If you don't yet own a 3DS, you're missing out. The console we all feared wouldn't make it a year is now the hottest property around, and that's because Nintendo have managed to turn a platform bereft of original content and sprinkled with poor third-party knockoffs into a console that today seems utterly essential, and a fantastically social device.
There are, of course, a number of reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nintendo has managed to make the 3DS attractive to consumers and industry partners alike through good games.
Christmas 2011 was enormous for the 3DS. The console had barely survived a rough year, with mobile platforms and the tablet market encroaching in on Nintendo's space, and a constant barrage of disappointment over the lack of decent first-party titles and exclusives on the platform. But then two things happened: Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land released in time for the festive season (and Nintendo actually marketed them), and the Playstation Vita went into hibernation for a couple of months outside of Japan as the release date got pushed back.
By halfway through 2012, we were saying this about the 3DS:
The 3DS has had a phenomenal few months, mainly achieved through that most simplest of gaming methods - delivering good games. Resident Evil has found a new lease of life on the platform, Nintendo have dusted off old IP in stunning fashion (Kid Icarus), and demoed cracking new IP too (Dillon's Rolling Western), and there's a new model on the way too.
A year on from that and there's even more to celebrate with franchise-bests from the likes of Professor Layton, Fire Emblem, Luigi's Mansion, and Animal Crossing. And these weren't simple, backwards-looking knockoffs (insofar as Nintendo are able to make knockoffs), these were games utilising old IPs but leveraging the 3DS' potential in impressive fashion.
It's entirely possible to read far too much into the news that it was the 3DS that knocked the Xbox 360 off from its lofty perch atop the sales charts after 28 months of dominance, after all, both the PS3 and the Xbox 360 are coming to the end of their console cycles, but the 3DS is hitting its stride in a big way. The release of fantastic little titles such as HarmoKnight show that maybe, just maybe Nintendo are starting to grasp the benefit of well-made smaller games.
This year's E3 (outside of the main Nintendo Direct, which only focused on one game) brimmed with 3DS potential, starting with Pokemon X and Y. On top of that there's the inventive Mario and Luigi: Dream Team, a new outing for Yoshi, and Super Smash Bros. for the 3DS. Given the titles already out for the system, and the one's that are approaching in the near future, you'd have to be mad not to pick up a 3DS, especially now that you can snaffle up an early model for less than £100.
And that's not even taking into account the third party support that Nintendo has finally, finally managed to generate for the platform. Resident Evil Revelations was a blinder. So too were Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, Theatrhythm, Tales of the Abyss, and let us not forget... Monster Hunter 3D Ultimate, which Nintendo are now giving away for free (sort of).
If you'd told me that the 3DS would pip the Xbox 360 in any sales capacity (apart from domestic Japanese sales, mainly due to Microsoft's apparent belief that nothing exists across the Pacific Ocean), that Nintendo would have attracted numerous killer apps from third-party partners, killer apps so good that home console audiences begged for ports of 3DS games (hello, Resi Revelations), if you'd told me that back in early 2011, I would have laughed in your face. You would have laughed too. It would have been a hilarious.
But here we are. At every games convention or social meet that I've been to in the last two years, large or small, the 3DS has been a permanent fixture in the hands of fellow attendees. StreetPassing is huge. If you'd told me that Nintendo would change the way we think about social gaming, I would have laughed as well. Yet the 3DS is an absolutely perfect platform for such meets, helped along by a bunch of perfect pick-up-and-play multiplayer titles, and I've made several friends because of it. Seriously, buy a 3DS. Then buy Animal Crossing: New Leaf, hit me up for a Friend Code, and come join me in my town of Frontbum.
However, there's a downside to this success, which is that Nintendo appear to be convinced that lightning can strike twice.
Worryingly, Nintendo appear to failed to learn any lessons from the 3DS's first six months, and certainly not in regard to the Wii U. The latter had a longer global run up to E3 after release than the 3DS did, and Nintendo should have used that time to consolidate their first-party plans for a good Christmas. Instead, they seem to have taken their strategy on the 3DS to a rather extreme conclusion: essentially copying their own handheld game, and making it HD. Oh, and adding in catsuits and the ability to play as Peach.
It might work. The thought process must have been to capitalise upon Super Mario 3D Land's success, and perhaps entice some of that goodwill over to the Wii U by association. But the other possibility is that people see no value in buying what amounts to nearly exactly the same game again, at a higher price, and also dropping £250 for the privilege.
Nintendo started thinking about their first-party output for the Wii U far too late, and that's the real problem. Worst of all, Nintendo have identified the issues, they'd done so right at the start of the year, but instead of listening to their own words and fixing the problems, they've just kept treading water, keeping faith in their existing scheduling and blithely ignoring their competitors. Iwata has lamented Nintendo's inability to convey the Wii U's unique features -- a problem that the 3DS faced too. But Nintendo have done nothing to rectify that, and they've been banging on abut it for months. They're talking the talking and owning up to their mistakes, but then carrying on regardless and making them all over again.
2014 is a bright year for Nintendo fans, but it might come too late to be a bright year for Nintendo. Without an official price cut, without gaming experiences that actually can't be found anywhere else, without some form of true innovation, the Wii U will flounder against the onslaught of the PS4 and Xbox One.