Nintendo DS/3DS release dates, discounts, & more

See also: More Nintendo 3DS news

[Images via Axel Pfaender, Penny Arcade, Mare Odomo]

*In a perfect world, 3DS owners would be able to buy and download 3DS games on the eShop (something PSP owners, and likely PS Vita owners, can do), which users could buy for $5-10 cheaper and download in the background. Unfortunately, I doubt Nintendo will take this approach.

If none of those listed games catch your interest, portable gaming might not be for you. No shame in that, different strokes and all!

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