Picture the scene, a decade ago: Mobile phones had drastically evolved overnight, Sony was preparing to enter the handheld gaming market with the tantalising PS Vita, and Nintendo was essentially working against itself with the imminent launch of the Wii U home console. Even with a novel 3D gimmick, the odds weren’t in Nintendo’s favour ahead of the launch of the 3DS.
It had an admittedly chunky price tag and massive dual screen boots to fill thanks to the runaway success of the Nintendo 2DS, but the big N was going all in on its latest device. Released first in Japan on February 11 and a month later everywhere else, the Nintendo 3DS rocked up to the party with a keg of launch titles and pure swagger that set the tone for this marvelous device.
Sure, the 3D gimmick wasn’t for everyone and if you closed the screen you’d leave a mark on the top monitor, but it worked! Heck you could even take photos with it and turn them into 3D works of low resolution art. That initial steam ran out quickly though, as even an established library of backwards compatible 2DS games couldn’t keep the prophesized shift in attention being cast towards other upcoming consoles.
And for a time, the 3DS was simply…there. It wasn’t a third wheel by any stretch of the imagination, but the 3DS had gone from Party Pete to that fella at a shindig who’s content to stand in a corner and sip on low-attention IPs. A few years later, the situation had changed dramatically. The PS Vita was largely forgotten about as Sony focused its efforts on the PS4, and the Wii U had become a massive and unloved flop early on its life. Just like me.
It’s worth pointing out that without the ideas pioneered by the Wii U we wouldn’t have the wildly successful Nintendo Switch, but that was a project that was still years away from hitting the big time. Nintendo needed something to stay relevant while it worked on its hybrid home and portable console that would reverse its fortunes, and that’s where the Nintendo 3DS stepped into the spotlight.
That’s to a number of fantastic first-party games that could only be played on it, hardware revisions, and less focus on the 3D aspect of games that not everyone was a fan of, the 3DS became Nintendo’s unsung hero. One of my favourite moments with the 3DS, was using its built-in game Miitopia and refreshing it with new friends met around the world.
The popularity of this console was on full display when I went to E3, as it wouldn’t even be five minutes before I could pop it open and have a hundred new friends waiting for me outside of my castle gates. Truly, everyone loved that miracle machine. It’s also the device that introduced me to one of my favourite video game franchises of all time: Fire Emblem.
Fire Emblem Awakening hit that console as a love letter to a franchise that never received enough love, and in that one attempt to go out with the biggest bang possible, it became a breakout success that has continued to this day and currently has a tremendously fun entry on the Switch. Other first-party games include Pokemon of course. Heck, Nintendo’s library of Pokemon games are some of its very best on the 3DS, encompassing two brand-new generations and a remake of the beloved Gameboy Advance Ruby and Sapphire games on it.
The 3DS would see 2DS spin-offs that included the hilarious cheese wedge shape model, and its final revision would increase the size of the screens, thrown in an extra analogue stick, and beef up the hardware. While it didn’t sell nearly as many units as the Nintendo DS and has been surpassed by the Nintendo Switch recently, it still notched up an impressive 75.9 million sales by the time its hardware was discontinued officially in late 2020.
Is it still worth tracking down and owning one of these consoles? Absolutely. Not only is still a superb piece of hardware to play on, but it’s home to multiple generations of Nintendo games, something that the Switch console has largely failed to do. Besides the established 3DS and 2DS libraries, its virtual console allowed for Gameboy, NES, and SNES games to flourish on it.
The eShop is still running, and with the right size memory card and enough cash, you could an entire gaming generation on one system. And that right there is the spirit of the Nintendo 3DS summed. A underappreciated hero who rode to Nintendo’s aid in its darkest hour, kept back the darkness for hours and quietly vanished into the night when its mantle was picked up by the Switch.
Undoubtedly one of Nintendo’s best ever pure handheld devices, the 3DS leaves behind a legacy of excellence and triumph that few other systems could hope to beat, let alone replicate. In the video game Hall of Fame, it deserves a section all to itself for paving the way for Nintendo to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Last Updated: March 29, 2021