With the closure to the eShop, Nintendo has dealt the final blow to my favorite way to play video games. As the ability to download games departs, it’s now impossible to deny the obvious – the time has come to say goodbye to the Nintendo 3DS, and the way handheld gaming used to be. Most of the internet already said these goodbyes – arguably from the second the Switch was revealed – but I admit that I was a hold out. Something just would not let me move on from this console. To try to process this, let’s give this a proper eulogy.
The rough start of the 3DS
Despite favorable coverage and a huge slate of promised publisher support, the 3DS arrived in March 2011 and promptly fell flat on its face. Between the $249.99 price tag, a less than exciting slate of launch titles, and an unexciting gimmick once one could actually see the 3D effect in action; people bounced off it hard. This prompted what is still a shocking move on Nintendo’s part: a major price cut barely four months into the console’s life cycle, bringing the overall cost down nearly a third.
It is here that my own history with the 3DS began. Only about a year and a half prior to the 3DS’s launch, I became enamored with the original DS line. Originally I had scoffed at the dual screen play, but an urge to get a more up to date handheld console (and an exceptional remake of Pokémon Gold and Silver) were enough to finally win me over. By this point, I had no doubt the 3DS would be just a as an enjoyable time for me, but I still held off on buying a launch console – believing that an edition based on Zelda would be in the works, spurred on by the presence of a 3D version of Ocarina of Time in the launch roster. Turns out, I was right.
A Zelda Special Edition 3DS launched right around the time of the end of year holidays, and this year was to be the first since I graduated high school and moved out of my childhood home. I admittedly leveraged this with my mother, the both of us still getting used to the whole being out of the house thing. She cut me a deal – she would get me the gift I desired, provided I tracked the thing down. Thankfully, I was able to pin down one at a nearby GameStop, and we rushed to get it. On our way out, we watch a car across the street burn. It was a weirdly sentimental moment.
The 3DS was a road to relationship
The more I think about my time with the 3DS, sentimentality is what comes to mind. While I was already sold on “more DS,” Nintendo needed something a lot more than what it had to get others sold on the 3DS, especially when the Wii U would crash even harder. Sentimentality turned out to be the answer – the 3DS’s library quickly found itself lining up entries in long storied franchises with new twists to try to grow the overall audience. Animal Crossing: New Leaf was my first experience with the franchise, and thanks to being able to play with my spouse while we were dating I was able to finally grasp the joy of the series’ daily gameplay loop. When a sequel to my wife’s favorite game, A Link to the Past, was released, we sat huddled outside the store waiting for the clock to strike midnight to pick up a Zelda edition 3DS all of her own.
That’s not the only relationship that the 3DS impacted. While most of the console’s little features went underused both by the user base and developers, one feature was a fairly big deal – Streetpass. When out and about with the 3DS, consoles could ping each other as they passed by, sharing profiles and Mii characters. These tagged characters could then be used to play pre-installed games that could only get as far as you had tags. Other games like Bravely Default would also implement Streetpass functionality to enhance gameplay. This created a dilemma – how could you make sure you got enough tags while you were out and about? Enter my state’s local 3DS Streetpass group, a group of folks who basically just wanted to finish the handful of games associated with Streetpass. These manifest in public group meetups, and helped connect fans of games together in a safe and open environment. I made quite a few friends through this group that I still interact with on the daily – even as the group has rebranded to be an overall representation of Nintendo and game fans in the wake of the Switch.
Truthfully, changes like that made me slightly concerned about the Switch initially. It wouldn’t be keeping the rewards for having the console out on the go, much less the easily accessed and free (until new games were added) titles right on the system. Would more portable friendly games still have a home on this new console either? Thankfully it seems that those concerns were unfounded, but I realize now I was more worried about the change itself.
The 3DS changed me, too
I never wanted the 3DS to end.
With the 3DS in my pocket, I made friends and participated in a gaming community that didn’t end up like most gaming communities look from the outside. I tried out franchises and genres I wouldn’t have before – Fire Emblem Awakening turned a series I never liked into one of my favorite games, teaching me that all tastes can have an exception. I moved back home. Hundreds of indie titles found a home on the eShop where Steam obscured them. With that same Zelda 3DS, I won an ad hoc Super Smash Bros tournament, a feat I probably couldn’t replicate on a controller. There was a wedding, somehow it was mine! Backwards compatibility and (at least better than on the Wii U) Virtual Console allowed for easy access to some of the most iconic games in the canon and write about them for this very site.
When I pitched the idea of a eulogy of the 3DS, the plan was to be more technical, more about the console’s history and achievements. But frankly, all of that is second fiddle to what this console means to me. It is quite weird to be this sentimental over what is essentially a vessel to sell me more video games – but the 3DS took me through my first decade of adulthood, helped raise my taste and appreciate for games to a new level, connected me to people, and it had a new Kid Icarus for the first time in 21 years. That has to mean something; even if just for me.
In a lot of ways, the 3DS changed Nintendo too. The platform’s ability to hold a larger audience than the Wii U and more consistently than the Wii before it undoubtedly helped the company make the decision to pursue a full console experience that could be portable, and while it is hardly as strange and fully unique as the DS line was, that energy can still be felt in the focus on new twists on old series, giving smaller games a standing platform on the eShop, and also all the weirder Nintendo quirks (friend codes still, really?)
While the Switch isn’t the same experience as the 3DS, that just means the 3DS gets to teach me one more lesson – that it’s okay to let things end. We may not be getting any more new 3DS games, but they aren’t going anywhere and neither are the memories I’ve made playing it. Heck, given the deep library, I only really scratched the surface. The Streetpass tags feel a lot more special when I pick them up now. Things might never be the same, but they don’t have to be for me to find value in this console.
The 3DS deserves preservation
The biggest concern now is that the eShop closure will leave all kinds of games stranded in the ether. Exclusive games and versions of games will be left only to those who had the money to download them or pirate them and homebrew their consoles. This also will have a side effect on physical games as well. Prices for titles in the Nintendo Selects line, intended to be priced at $19.99, have crept up to their original launch prices over the past several years. Knowing now that there is not only a finite number of copies and that there’s no alternative will inflate these prices more.
Nothing to mention of the history of games left behind. A huge chunk of Phoenix Wright titles were 3DS exclusives. Pokémon fans once had access to every region in the game’s history accessible from one device and now the future feels much less promising. Decades of Zelda games are fated to be rentals on Switch Online – for those that even make it anyway. Those are just the instantly recognizable examples. Leagues of indie titles and experimentations are doomed to be YouTube video essay fodder that viewers won’t even be able to play after.
While the future preservation of the console is being left to us; to those who helped make the Nintendo 3DS something pretty special, thank you. You helped make games good for me, and for many others. It is going to be harder to share that work going forward, but we’re going to try anyway. It’ll be worth it.