The Forgotten 3D of the 3DS
The Nintendo DS was the kind of remarkable success rarely seen in the industry. In the early 2000s, Nintendo’s relevance in the home console market was waning, and their previously unshakeable handheld dominance was facing its first real threat in the form of the PSP. Nintendo needed something special, and the Nintendo DS delivered by going on to be one of the best-selling gaming systems of all time thanks to its unique dual-screen display and touch screen interactivity. The question for Nintendo then became: how do you follow that up?
3D was all the rage back in the late noughties. Avatar was breaking every record at the box office on the back of its lush 3D visuals, and every TV had 3D as a key selling point. After having experimented with the technology for decades, Nintendo pulled the trigger and announced their successor to the DS sporting some beefed up specs and stereoscopic 3D without the need for those super stylish plastic glasses.
This namesake feature had a dramatic rise and fall during the life of the system. From initial scepticism and mixed reactions to some incredible use in a number of titles and the significant improvements with the New Nintendo 3DS to the death knell starting with the release of the 2DS and the eventual dropping from of 3D support from first-party titles altogether. Let’s take a look back at Nintendo’s journey into this new extra dimension.
Nintendo announced the Nintendo 3DS rather unceremoniously in March 2010 before officially unveiling the wraps at E3 2010, where Nintendo was faced with the difficult task of the showing off a console with a primary selling point that couldn’t be experienced without seeing it first-hand. So certain was Nintendo of the impact that glasses-free 3D would have on attendees that they made sure everyone had the chance to try it, resulting in this E3 moment.
In the months that followed Nintendo held numerous hands-on events in multiple countries, including several events at Westfield centres across Australia where gamers could go hands-on with several titles set for launch and beyond to get a taste of what the future of 3D games had in store. It was clear Nintendo understood the importance of getting the technology in front of people.
Initial impressions from the first crop of titles shown were extremely positive. The momentum carried through to launch, with a game line up that, though not containing anything mind-blowing, offered a mix of software that truly showed off the capabilities of the 3D functionality. Nintendogs + Cats added an extra dimension to your furry friends, and Pilotwings Resort was given a vastly improved sense of scale as you soared through the skies. The separation of foreground and background in Super Street Fighter IV looked great, and the use of Streetpass for 3D figure battles was a neat bonus.
Not every game from the launch window was as successful with its 3D adoption. 3D didn’t add much to Steel Diver’s paper-thin style, Dead or Alive Dimensions looked fantastic but dropped from 60fps to 30fps as soon as the 3D was switched on, and Rayman 3D was borderline nauseating with its shoddy implementation. Despite these missteps, there was enough here to show promise for the future. Also available at launch was Puzzle Swap in the StreetPass Plaza, which continued to receive new updates throughout the system’s life and is still some of the most impressive 3D I’ve seen to date thanks to the interactive dioramas you can unlock with the puzzle pieces you collect. Seeing an Arwing shoot lasers at your face was jaw-dropping, and the highly detailed character models on many of the puzzles really showed off the system’s capabilities.
Those willing to keep the slider on were rewarded with some breathtaking uses of 3D over the next couple of years. Arguably the best game for use of 3D was Super Mario 3D Land, with the eye-popping depth offered from the stereoscopic 3D providing huge benefits to both the platforming gameplay and the visuals. The extra dimension allowed for precision platforming and an easier time spotting hidden secrets that resulted in a sublime Mario platformer, and the vibrant colours just burst out of the screen.
There was plenty of other great 3D content over the years. Pullblox was designed with 3D depth in mind, the added depth in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds made the top down view look incredible, and the parallax scrolling with the foreground and background in Shovel Knight was an awesome visual treat. A pair of Kirby titles – Planet Robobot and Triple Deluxe also made excellent use of foreground and background for some stunning looking games. Third parties also put the functionality to good use, with Capcom’s Resident Evil: Revelations being a visual treat for the handheld system with an intense atmosphere that was only enhanced by 3D.
Regardless of the actual quality of the 3D in a game, the decision of whether to use it or not seemed to vary from player to player. Some loved the added depth and immersion offered, others either didn’t care for it or found it actively uncomfortable. This wasn’t helped by the initially problematic implementation of 3D requiring the user to keep perfectly still and central in order to maintain the effect. Any deviation from this point would result in a blurry image.
Sadly, the 3D train never caught on like Nintendo would have hoped. Though the company admittedly didn’t have actual data regarding 3D use, anecdotal sentiment certainly seemed to indicate that the feature was being ignored by most users. Whether players decided that it didn’t add much to the game or simply found it uncomfortable to use, the 3D slider appeared to stay permanently off for most people.
The release of the Nintendo 2DS sparked the demise of the foray into glasses-free 3D. Though almost certainly an attempt to cut costs and provide a cheaper alternative for a younger audience, it was also Nintendo admitting that 3D was no longer a selling point for this system. This was reflected in their marketing, which by the end of just 2012 had completely dropped all mention of 3D altogether, with Nintendo shifting to focus on their growing library of outstanding games.
2013’s Pokémon X and Y saw the start of software dropping 3D support. What were arguably the most anticipated 3DS games at the time relegated the 3D functionality to use only in battles, and even this came at the cost of a hit to the frame rate. This would continue with the release of Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire the following year before the functionality was dropped altogether for Pokémon Sun and Moon later in the system’s life. When Nintendo’s biggest handheld-centric franchise dropped support, it was clear the writing was on the wall.
Nintendo would forego 3D in most of their titles going forward. Hey Pikmin!, Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn, Super Mario Maker, Detective Pikachu, two Mario & Luigi games and more all dropped support for the feature. Even the introduction of the New Nintendo 3DS, which featured vastly improved “Super-Stable 3D” thanks to some clever face tracking that kept the 3D image in focus, couldn’t revive interest in 3D despite some stellar final efforts. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and Metroid: Samus Returns used 3D to spectacular effect, and a remake of Luigi’s Mansion would be Nintendo’s final swansong for the stereoscopic feature. This is suitably fitting, given that this was the game Nintendo used to experiment with the potential of 3D displays back in the GameCube era.
The release of the New Nintendo 2DS XL in 2017 was the final nail in the coffin for Nintendo’s foray into glasses-free 3D. It replaced the New 3DS XL as the face of the 3DS family, with a sleek design available at a mass consumer price. Aimed at a younger demographic, for which stereoscopic 3D screens weren’t suitable for anyway, it reflected the apathy from both gamers and developers regarding a feature that never quite managed to set the world on fire as Nintendo had hoped.
I adored the 3D functionality, especially on the New Nintendo 3DS. I would always have the slider cranked to the max on any game that would let me, and it saddens me it never got the love it deserved. It added an absorbing level of detail to so many incredible games, and titles such as Super Mario 3D Land, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Metroid: Samus Returns and countless others would have all been lesser experiences without it.
With no new games announced for the 3DS at E3, it’s probably safe to say that we’ve officially seen the last of what glasses-free 3D gaming has to offer. It may not have been for everyone, but those who did enjoy it are left with a library full of visual splendour from another dimension to savour for years to come.
We’ve been saying goodbye to 3DS this past week, if you missed our articles here they all are:
- The Forgotten 3D of the 3DS.
- StreetPass – The Defining 3DS Feature.
- Every Nintendo 3DS Variant Ever Released. Probably.
- The Life and Times of the Nintendo 3DS.
- The Best of the Best of the Nintendo 3DS