Smartphones are now capable game players
Nintendo helped raise decades of children on handheld games, but now that those kids are grown up, they have phones. Due to the massive success of the iPhone and the smartphone revolution that has followed it, a majority of people now (or will soon) carry a phone in their pocket capable of advanced 3D graphics and featuring a beautiful screen that’s much larger than the 3.5-inch 3DS screen. Better, these screens come fully equipped with capacitive multitouch features, tens of thousands of free or cheap games, and a constant Internet connection. Best of all, you don’t have to carry around a big bulky 3DS to play these games. Unfortunately for Nintendo, people have to carry their phones, but they don’t have to carry a 3DS. This gives smartphone platforms like iOS and Android a powerful advantage over Nintendo, one that the company didn’t address with the 3DS.
It’s targeting the wrong demographic
Nintendo may have chosen to ignore the rise of smartphones, but it may have made a huge mistake by trying to court teenage or adult male gamers with the Nintendo 3DS. Just as it plans to do with the Wii U, Nintendo has attempted to shift the appeal of its DS line away from the broad, young demographic it has held onto for 20 years to an older, and instead try to court a more hardcore male demographic — basically PlayStation gamers. Unfortunately, this is not a demographic Nintendo has ever been able to tap with any margin of success. There are plenty of adults and hardcore gamers who like Nintendo systems, but they’ve been onboard all along. There’s no need to alienate parents and younger fans to attract a more lucrative crop of players. Yet that is exactly what Nintendo has done with the game lineup for the 3DS.
Though the system launched with a few high-profile games like Super Street Fighter IV 3D, Pilotwings 3D, and Nintendogs + Cats, Nintendo chose to release its biggest March games on the regular Nintendo DS: Pokemon Black & White. The two games, which parallel each other, have already sold 5 to 6 million copies. Nintendo 3DS software, in total, sold only 9.43 million through April. Why cede all these potential gamers to the DS?
Where are the great games?
People buy Nintendo systems because they want to play Nintendo games. It’s sad, but it’s reality. Unfortunately, Nintendo’s launch game lineup for the 3DS looked more like a Sony launch than something from the Big N.
Here are the launch games for the 3DS:
While there are certainly some titles that hit at Nintendo’s strengths, this is a launch lineup filled with established game franchises. There are no fresh ideas here. The Nintendo DS and Wii were founded on original game ideas. Nintendo has redefined itself as a constant software innovator, yet we see no innovation here or coming in the future. Where are the cool ideas like Wario Ware or Brain Age?
Many major 3DS releases are still to come, but most of them are retreads of past software. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D hit shelves in June. Nintendo’s flagship 3D Super Mario game, Star Fox 64 3D, Luigi’s Mansion 2, Kid Icarus: Uprising, a new Paper Mario, a new Animal Crossing, and a new Mario Kart are also slated for release in the next year. (Yep, Nintendo is releasing so many sequels that it hasn’t actually thought of names for most of its upcoming 3DS games yet.) Most of these games have the potential to be system sellers for Nintendo, something the 3DS currently lacks. That is, if they can attract enough attention. If not, Nintendo will have to bank on games like Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater and Resident Evil: Revelations to boost its sagging sales.
While I’ve been especially hard on Nintendo’s 3DS, this article does not come without a bit of love. There are few gamers who love Nintendo games and systems as much as I love them. I’ve traveled through the depths of Zebes, Mushroom World, and Hyrule, and I’ve captured hundreds of Pokemon. Even when Nintendo retreads and gets lazy, I still enjoy its games. But I’m also on a budget. I have not purchased a 3DS and I have no plans to do so until there’s a good reason. From the get go, the system has felt like a misfire. I’ve watched Nintendo fail before, but this is different. It seems unable to cope with the “blue ocean” reputation it has spent seven years cultivating. Nintendo knows people expect new hardware and software innovation from it, but it is struggling to produce that innovation while also satisfying current fans. While it desired to attract new crowds to gaming, now Nintendo seems scared, desiring the comfort of hardcore gamers with reliable wallets. And so we have the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, two game systems (one out, one coming) that don’t seem to be satisfying anybody yet.