In my recent hardware and onboard software reviews I was quick to hail the 3DS as one of (if not the) best consoles that Nintendo have ever produced. It's slick, solid, fast and runs on a great OS; boasting glasses-free 3D that feels like a gameplay innovation rather than a gimmick. Pre-order estimations were rampant, spirits were high and we were all ready for the dawn of a new handheld dynasty.
So why haven't I played the damn thing in over a week? Why are sales failing to meet even the most conservative projections? And how has the PSP overtaken it in Japan?!
It all comes down to software support - and unfortunately, Nintendo seem to be completely losing the plot. The launch titles aren't necessarily catastrophic by any means (Pilotwings Resort and SSFIV are really rather good), but it's clear that Ninty's marketing execs have snatched a potential disaster from the jaws of complete domination.
Let me explain. From a raw business perspective, offering only third party titles at launch makes perfect sense. Consumers only tend to have enough money for one or two launch titles, but are also practically guaranteed to buy into any first-party Nintendo franchise regardless of how recycled or hackneyed it is. So why bother offering a Mario, Zelda or Metroid title at launch when you can force consumers to splurge on third party offerings first?
After all, who'd buy Nintendogs or Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars over a Mario game? And why make them choose when you can get them to buy both!
It's utter genius. Or at least it would have been if several major killer apps were waiting in the wings later this month and throughout May. Except they aren't. Ninty have scheduled their heavy hitters for June at the earliest, forming a vacuum that's letting boredom and malaise set in... and sales to slump when they should be picking up steam.
Also, is anyone else worried about the 3DS' complete lack of identity? Every title (out or slated) seems to be a port or three dimensional re-release of an old game I've already played. Every new console has had its own defining early titles, be them Halo, Resistance or Wii Sports... but not so here. Even the hyped lineup of Mario 64, StarFox, Metal Gear Solid 3 and Ocarina Of Time are ports of games we've completed dozens of times before.
So, what's the future of the 3DS? Rosy, I hope. I've owned a Nintendo handheld for the majority of the time I've been on this planet, and want to love this latest one with the burning passion of a thousand fire flowers. But the Big N needs to start seriously whipping their first party software and third party studio partners into gear... if not into overdrive. The likes of Mario and Zelda aren't just becoming the main (and only) reason to own a 3DS, but the only reason to own a handheld in the first place. Apple and Android are snapping at your heels, Ninty - and mobile hardware will only be getting better throughout the 3DS' lifespan. Without a steady stream of beloved franchise iterations, you can kiss your handheld dominion goodbye - and us fans to boot.
To be continued...