Join us over the next few days as we look at all of the leading games consoles and platforms out right now and try to convince you why you should spend your hard-earned cash. Today we're looking at the 3DS, with Peter Brown taking you through the highlights of Nintendo's portable system.
It may have launched with a whimper, but after a brief post release lull, the 3DS has turned the corner, and Nintendo isn't looking back. There are currently 35 million 3DS owners worldwide, and if you can't count yourself among the 3DS-equipped, there's no better time to join the party than 2014. There are a handful of great-looking games coming in the near future, and a massive selection of readily available 3DS, DS, and Virtual Console games to keep you busy while you wait.
If you love Nintendo's classic franchises, you'll find plenty of excuses to pick up a 3DS. In 2013 alone, we got Fire Emblem: Awakening, an unforgiving yet rewarding strategy role-playing game that's built on a system of relationships and mortality; an adorable town simulator in Animal Crossing New Leaf; Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D from Retro Studios, of Metroid Prime fame; and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, GameSpot's game of the year for 2013.
Those games are reason enough to justify a 3DS, but the list of Nintendo hits keeps going: Star Fox 64 3D, Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, Kid Icarus: Uprising, and a large selection of downloadable classics from the 8-bit Game Boy and Nintendo Entertainment System. There's also a little something called Pokemon X/Y, which may not be for everyone, but it's a veritable gold mine for anyone with the itch to catch 'em all.
Third-party publishers have proven they know how to make great 3DS games as well. Atlus has a formidable lot of Japanese RPGs on the 3DS, having released two Shin Megami Tensei and two Etrian Odyssey games in 2013 alone. Capcom's series manage to thrive here too, in a surprisingly great port of Street Fighter IV, another charmingly entertaining Phoenix Wright game, and Monster Hunter 3, a punishing co-op action RPG with lots of monsters to slay and gear to collect. It's not just major publishers that are flocking to the 3DS either; indies have found a home on the 3DS, releasing the games Steamworld Dig, Cave Story, and not least of all, Gunman Clive, an Old West-themed action platformer with a distinctly Mega Man-esque feel.
There are great Nintendo franchises making their way to the 3DS in the near future, starting with Yoshi's New Island. It's unabashedly reminiscent of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, with charmingly rendered characters and clever platforming. While it doesn't deviate too much from the original, Yoshi's New Island builds on the existing formula by adding new controls schemes designed for the 3DS hardware, and an increased emphasis on secrets and hidden collectibles. It's derivative of past Yoshi's Island games, for sure, but that's also the point.
Super Smash Bros. is also coming sometime this year, bringing characters from every corner of the Nintendo universe together for four-player slugfests. It's the series' first appearance on a portable platform, and if it's anywhere near as good as the previous games in the series, it's sure to attract a rabid and dedicated fan base, and potentially set a new standard for portable multiplayer fighting games.
As if there weren't enough great Japanese RPGs on the system, there's a fantastic one on the horizon that has already attracted huge amounts of attention, and earned a sequel that's currently in development. I'm referring to Bravely Default. It's a game with a confusing name, but it's cut from the same cloth as classic Final Fantasy games like Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy Tactics, and designed around a robust job system that allows you to customize your party in countless ways. If you fondly recall the Final Fantasy games of old, you absolutely have to play Bravely Default. It won't wow you with its story, but its world, art style, and combat system are great enough to warm the heart of even the most cynical old-school RPG fan. If that sounds like you, I promise that Bravely Default will provide a much-needed respite from the current, waffling state of the Final Fantasy series.
The 3DS is special in that it's one of the first devices on the market, gaming or otherwise, to feature a stereoscopic 3D display. By design, it projects two video streams at different angles for each eye, letting you experience 3D gaming without the need for glasses. While it isn't a consistently great feature, hinging on developers using it properly, there are games such as Super Mario 3D Land that are far better experiences on a 3D display than they would be otherwise. This screen is paired with a smaller, 2D touchscreen, adding up to an unusual mix of technologies that allow for unorthodox gaming experiences that could live almost nowhere else.
Even with the exotic screens, the 3DS isn't terribly expensive. The high-end, larger-size 3DS XL starts at $200, the same price as a PlayStation Vita, but it also comes with a memory card, unlike the Vita, and is often sold in bundles with limited-edition designs themed around an included game. The more portable, standard 3DS is $30 less at $170, but if you want to get into the 3DS for less money, and you don't care about or don't want to pay for the 3D functionality, the slate-like 2DS is only $130. For a system with such a great catalog of games, with more on the way, and built-in backward compatibility with legacy Nintendo DS games, that's a relative pittance compared to handheld and console alternatives, which command higher prices and offer, in a lot of cases, fewer games to play, worthwhile or otherwise.
It's unlikely that I can convince you to buy a 3DS if I haven't already, but there's one important detail that hasn't been talked about: StreetPass. StreetPass is a system that lets you passively trade avatars with other 3DS owners. You don't need to know them; you only need to have two 3DS systems in the same vicinity to exchange avatars, and the character will then live on your system, allowing you to use it in various minigames built into the 3DS operating system. It's a simple system with huge implications, and every 3DS owner I know cites it as one of their favorite features of the system.
As long as Nintendo continues to sell millions of 3DS systems, the games will surely follow--not that there aren't plenty of great games already, of course. The hardware may not be as powerful as the PlayStation Vita, but it's less expensive, and hardly disappointing on its own terms. If you haven't jumped on the 3DS train yet, you owe it to yourself to pick up--all things considered--one of the best Nintendo systems of all time.