Over the holiday season we’ll be republishing a series of Nintendo Life articles, interviews and other features from the previous twelve months that we consider to be our Best of 2020. Hopefully, this will give you a chance to catch up on pieces you missed, or simply enjoy looking back on a year which did have some highlights — honest!
This Soapbox feature was originally published in November 2020. In this piece, former Official Nintendo Magazine staffer Kate Gray explains why the 3DS will always hold a special place in her heart…
Some people remember where they were when they found out about the assassination of President JFK. I can’t tell you where I was when JFK was shot, but that’s mostly because I hadn’t been born, and therefore wasn’t watching the news at the time, but I can tell you where I was when the Nintendo 3DS first came out.
It was midnight, March 25th, 2011, and I was at a pokey little HMV in Exeter, the city in which I was attending university. It was cold, and dark, and I had rolled out of my nice comfy bed to be here — my first ever midnight launch. My first ever midnight anything, to be honest, because to get up out of bed and go to the shops at midnight, you have to either really care about something, or be really hungry. For me, it was the former.
I traded in my old, battered DS Lite for £55 off the 3DS (in Aqua Blue) and it seemed like the fanciest thing I had ever owned. To this day, it’s one of the best investments I’ve ever made, second only to a warm-water bidet: I played that little piece of plastic to death, and it was still kicking when I traded it in again for a New Nintendo 3DS a few years later.
Nearly ten years later, and the Nintendo 3DS has finally been taken out of production. It’s not like you can’t get your hands on one ever again, though – a cursory search on eBay turns up over 4,000 results for “3DS”, and Nintendo’s own figures up to the middle of this year state that the family of 3DS consoles have collectively sold 75.87 million units. These little guys are ubiquitous. Like rats in New York, you’re probably never more than six feet away from a Nintendo 3DS.
Unlike rats in New York, the 3DS brought me, and millions of other people, great joy. From the very first moment of opening it, to replaying Animal Crossing: New Leaf before the release of New Horizons, I’ve never had a bad moment with Nintendo’s clicky-hinged handheld. It was my very first experience with AR, if you can remember all those little cards the original console came with – I remember showing my mum that there were little balloons all around the room that you could shoot, feeling like I had personally invented augmented reality. The gimmick wore off quick, but what a gimmick it was.
Finding out that the 3DS is no longer being made is akin to moving away from home for the first time. You know it’s for the best, right? You know that things change, and die, and the world moves on, and is better for it. But deep down, it doesn’t feel right. You want to stay in the world that has comforting memories and soft, non-threatening nostalgia. I want generations upon generations to play the 3DS, and appreciate how good it was.
It didn’t have to be that good. It could have been a handheld console with a neat technological idea – 3D without glasses! Wow! – but the very fact that I’m 500 words into telling you about how much I loved this console, and I’ve only just mentioned the 3D, goes some way to demonstrating how the 3D ended up being much less of a selling point than originally intended.
You see, what made the 3DS good was the sheer range of inventive, creative, weird games that no one else was publishing at the time. I have a lot of hot takes on this. I could tell you that the 3DS (and DS, with which it shares a lot of common features) was partly responsible for how good mobile games can be, because it (along with the iPad, released just a few months earlier) made high-production-value touchscreen games cool.
I could tell you that it helped revolutionise the indie games scene, because with the huge popularity of the 3DS, you could get your quirky game in the hands of just about everyone under 30 that was playing games at the time. I will definitely tell you that the 3DS was (and is) one of the most influential consoles for narrative in games, because creators and developers could tell pocket-sized stories that would immediately find an audience, given the massively wide net of people who owned the console.
There were games on the 3DS that could only really come out on the 3DS at the time: Zero Escape, Ace Attorney, Professor Layton. It’s no coincidence that many of these games were heavy in story and puzzles, because the 3DS (again, like the DS) was almost marketed like a book — something you could take on the train or bus, with games you could play in short bursts. In fact, I actually played a DS game called 100 Classic Books on my 3DS, where you could attempt to read the entirety of the works of Shakespeare on a tiny screen. I… don’t recommend it.
But, in my opinion, at least, the 3DS was popular, successful, and wonderful, because it marketed to everyone. Nintendo’s notoriously gender-free marketing doesn’t just include everyone, it makes sure that no one feels excluded. As someone who assumed as a teen that PlayStations and Xboxes just weren’t really aimed at me, because they only ever marketed them loudly, with the kind of games I just didn’t want to play, Nintendo has always felt like a safe haven.
In fact, the 3DS was often specifically marketed at women and girls – in a kind of icky, patronising way, I won’t lie – but I never felt like any other console manufacturer really bothered to acknowledge that I was even there. I bought a 3DS because I wanted to, the same as anyone might do with a rice cooker, or a new pillow. At launch, it wasn’t advertised as something I might like because I was a girl, or something I might not like because I was a girl. It just… was.