Nintendo ‘New 3DS’ announcement appears, at least on the surface, as a unneccessary and wasteful move from the platform holder.
There’s a tweaked CPU, the inclusion of NFC for those Amiibo toys, a slightly improved battery life, a better quality screen.
And the biggest changes – namely a small analogue nub and two extra buttons – seem superfluous. These additions are the same as what gamers would receive with the Circle Pad Pro accessory, which launched in 2012 to much derision. Very few games bothered to use it then, and next to no games have since, so why incorporate it into the hardware now?
The fact is, it’s not new hardware Nintendo needs, it’s games.
3DS is nearing 50m in global sales, which although less than half the install base of the original DS, is nevertheless a decent audience. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata mentioned in his last financial update that Nintendo would be looking to capitalise on those 3DS owners. Yet so far we’ve seen very little. There’s a handful of releases this Christmas, including most notably a Pokmon remake. Yet the current line-up (outside of Japan at least) for 2015 is disappointing.
You can appreciate why that is. Nintendo is spending much of its development resource trying to haul its failing Wii U console back into the black. It simply doesn’t have the capcity to support both.
And that’s perhaps where the ‘new’ 3DS can come in. Maybe this is Nintendo taking a leaf out of Sony’s book.
Because PlayStation Vita has the same problem as 3DS but for the opposite reason. Its relatively small sales means it’s not commercially prudent for Sony to dedicate development resource on it, especially as its PS4 console – which continues to fly off shelves – is lacking in triple-A content.
Yet Sony has helped alleviate the lack of major games on Vita by making the console compatible with both PS3 and PS4. The ‘Remote Play’ functionality, which means all PS4 games can be streamed to PS Vita within the home, is a decent selling point. As is the ability for indie developers to create games for Vita, and have them also playable across PS3 and PS4. Vita has a dedicated cult following and is a profitable business for PlayStation. And in offering deals such as cross-buy, where gamers can acquire a game on one PlayStation device and own it on the others, is a low maintenance way of extending the Vita’s life.
Perhaps Nintendo is doing something similar. After all, with the inclusion of NFC, the analogue nub and the two extra buttons, that 3DS has pretty much all of the physical attributes of the Wii U. It may not quite match it for power, but surely it’s now possible for a game like Mario Maker – which isn’t exactly graphically intensive – to be made available on both platforms? The ability to make games for one Nintendo console and have it playable across both could even tempt back a few third-party supporters, or at least some indie developers.
Or perhaps Nintendo isn’t doing that at all. And this is just an effort to pull in a bit of cash in what is a crucial financial year for the company.