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To dream again

It Lives!!


The holidays are a time for love, joy, even an occasional miracle. I should know. Such a miracle unfolded before my eyes this past Christmas, in full view of family and friends: I fell in love with my Nintendo 3DS.

You heard me right. A long-forgotten aqua blue device with a depleted battery suddenly sprang to life and filled my holiday with 3D reveling. Joy to the virtual world! A handheld immaculate conception! How did it happen? Most unexpectedly.

When the 3DS first appeared, I wrote about it and expressed dismay at the dismal launch lineup, high price, and befuddling absence of an online store for apps and games. I patiently waited for Ocarina of Time 3D to arrive, played it for a week, then proceeded to shelve my 3DS and forget all about it. A few months later Nintendo dropped the price by a third, angering many of us early adopters. Pundits wondered if Nintendo had finally lost its portable mojo, after 20+ years of market dominance. Meanwhile the iOS/Android market exploded, and a slew of sub-$5 games signaled the end one-trick-pony game devices.

No company responds to being pressed into a corner better than Nintendo. History suggests that the company tends to narrow its vision when it leads (“Who needs optical discs?!”), but when Nintendo senses a whiff of its own irrelevance, it springs to creative action (“Who needs motion controls?!”).

I fell in love with my 3DS for four reasons, all converging this holiday season. The usual YMMV caveats apply, but if you’ve been on the 3DS sidelines, or if you can’t say for sure which drawer you stored that overpriced gadget in, now may be a good time for you to take another autostereoscopic look at the 3DS.

Reason 1: Games!

The 3DS launch lineup was disappointing, but it’s worth remembering that the most successful gaming device in history, the Nintendo DS, launched with even fewer games, none of them notable…Ping Pals anyone? The Urbz?

It’s taken awhile (too long, for many), but the 3DS now has a growing library of games that easily justifies purchasing the system. Here are my favorites in no particular order, with snapshot descriptions of each. I’ll talk in more detail about these games in my upcoming podcast.

  • Super Mario 3D Land - The best portable Mario game ever made. It’s gorgeous, beautifully balanced, and a terrific example of judiciously implemented 3D. EAD Tokyo managed to marry its floating Galaxy game universe with older side-scrolling Mario games, and the result is a platformer that sparkles with fun and imagination.
  • Mario Kart 7 - If you’re a close observer of the dev scene, you may know that Retro Studio has played a major role in designing top-tier Nintendo games like the Metroid Prime trilogy and the criminally under-appreciated Donkey Kong Country Returns. Last month’s Nintendo Power revealed that the studio quietly collaborated with EAD Tokyo on course and character design for Mario Kart 7, and the effort shows in the game’s immaculate fit and finish. It’s Mario Kart in 3D with hang gliding, underwater racing, and rock-solid online competition. What’s not to like?
  • Pushmo - a cuddly gem of a puzzle-platformer, and the best title to emerge so far from Nintendo’s revamped eShop. The video below describes the game better than I can in words. Pushmo is called Pullblox in Europe.
  • Mighty Switch Force - another stylish puzzle-platformer by Wayforward (A Boy and His Blob), the player controls a fembot named Officer Patricia Wagon, a “cybernetic cop send forth by the Galactic Penal Squad to put the Hooligan Sisters back behind bars.” You must turn translucent blocks solid, often in midair, while navigating environmental hazards and enemies. The game uses 3D to enhance the puzzles…and provoke gleeful giggles you vanquish baddies with blocks that suddenly materialize to crunch them.

  • Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked - one of my favorite DS titles has been revamped for the 3DS, but it’s mostly the same tactical JRPG that too many players missed in its original incarnation. I wrote about the game back in 2009, and I love the game no less fervently now. If you can overlook some gratingly effusive voice acting, Devil Survivor will bring you many hours of smart, well designed role-playing fun.
  • Cave Story 3D - The definitive indie game gets a loving 3D makeover that honors the core spirit of the game, yet also manages to enrich it. Rich Stanton at Eurogamer described it as a “chibi pop-up book with the 3D effects…and it looks wonderful, both faithful and surprising.” I can’t think of a better way of describing it. Despite what you may have heard, Cave Story 3D isn't just a re-release with a new coat of paint. There's artistry here that's more about intepretation than reiteration. I wrote about Cave Story in detail back in April of 2010.

Reason 2: Nintendo Love

3dsLet's face it, Nintendo screwed up, and they're trying hard to fix it. The eShop is finally worth visiting because it now includes news, games, apps, and preview videos in 3D. In other words, it's actually begun to resemble a shop where you might buy something.

The "Ambassador Program," aka, "The Great Iwata Guilt-Trip Giveaway" was an effort to "show appreciation" to consumers who bought a 3DS in the first months of its availability. I was initially skeptical of this maneuver, but when I saw the final list of 20 free games - 10 classic NES and 10 GBA titles - I whistled a different tune. It's hard to dismiss some of the best games in the catalogs of both systems, including franchise launchers Super Mario Bros., Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda; and other terrific games like Yoshi's Island, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Fire Emblem, Metroid Fusion, Wario Land 4, among others.

Finally, Club Nintendo at long last looks like a club worth joining. In addition to nerd-cool trinkets for frequent buyers, players can now trade in coins earned from registering games to purchase new games in the eShop.

Reason 3: It's a Zelda machine!

Zelda (1)If you're a Zelda fan, the 3DS is a good way to go. In addition to being backwards-compatible for DS Zelda titles Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, seven other games are also available for the system:

  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
  • The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
  • The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Anniversary Edition (free via eShop until Feb. 20, 2012)
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
  • Four Swords Anniversary Edition is especially worth noting. It includes new levels that pay sonic and visual homage to previous Zelda games, and, unlike the cumbersome 2002 version, this is multiplayer Zelda without the crazy GBA-to-Gamecube connectivity issues. Even if you don't own a 3DS, pick this one up for your DSi or borrow one from a friend. It's a blast.

    Reason 4: It's still a pretty cool device

    Despite the 3DS being on the market since last March, lots of people have yet to lay eyes on it, as I discovered spending time with family and friends over the holidays. I still get a kick out of showing it off. Unfortunately, now that more quality games are available, few people hand it back to me quickly. Mario Kart 7 and Pushmo, in particular, make my 3DS disappear for mysteriously long periods of time. 

    I should also mention it's sturdy. Like most Nintendo hardware I've owned over the years, it can take a licking and keep on ticking. Good thing, too, because I've got a 4-year-old gamer girl with butterfingers.

    At the risk of filling this "glass half-full" cup to the brim, I'll also note that I'm excited about some 3DS games on the horizon, especially Resident Evil Revelations (which I've briefly played); Luigi's Mansion 2 (be sure to check out the 3D video for this one in the eShop); and new Paper Mario and Animal Crossing games. I'm also a big fan of Monster Hunter Tri for the Wii, so an enhanced version of that game, Monster Hunter 3G, has me pretty excited too.

    So maybe the 3DS got off to a rocky start, but 4 million unit sales in the U.S. (more than the Wii in its first nine months), suggest things may not be as dire as some of us thought. Who knows how smartphones and tablets will continue to impact Nintendo's gameplan, but for now I'm happy to say my 3DS was a welcome part of our holiday festivities.

    Happy New Year, everyone!