Turn your minds back to 2011 – the Nintendo DS is now very long in the tooth, the Nintendo Wii is on its last legs, and everyone is starting to look ahead to the next generation of Nintendo gaming. That generation was to start with the arrival of the Nintendo 3DS in Japan in February 2011, although those of us in Europe would have to wait one more month, finally getting our hands on the new systems in March. I grabbed one of the black consoles as a belated Christmas present from my parents alongside Pilotwings Resort and Street Fighter IV 3D Edition. It wasn’t Nintendo’s strongest launch lineup, but I had my fun with Pilotwings, eventually putting almost 20 hours into that little game. That launch lineup had a big impact on initial adoption of the 3DS however – the thing just wasn’t selling that well. The price was high, the games were fine but not attention-grabbing. Nintendo needed to act fast. Famously, they cut the price of the console by a third just three months into its lifespan. In attempt to smooth over relations with early adopters, we received 20 games from Nintendo’s back-catalogue, 10 from the original NES which were set to be released publicly at a later date, and 10 from the Game Boy Advance, which were to remain exclusive for those ‘3DS ambassadors’ as Nintendo called us.
The price cut did help the 3DS pick up the pace a little, and a slew of Mario games such as Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 at the end of the year further boosted the console. It never quite reached the stratospheric heights of its predecessor, but the 3DS did manage to carve out a market for itself among Nintendo-faithful and handheld enthusiasts. Japan was a major supporter of the console, but even in the west, the 3DS ended up being rather successful, outpacing the Playstation Vita with ease. Released at a time when everyone was predicting the death of handheld gaming as smartphones sank their claws deeper and deeper into the public consciousness, the fact that the 3DS managed to sell over 80million units is very impressive. There was the odd software drought (as is now the norm with Nintendo consoles), but it was given a lot of support from third-party Japanese developers and Nintendo themselves all the way up until manufacturing of the console was halted at the tail end of 2020.
While the 3DS might live somewhat in the shadow of its older brother, there are some great experiences to be had on the console. In recognition of its tenth anniversary, I’d like to have a look at my favourite experiences with the 3DS over the years.
The Early Years
The arrival of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in the summer of 2011 marked the first time a 3DS game really captivated me. I’d played Ocarina of Time before on the Nintendo 64, but experiencing it in the palm of my hands, with the quality of life features that became possible with the second screen was an amazing experience. It felt like a true step up from the DS, a whole world was here in front of me, packed inside this little machine that could. This is one of my favourite games of all time, and you can read more about my experience with it here if you’re interested. That first year also saw me spending time with Mario Kart 7, which I got for Christmas, and the aforementioned Pilotwings Resort, as well as dipping my toes into the waters of Star Fox 64 3D, which I did not enjoy, and Cubic Ninja, which was an interesting game that made use of the 3DS’ gyro-controls. Interestingly, Cubic Ninja was a way for people to hack their 3DS systems, so its value shot up over time. I remember trading it into GAME eventually for about fifty quid and being so surprised that the sales assistant had to explain why it was so valuable.
The following year, I tried out my first Kingdom Hearts game, Dream Drop Distance, which was one instance of publishers giving their games three word subtitles with each word beginning with the letter ‘d’. It was a trend that didn’t fully take off though, thank goodness. The game itself was great fun, and an awesome portable experience. I was a big fan of the Pokemon Rumble game on Nintendo Wii, so when the 3DS got its own version, I snapped that up pretty quickly too and invested a lot of time in it over the course of that year. Things seemed to be going okay for the 3DS, but I started to feel a little bored by Nintendo’s general output with the console. Looking at my activity log from those days, I realised that in 2012, those were the only two games I really spend any great deal of time with. This drought continue into 2013, when I apparently spent a total of 11 minutes playing on my 3DS. This was also when Nintendo was struggling with its Wii U console, which makes you wonder what exactly was going on over at the big N during this time.
The Middle Years
My relationship with my 3DS began to change in 2014. Pokémon was pretty much the console’s saving grace for me. I hadn’t picked up X or Y when they came out in 2013, but early the following year, I finally gave into temptation and picked up X. While I wasn’t completely impressed (I think Pokémon X and Y are the most forgettable Pokémon games), they did get that itch for Pokémon started again for me. When Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire came out at the end of the year, I was there to pick them up on release. I loved my time with Alpha Sapphire, and it still stands as my most-played 3DS game. ORAS still stand up as the best games the series has to offer from the 3D generation of Pokémon, even standing above the Switch releases, Sword and Shield. 2015 was another quieter year, but I did enjoy playing Tomodachi Life with my flatmates at university. Watching our Miis interacting and doing crazy stuff was entertaining, if not exactly deep.
Then, in 2016, things really hit their stride. In preparation for my year abroad, I started investing in a couple of 3DS games that I’d missed along the way. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to take my PS4 with me to Japan, so it was time to build up a bit of a catalogue on the 3DS. Alpha Sapphire was still by far my most played game of the year, but it’s interesting for me to look back and see that I started trying out a few other 3DS games around this time – The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Super Smash Bros for Nintendo 3DS, Bravely Default, Fire Emblem Awakening, they all got some playtime in towards the end of the year. Additionally, I picked up a Japanese 3DS console during this time, where I spent time with Yokai Watch 2 and a few other games I picked up over here, including Pokémon Sun and Moon.
The Later Years
From 2017 onwards, the 3DS has pretty consistently managed to carve out a little niche for itself in my life as well as the general market. 2017 saw me spend a lot of time with Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past, which was a great, if time-consuming, RPG that really enthralled me with its rich story told through episodic romps through islands trapped in the past that had disappeared from the present world. I cannot recommend this game enough for any fan of JRPGs – while there is a lot of talking and text, the classic battle system is a joy to play, and the characters are charming in their interactions with each other and the world around them. There are more than a few touching moments as well, with some characters saying emotional farewells to the party (although I won’t spoil who!). 2017 also saw me nab the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy, the rerelease of the DS games. I love these games with all my heart, their stories are great fun, working out the mystery is a good little brain workout, and the characters and dialogue are genuinely pretty funny. I also realised that I could change the language settings of the collection to play in Japanese, which I did to get a little bit of extra practice in.
These later years of the 3DS have been dominated by the Ace Attorney series for me. 2018 saw me playing through more of the trilogy in addition to finishing Dragon Quest VII and sinking a little bit of time into Fire Emblem Awakening and Persona Q. I then finished the trilogy in 2019, and started the sequel, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, which had also recently been ported to the 3DS. I then wrapped that up last year and began to take full advantage of one of the greatest features of the 3DS – its backwards compatibility with DS games. There were a couple other Ace Attorney spinoffs that I’d missed out on when they were first released, so I went back to play them. I just finished play Ace Attorney Investigations 2 the other day, and I’ve got to say, I think it might be the best game in the series so far – the way that the individual cases all come together in one final case is brilliant, because it doesn’t completely surprise you. The game had been dropping hints the whole time, and there was often the feeling of an ominous presence hanging over proceedings. It was truly a masterpiece in video-game writing, so if you have the opportunity, I’d definitely recommend you play it.
I’ve recently picked up a haul of 3DS games that I hadn’t grabbed when they were originally released, and I’m excited to sit down and play them. While the console itself may now be finished in Nintendo’s eyes, there are still a multitude of fun experiences waiting for me out there, and I’ll continue to dive in and recommend some of the best ones here. What are your fondest memories of the 3DS? What kind of place does it hold in your gaming life?