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Nintendo’s 3D Dream: The Story so Far

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Nintendo has long dreamt of bringing 3D to the masses, their 3D focused Virtual Boy console was a short-lived and daring creation which left a sour taste in the mouths of the company and its customers. Now, Nintendo is attempting to make its mark in the midst of the 3D craze, but just how it is working out for them so far?

It has become a well accepted fact that Nintendo’s launch of its new 3DS portable was a rushed effort. The console launched less than a year after its official reveal with a good reception by critics but lackluster sales in the real world leading to a swift, drastic price drop and a 50% cut to the paycheck of the company’s president. Many expect Nintendo rushed the launch in an effort to bump up their fiscal year earnings after a rapid decline in sales of it’s Wii home console.

As the release date for the 3DS edged closer, Nintendo began to announce separate release windows for numerous features that were, at first, expected to launch with the console itself such as the eShop and Internet browser. Eventually these promised features did reach 3DS owners, but were they ready or did the longer wait increase the expectations of users?

The 3DS was an expensive bit of kit, launching from anywhere between £187-230 in the UK, but it’s glasses-less 3D was an intriguing concept which sold the console to a fair amount of us pretty quickly. Sales numbers at launch were pretty good, they just didn’t stay that way for very long.

After the realization that the system simply wasn’t selling, Nintendo opted to drop the price of the 3DS in record time. The price drop was sure to anger early adopters and the company knew this, so it announced the “3DS Ambassador” program to make all of those customers feel special again. As ambassadors, early adopters have been treated to 10 free classic NES titles from the eShop to download to their handheld along with the promise of 10 exclusive Gameboy Advance titles at a later date.  This, along with the a few freebies from the launch of the eShop, was a good move by the company to keep its fanbase on their side for a little longer.

When the system was first officially revealed at the 2010 Electronic Entertainment Expo, journalists were blown away with their first chance to see the game environments they played seamlessly push back into–and out from–the screen they glared at. This reaction, along with the amazing line-up of on-board developers and titles generated a lot of buzz. Depressingly, the launch titles for the system were both slim and sub-par at best.  With a fair chunk of the promised games either being far off in the distance or canned altogether, it looked like the system was quickly becoming a deep regret for the customer, and possibly even Nintendo themselves.

During the European reveal event in Amsterdam in January, the company spoke about the 3DS Video service, an expected feature due to the current focus on 3D content from within the TV and film industry which promised 3DS owners new stereoscopic 3D videos to enjoy every day. The service launched in July, four months after the 3DS went on sale, with four videos for users to blur their eyes watching. Sadly, the videos do not use the same sort of 3D imagery as  3DS games use — the 3D effect of the videos is similar to what you see on in cinema and 3D-enabled televisions where the effect allows elements of the picture to appear on a separate layer above the underlying image rather than that expandable depth that 3DS games amaze us with. This isn’t the fault of Nintendo themselves, it’s just the way 3D video production works, which is a real shame. Since the beginning of this sudden 3D craze in cinema and television, I have become more and more unimpressed by the main selling point of the products. The layered 3D effect just isn’t good when I imagine how it could look if it were similar to the 3DS’ “window-gazing” screen.

Daiji Imai, the director of video distribution for Nintendo’s network department, spoke in a segment of Iwata Asks and promised new video content to be delivered every day to the 3DS video service while the console sleeps in it’s charging cradle. The talk of content delivery through a 24/7 connection is a topic Nintendo had a focus on during the early days of the Wii. Brought back during the initial demonstration videos of the 3DS was this focus to keep the 3DS in sleep mode throughout the day as opposed to turning it off, this was to allow content to be delivered to the system when it is not in use in order to surprise you with a cool blinking light signaling something new for you to enjoy when you open the lid. This premise sounded interesting as the content could be downloaded automatically as you unknowingly came within range of a local WiFi hotspot or simply set it down as you slept in your bed.  I have rarely seen this blinking light of surprise as it would seem content can only be delivered to the app or game that was running when you shut the lid of the console, making the content delivery system’s proposed usefulness a lot more impractical.

Next comes the 3DS Browser, the internet surfing app of the 3DS. When the DSi launched, so did a version of Opera’s internet browser to make use of the increased hardware specifications over its DSlite counterpart. The browser itself had potential, its user interface was decent and it was generally fun to use. Despite this, the browser served little purpose due to the memory limitations of the system constantly being met during light browsing, bringing the experience to a halt. Things are a little different with the 3DS browser though, again it didn’t launch with the system but did launch with the eShop a few months later for free. This time the browser was developed in-house at Nintendo. Hopefuls saw the potential hardware specifications of the system as a reason to expect a pretty decent product, especially with the rise of 3D-enabled YouTube videos. Ultimately we were left pretty disappointed with the end product. Flash support was non-existent and memory limits were still met fairly quickly, although, brushing the downsides away, the browser supports the viewing of .MPO files. A file container in which 3D photographs are saved to in the 3DS. Users have been able to alter images manually to fake a ‘3D’ effect, and, when transferred via SD card and viewed on the 3DS system, look quite spectacular, opening up the possibilities of .MPO gallery websites being created for 3DS owners to gawk at whenever they choose.

Recently, Nintendo held a conference dedicated to rejuvenating the trust people have in the company and their 3D child. Announcing an array of new titles mostly catered toward the Japanese market and introducing an inexpensive add-on peripheral which provides the console with a second circle-pad and two additional shoulder buttons for games.  This will help with titles such as the ever-popular Monster Hunter franchise, which is coming to the console.

Sales have reportedly picked up by 260% following the price drop even though the current state of the software catalog hasn’t really improved since the start, but Nintendo are adamant about releasing two killer apps to the console by the holiday season — Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7.  These two franchises arguably created the success of original DS with one of those titles still appearing in the top 20 charts for the system five years after its release.

Can Nintendo’s efforts reinvigorate its new 3D child in time to avoid loosing the clutch on the handheld market they have dominated since the original Gameboy? They only have a few months before the Japanese launch of Sony’s impressive PlayStation Vita.

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