3D is the wave of the future, or at least that’s what Nintendo would like you to believe. After astounding the gaming world at E3 2010 with its 3D glasses-free portable gaming device, Nintendo has been touting 3D as if it is the next huge innovation for video games, just as motion controls were in 2006. To the untrained eye, it may seem as though Nintendo is putting all of its eggs in the proverbial 3D basket. However, what Nintendo is doing with 3DS is very different than what they were doing with Wii. When Nintendo launched Wii, there was no safety net. If people didn’t like motion controls, there was nothing stopping them from purchasing a competitor’s product, with their advanced graphics and traditional game controllers. In other words, Nintendo had placed all of their chips on motion controls, and had they not been successful, Wii may have been the last Nintendo home console. So what’s different about the 3DS situation then? What if 3D doesn’t take off?
Nintendo has been very clever with how they have marketed and designed 3DS. Just last week Nintendo reconfirmed that its 3DS projects will be playable not only in 3D, but in 2D as well. But wait a minute. If 3D is as big as Nintendo says it is, wouldn’t it make more sense to force people to embrace it, like they did with motion controls? In a word, no. Nintendo has done their research well. They know that 3D works differently for almost every person. Some may be able to see a dazzling 3D effect while someone else may not be able to see any noticeable 3D at all. On top of that, it’s widely known that 3D effects can give particular people headaches after prolonged use. Knowing these things, it seems as though 3D is doomed to fail. If I can’t play my 3DS for more than 20 minutes without getting a headache, I may think twice about playing it at all, right? Or what if I’m one of those people that can’t see a 3D effect. Should I even bother getting a 3DS?
So what happens if 3D fails? Nothing. I like to think of the “3” in “3DS” as not only pertaining to the “3” in “3D,” but also because 3DS is the third iteration of DS. I group the original DS and DS Lite into the first iteration since both units were virtually identical aside from an aesthetic viewpoint. Obviously DSi and DSi XL are the second generation of DS. If you think of the system’s name with this idea in mind, I think you’ll come to see that 3DS is about a lot more than 3D, and that 3D may play a smaller role in the console’s legacy than you may think. For with this console, Nintendo has a well designed safety net in place, and it’s the 3D slider. If the 3D effect hurts your eyes, then simply turn the slider down. If you want more of a 3D effect, then turn the slider up. And if you can’t see the 3D effect, don’t worry, as the system can put out visuals just as good if not better than those of Wii.
In fact, each individual game has its trade-offs when it comes to playing games in 3D and 2D. Take Dead or Alive: Dimensions for example. If you are one of the gamers out there that is really looking forward to playing in 3D, you’ll have to do it at a lower frame rate, 30 frames per second. However, if you want to play the game in 2D, the frame rate goes up to 60 frames per second. What does this mean? It means that if you play a game without the 3D effect, the experience will ultimately be smoother and look better. The frame rate alone will be enough to make many people leave the slider in the off position. The idea that 3D is the next gaming revolution is the idea that Nintendo is spreading to the casual gamers, people that might get excited just because something is in 3D. But they also know what their dedicated fanbase is looking forward to, and it isn’t the 3D.
I don’t think it is a stretch at all to say that the majority of hardcore gamers are more excited for the 3DS’ increased power than they are for the 3D effect. While not being able to play a game in 3D may disappoint some potential gamers that can’t see the illusion, playing a game like Resident Evil: Revelations will more than likely be enough to bring them back into the fold. If you took motion controls away from Wii, what you had was a system barely more powerful than its predecessor, and vastly underpowered when compared to its competition. Take the 3D away from 3DS and what do you have? An immensely powerful handheld that can display graphics comparable to those of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Resident Evil 5 will never see the light of day on Wii, but before development began on Resident Evil: Revelations, Capcom had a working build of Resident Evil 5 on 3DS. The idea of playing a game with home console quality graphics will probably play a bigger role in swaying potential buyers than 3D alone.
I’ve already read numerous reactions to 3DS, and there are some people that have already said that the 3D slider will be in the off position most of the time. Even our own Matthew Noah Ward said in the last podcast that he’ll likely be playing in 2D the majority of the time. But does this make Noah or anyone else less excited for 3DS? Of course not, because there is so much more that 3DS offers. Think about this: Nintendo has already come out and said that 3D was added to the 3DS not too long before E3 2010. The original successor to the DSi didn’t even have 3D. As bad as it sounds, it was more of an afterthought. Nintendo hadn’t originally planned on it at all. However, after the extremely positive reaction to the system last year, Nintendo figured that they would ride 3D for all it is worth.
Ultimately it is the games that will decide whether 3DS is successful or not, with or without 3D. I think fans would rather have a longer battery life and smoother visuals than see a game in 3D. Doesn’t this make 3DS more similar to NGP then, being a very powerful handheld? Yes, of course. But what NGP doesn’t have are Nintendo’s franchises or experience in the handheld gaming market. They know how to position a product and what to do with it. While 3D may initially seem like it will be the system’s legacy, its real one will probably have to do with Nintendo bringing back the hardcore crowd.
If Nintendo hadn’t created the 3D slider, and also decided that all of their games will be in 3D, this would be a much different story. This isn’t an all or nothing situation for Nintendo like Wii was. All gamers will have a choice when they pick up their 3DS: to play in 3D or in 2D. Whichever they choose, 3DS will still be extremely popular and once again deliver another outstanding library of software to the masses.