Usually the announcement of a new piece of hardware is a cause for celebration in the gaming world. With the New Nintendo 3DS models being announced this week, however, I can't help but feel some pretty extreme apprehension about Nintendo's future. This new piece of hardware makes very little sense.
Look, I'm totally comfortable with new console cycles and the changes that those typically entail. When a brand new machine comes out, I understand that I need to be willing to fork over some money if I plan on dipping into all of those new games, features, etc. But that's one of my many problems with the New 3DS models; this is only a half-step forward, not a new console, and yet it still manages to gate off upcoming content.
Alongside the announcement that a New 3DS and a New 3DS XL will be releasing in Japan this October and worldwide sometime next year, Nintendo rolled out its first new piece of software for the redesigned consoles: Xenoblade Saga. Formally a Wii exclusive RPG, this new game will only be playable on the New 3DS models, despite the fact that it's not actually a new system. In other words, if you want to enjoy what I can only assume will be a growing crop of content for the New 3DS, then you need to make an upgrade to a new piece of hardware only a few years into your current 3DS' life cycle.
The best example I can think of is when a PlayStation or Xbox console launches the inevitable “slim” version of their machines. They may have a few extra horses running under the engine but, for the most part, you're getting a comparable system to the original with a few other bells and whistles thrown in for good measure. That's nice and all for new adopters but, if you've already been jamming on the PS3 for a while, for instance, there's nothing the PS3 slim offers that makes an upgrade feel mandatory. It's shiny and new, and you're welcome to upgrade, but nobody is releasing games that can only be played on the slim model.
Over in the Nintendo camp, however, they're creating an ecosystem akin to the Call of Duty or Madden model, only instead of games, they're releasing a new piece of hardware every time you turn around. It's as if Nintendo hasn't learned the slightest things from past mistakes. You're supposed to sell a razor that lasts a good long while and then funnel your efforts into providing the blades; lots and lots of blades. Despite the fact that both of their most recent pieces of hardware struggled for years and are finally getting some solid traction, Nintendo has opted to bring out yet another piece of hardware, only further confusing the market.
The 3DS only launched three years ago, followed by the XL model. Last year brought us the 2DS. This year, it's the New 3DS and, as an added bonus, it's getting exclusive games. As a consumer, I'm officially wary of buying the new console, simply because Nintendo's track record has me questioning if, in just a year or two, yet another new piece of hardware will be unveiled.
The New 3DS is banking hard on those Amiibo figurines and, let's face it, Smash Bros, which launches around the same time as the new console in Japan. Nintendo has no clue whether or not Amiibo will be the huge hit they're hoping for and in an attempt to emulate the Game Cube controller, we're getting a redesign that feels poorly conceived.
There's a tiny nub of a second thumb stick and two extra shoulder buttons that look about as comfortable as a small shirt on a 6'8 gorilla. As for that new analog nub, its sole purpose will be to adjust the camera in games like Monster Hunter and double as a C stick for Smash. That's dandy, I suppose, but again feels like a half-ass attempt at updating the console. That touch screen is so versatile, I've never once thought “golly, a couple of extra, horribly placed shoulder buttons would sure make my input options better.” And why bother with a clunky nub when a bit more time in the design department could have produced a redesign that gives gamers what they've actually been begging for, a second legitimate thumb stick.
The only reason I can think of for these design choices—and one I'd be willing to bet a pretty penny on—is that Nintendo could be planning to introduce the Nintendo 64, Super NES and Game Boy Advance libraries to the portable eShop. Nintendo has already stated that the New 3DS models sport more muscle and, if they can run a Wii game, I've got to assume that some of those older consoles could be on the menu, especially since the new layout so clearly resembles said consoles.
I guess my complaints boil down to two main points: This doesn't feel like a big enough change to be considered a “new” console, and since it offers exclusive content, it simply feels too soon to start boxing out folks who have invested in Nintendo's most recent pieces of hardware in very recent years. It's a half-step forward in every regard, which has become too commonplace for the publisher. And lets not forget that we're talking about another new version of a somewhat new console that, let's face it, could use a heck of a lot more games before it needs two extra shoulder buttons.
All I know is, I feel sorry for any parents out there who are going to try to buy a new Nintendo portable console for the kids in the coming year. You've got the 3DS, 3DSXL, 2DS, New 3DS and New 3DSXL. Oh, and some games will only work on two of those consoles, despite how similar all of their names are, so good luck with that!