The 3DS has proven to be a stellar platform in the 6+ years it’s been on the market. Having sold 67 million units and counting, it’s definitely fair to call the little handheld a decent success. Even so, things haven’t always been positive. The 3DS got off to a pretty bad start at launch and it took a few months for Nintendo rectify the situation. What was the main issue? It was considered to be ‘too expensive’. But, why? Well, all because of the 3D-functionality; the system’s core feature. In retrospect, making 3D the core part of the handheld was probably not the best move for Nintendo.
Nintendo has always been keen on marching to the beat of its own drum, but this behavior increased dramatically with the introduction of the Wii and DS. With these systems, Nintendo officially separated itself from the other console manufacturers by designing consoles with ‘unique innovation’ as the main priority instead of raw horsepower. While both systems were initially criticized for their low technical specifications, they quickly turned into massive hits. The Wii is Nintendo’s best-selling home console to date and the DS is Nintendo’s best-selling handheld to date. Together, they’re Nintendo’s most successful systems ever and two of the highest-selling game systems in history. Since the Wii and DS achieved such high honor, it’s no wonder why Nintendo decided to create direct successors.
The Wii U and 3DS not only bore the name of their predecessors, but they both also took the unique concepts behind the past systems and enhanced them with new features. For the Wii U, it was the Gamepad which functioned as an independent second screen. For the 3DS, it was the completely glasses-free 3D screen.
On paper, both of these new designs were quite cool and definitely unique. In practice, however, they both proved to be obstacles in a lot of cases and not nearly as straightforward as the more simplistic ideas like the original DS’ dual screens and the motion controls of the Wii Remote. Since this article is about the 3DS, I’ll focus squarely on that 3D screen. Let’s be honest, it hasn’t really been a very major feature.
The 3DS’ glass-free 3D screen is great, but it was never a necessity.
The fact that Nintendo decided to call the handheld the ‘3DS’ despite only being the second generation of the ‘DS’ lineage shows how much the company was banking on the glass-free 3D technology. To be fair, the Big N wasn’t the only one chasing after 3D back in 2011 when the 3DS was launched. A lot of other tech-giants were pushing 3D TVs and screens. There were even smartphones that sported stereoscopic 3D features. The functionality even made its way to certain Xbox 360 and PS3 titles. Sony went as far as to create its own 3D TV and used the PS3 to market the TV’s capabilities. So, the 3DS fit right in with the rest of the crowd during that ‘3D craze’. The problem is that the craze eventually ended—rather quickly, in fact.
3D pretty much left as soon as it came about. It seems so long ago, but six years isn’t an incredibly vast amount of time. That’s just how short-lived the hype was; it fizzled out before it ever really got a chance to turn into something truly worthwhile. After 3D died out, the attention of the masses then shifted over to 4K, which is currently still a growing trend. With that being the case, the 3DS went from fitting in to sticking out like a sore thumb.
The technology behind the 3DS’ glass-free screen was a lot more neat than the TVs and smartphones, but it was also a little pricey. As I already mentioned, that was the main complaint that was slammed at the 3DS when it launched. Nintendo felt the heat so much that it slashed the price of the system in just a matter of months. Originally, the company was charging $250 for the 3DS. After the outrage, that price plummeted to $170. That’s an $80 reduction. To really put things into perspective, the Switch released earlier this year at the price of $300. So, just think about it—the 3DS had originally costed just $50 less than a Switch. All because of that screen.
The 3D-technology was so expensive that the 3DS launched for $50 less than the Switch. That’s pretty crazy.
In addition to the price hike, what makes the 3D screen so controversial is that it never truly added a significant boost to the gameplay experience. While the effect is cool in certain moments, most games that utilize it have it there just for the sake of it. To add insult to injury, there are quite a number of titles that disable the functionality entirely. There are even several first-party releases that are a part of that list. What really brings it all home is that the 2DS is a thing.
I remember the massive reaction from the community when the original 2DS was first announced. People couldn’t believe it. In a way, that signified Nintendo admitting that the 3DS’ 3D-functionality wasn’t really a big deal. The original 2DS proved that 3D was totally unnecessary since every 3DS game was compatible with it, and had no difficulty being played on the system despite the lack of 3D. Nintendo even doubled-down on the concept just a few months ago with the release of the New 2DS.
Even when you throw the New 3DS into the mix, that still doesn’t fix things. The main reason why the New 3DS exists is because it’s a hardware upgrade over the original model. The upgrade is just enough for some games to require the extra power, thus ending up incompatible with the older hardware. But, Nintendo decided to take it a step further and also improve the 3D-functionality by adding in face-tracking to help stabilize effect of the display. It is better than the original, but again, it still doesn’t add anything significant to the gameplay experience. Hence, the reason why there’s also a New 2DS.
If 3D really mattered, then the 2DS wouldn’t exist.
This article isn’t really meant to bash the 3DS. As I said in the introduction, the handheld has turned out to be a pretty big hit. My point is that the system was initially stifled all because its core functionality proved to be pricey while also not being truly necessary. But, the stifling could have been avoided had Nintendo just went the ‘2DS’ from the get-go. Perhaps the handheld could have even been closer to the Vita in terms of power had the 3D-functionality not been added at all. If Sony didn’t make so many missteps with the Vita, perhaps the 3DS would have truly been threatened. That would have been something.
To really put things into perspective, compare the 3D-functionality of the 3DS to the hybrid design of the Switch. The Switch’s unique feature benefits everyone: both gamers and developers. Being able to transform from a home console to a handheld isn’t just a ‘cool’ feature, it’s useful and it doesn’t get in the way of developers. The 3D functionality is ‘cool’ too, but mostly as a special effect. It’s not particularly beneficial and not every game can make proper use of it, which is why it’s disabled in a lot of titles.
In the end, I’m still actually a fan of the 3DS. While I don’t play the handheld super often, I do enjoy it from time to time. I just happened to recently be fantasizing about a potential alternate scenario where the 3DS never had the 3D-functionality in the first place and imagined how different things would be compared to actual reality. I then came to the conclusion that 3D never truly mattered, hence this article. But, I would like to know your thoughts: Do you actually make use of the 3D-functionality regularly? If so, would you enjoy the 3DS less if it wasn’t there at all (as if the 2DS were the only model)?
Having been introduced to video games at the age of 3 via a Nintendo 64, A.K has grown up in the culture. A fan of simulators and racers, with a soft spot for Nintendo! But, he has a great respect for the entire video game world and enjoys watching it all expand as a whole.