While it may not have the gaudy lifetime sales numbers of the Wii or DS, the Nintendo 3DS has carved out a nice little niche for itself in the annals of video game lore. Spanning the Wii, Wii U, and Switch eras, the plucky handheld overcame a rough debut to achieve the sort of longevity that most hardware only dreams of, amassing library of top-notch titles from Super Mario 3D Land to Pokémon Ultra Sun/Moon, with many more greats in between.
All good things come to an end, however, and the recent software sales numbers coming out of Japan indicate that the end is nigh. Neither the recent Luigi’s Mansion remake nor the port of Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story made much of a splash, leading the editors at Nintendo Life to declare that the time has come for Nintendo to set its aging handheld aside and go all-in on the Nintendo Switch. While I seem to be one of the few boosters of the 3DS left on the Internet, even I’m starting to wonder if the console’s clock has finally run out.
And yet…I’m not ready to go there yet.
When I discussed the 3DS’s future back in 2017, the main point I made was that the 3DS served as the perfect “gateway drug” into the Nintendo universe. The New Nintendo 2DS XL was half the price of the Switch, the hardware was hardened against the uncareful hands of small children, and the game library featured both quantity and quality, complete with solid entries from Nintendo’s biggest franchises from Mario and Zelda to Metroid and Pokémon. While the Switch was marketed as a ‘mature’ console for millenials that had grown up with Nintendo, the 3DS catered more to the company’s younger demographic, ensuring that Gen Z would have the same warm fuzzy feeling about Nintendo that their parents did.
Fast forward to 2019, and I still feel like these arguments hold a lot of water. While the economy itself seems to have improved, a general sense of economic anxiety still hovers over America like smog (especially now that some recession warning lights are starting to blink), making the price point argument from before feel even more poignant. (The resilience issue is no small matter either; who wants to shell out cash for a console that their kid will just break in two weeks?) Likewise, increased competition from smartphone games means that kids these days have lots of options, and if Nintendo doesn’t give them a cheap, easy way to experience their IPs, the company risks falling into the same trap as baseball and NASCAR, clinging to a shrinking, aging demographic while the next generation moves on to newer and more-exciting pursuits. The 3DS remains a great way to get Nintendo in front of peoples’ eyes in the wake of shrinking budgets and proliferating entertainment choices, and even if the sales numbers aren’t stellar, I would argue that the Switch’s success gives Nintendo enough leeway to keep lifeline to their future consumers open.
Okay Kyle, we get it: You’re a total 3DS homer. So what would it take for you to give up on the 3DS?
Well Mr. Anonymous Voice, apparently you weren’t listening! I just said that the “3DS served as the perfect ‘gateway drug’ into the Nintendo universe” and that it served as “a cheap, easy way to experience [Nintendo’s] IPs.” If the Big N found another way to do this, then I’d be perfectly okay with writing the 3DS’s eulogy. So how could Nintendo do it?
- Release a 3DS-like version of the Switch. This quote from Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter (as reported by Nintendo Life) says it all:
Nintendo will launch a fully handheld version of the Switch at $199.“I expect the device to have the same screen, but with Joy Cons built into the body and no docking station. Since it can’t “switch” from handheld to console, it’s hard to guess what they will call it, but let’s assume Game Boy (kidding).”
$199 still feels a bit high, but it’s not too far off of the $169 number Nintendo initially had to drop the 3DS too to boost early sales. In any case, it’s a sizable drop from the Switch’s current $300 price tag. If such a Switch is built sturdily enough, it could fill the 3DS’s current role as a cheaper, more resilient way to play.
- Expand on the company’s current mobile offerings. Right now, Nintendo’s smartphone lineup consists of Pokémon, Mario, Fire Emblem, Animal Crossing, and a new RPG called Dragalia Lost. That’s not bad, but even if we include the announced mobile version of Mario Kart, there’s still a lot of room for expansion here (Zelda, Kirby, Metroid, etc.). If Nintendo were to ramp up their game releases for iOS and Android and keep prices at a reasonable level, smartphones are ubiquitous enough that they could serve as a kinda-sorta stand-in for the 3DS.
As of right now, however, I still believe the 3DS has a place in Nintendo’s business plan, as it provides a way for the youngest among us to be entranced by Nintendo’s magic. The Game Boy and DS hold a special place in many gamers’ hearts today, and until Nintendo can find something else to fill this role, they’re better off keeping the 3DS around to do the job.