Games Meet Metal: Riff's Rants: The 3DS Debacle

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Riff's Rants: The 3DS Debacle

Oh 3DS, what has befallen you? You had so much steam at the get go. A gazillion publishers making games! A Grand showing at E3 with a gala of women with huge, um, er, eyes! The effects of 3D, all at the control of a switch! Then launch day came. The lineup of games sucked, and a lot of the promised online activity had to be delayed by over six months. Downloadable games and video? The system's own Virtual Console with classic Game Boy games? Sorry, not yet, but people seemed to still want the system at that time.

Fast forward to the present day, and Nintendo's in some serious trouble.The 3Ds hasn't sold for shit since the holidays in either the U.S. or Japan, and the stockholders are mega pissed. Iwato, Nintendo's head honcho, has taken a 50% pay cut as punishment for the system's poor performance. Now,the guy ain't starving, as Japan execs usually do about $2M yearly, but if you have half your pay cut, you feel it no matter how much you're making. The 3DS is also getting a price cut, from $250 to $170 domestically. Early adopters who paid the full monty will be given 20 free downloadable games sometime later this year.

Now, a lot has gone into blaming what has kept the system down. A bad library of games, 3D is a tiring gimmick, the online features only recently popping up, or the system's original price tag. All good arguments, and all of which do have a lot of validity. However, there's one glaring factor that a lot people do miss out on: the 3DS looks just like a revamped DSi.

Let's take a jump in the way-back machine and look at how gaming systems have changed their look over the ages. When the Game Boy gave way to the Game Boy Advance, the look was obvious. The system was held different, the cartridges were shaped differently, and you had more buttons to play with. When the GBA begat the DS, things were even wilder. WOW! It folds up! Damn, there's a touch screen? Neat! It just seemed new and different and people wanted it. Even some of the redesigns were innovative. The GBA got a redesign called the SP which debuted the folding gimmick that worked so well, they brought it over to the DS. Then the DS would beget the DS Lite, a slimmer and trimmer version of the original bulky model, thus increasing the system's portability. Then the next remodel, the DSi, emerged.

This is where, I believe, things got goofy.

The DSi brought with it an online store where you could purchase small games over a Wi-Fi connection. It was an effort to have the system compete directly with the iOS/Android gaming setups that were really beginning to make some serious capitol, all while still offering cartridge-based games. All well and good, but as far as a redesign goes, the damn thing isn't too far off from what the DS Lite was aesthetically wise. The DSi did have a slight size and weight increase, but to the average eye, it's had telling them apart. Perhaps to rectify that, one final remodel, the DSi XL was released. It was a jumbo sized version of the DSi complete with a jumbo stylus. No mistaking what this bad boy was! Too bad it didn't sell too well, as not many people wanted to buy yet another damn system that did the almost the exact same things the previous three versions did.

Quick personal note: the DSi XL was my favorite version of the DS. It was big for my meaty hands, the larger screens were easier on my eyes, the jumbo stylus made it easier to do stuff on screen, and it had this bad ass blood red wine color. However, I was in the vast minority here.

Then, the 3DS popped up. Looking at it, you can see a few differences. An analog pad, a 3D slider bar, buttons below the bottom screen. However, when you close it, it's hard to distinguish it from all the other similarly sized DS systems that have been released over the years. In short, the system doesn't seem "new". When any other system made it's debut, it damn well seemed new. That's because it looked new. The 3DS is to some just another version of the DS when in fact it's the 4th generation of hand held hardware that Nintendo has produced. This should be a big thing, but it's being treated with a large helping of apathy. And why should they care?  Nintendo has trained us that the next remodel is gonna add some new stuff to the basic system core, so why would people be excited? Just wait another year or two for the better model to debut. Hell, I held on to my original model DS until the DSi XL came out just because

With the price drop and free game program about to kick in, there's at least some growing interest. In Japan, used 3DS's that were once filling up thrift stores are selling like hot cakes, as the older systems can qualify for the free games. More money savvy shoppers are reserving the lower priced system in droves. In America, Wal-Marts are already offering the discounted system, with Gamestop attempting to reduce their stock by pimping the free games. All of this is definitely going to give sales a shot in the arm, but for how long? If Nintendo is able to make good on releasing their AAA titles like Mario and Kid Icarus before Christmas and increasing their third party support for the Virtual Console, then they can really improve the life of the 3DS and maybe even get a dedicated fan base.

One thing I advise Nintendo not to do is another remodeling. The cat's out of the bag now, you might as well let it rest and spread it's influence over the gaming community. The price drop may hurt Nintendo's bottom line, and the free games are a hard pill to swallow, but they can be beneficial in the long run. Who knows, maybe in three years the big N will have it right and it will have a legit competitor to the iOS and Android systems of the world.

Even better, maybe they can do it without redesigning the damn thing.

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