The 3DS apparently released on my birthday in 2011. While I sat in a pub with a gruesomely sticky carpet and drank Strongbow with my friends, people in Japan shuffled, rather than ran, to buy Nintendo’s latest offering, which would reach the West about a month later. I had to look that up, because just like on the day of its release, the 3DS passed me by entirely, released during a time when my relationship with videogames was as much like my relationship with money and consumer products on the whole – occasionally complicated, mostly non-existent.
Fast forward 10 years later, where people talk to me about videogames every day, and not having a 3DS suddenly felt like a genuine oversight, not because of FOMO, but because people who know my taste would not stop saying things like “You will love Ghost Trick” or “You should really play Fire Emblem Awakening”, and while I shrugged them off, wary of spending even more of my money on games, these recommendations lingered, if only for how often they were repeated.
Eventually, a friend lent me their 3DS, and that broke the dam – not because of the games so much as this small, cute thing – a genuine handheld that even occasionally fits into a woman’s trouser pocket, and it’s whimsical by design. I know the quotes about Nintendo’s philosophy being that of a toy maker first, game company second are so worn they’ve got calluses, but I think I never really understood what that meant when not applied to an experimental product like Nintendo Labo or playing tennis with Wiimotes.
There is something inviting about the 3DS, from the small jingle it plays when it turn it on to the little shopping bag that bows to you at the eshop, to unwrapping your downloads like presents- Just navigating through the menu is full of small sights and sounds, and the 3D effect on the upper screen seems to exist simply because it’s neat and kind of magical. My Switch Lite is quiet and sterile by comparison. This thing, on the other hand, has a metallic gleam, and is full of mischievous details.
Some of those were inherited from the DS, and here too was Nintendo thinking about touch and how to use it in play. It made me think about Nintendo’s late president Satoru Iwata, who loved to talk about ways to make hardware a genuine pleasure to use, beyond the questions of shape, button size and so on. Consoles don’t do that anymore – they want to be serious, towering skyscrapers in your home that look like alien artifacts, not cute little toys.
But to be overwhelmed is a sudden, and very real thing – the availability of a whole new gaming library so much to take in choosing a game of all things becomes a paralysing task. It would be impossible to choose, had the friend who lent me their 3DS in the first place not also offered to let me go through their games. As anyone trying to preserve videogames or even just to build a physical collection knows, buying a Nintendo console a decade late means being always ready for getting the plug pulled on you.
While a refurbished console was easy enough to get, I would either have to spend large amounts of money at the eshop and then push all of my purchases to a big enough SD card to remain there, which thankfully nowadays isn’t the unreasonable part of this proposition, or I would have to pay ridiculous prices for physical copies on ebay. So, as weird as it feels to say, I have accepted that this console will likely never see a cartridge, which is unfortunate – even the click at sliding a game in is very satisfying, more solid than the small SDs for the Switch I live in constant fear of losing in the vacuum.
But while some games have been rereleased for Switch, others I feel I would forever have had to go without, if only because these games, even though they are good, aren’t perpetual bestsellers. I feel owning a console now, past it’s “time”, really made me understand the disappointment of people trying to preserve games on an emotional level – I look at my small 3DS with its sharp little screen, and as I follow the dancing sprites in its games with my eyes I realise remakes are nice, absolutely. But for some things, the complete experience, just the way it originally was, is brilliant – no upgrades required.