Recently, I have been shying away from the big box games that have been released for the major consoles: I played the beginning hour of Tomb Raider and just couldn’t get into it, God of War: Ascension was nowhere near as gripping as any of its predecessors (thanks for spending so much time on the multiplayer), and I doubt that I will even rent Gears of War: Judgment. Instead, I find that I am returning to my catalog of old Nintendo titles from yesteryear. I had my Mom send me my old Super NES, I dusted off my GameCube and N64, and I started buying some of the games I loved off of eBay and Craigslist. So for the past couple of months, I have been in Nintendo paradise, and it reminded me that, at one time, Nintendo wasn’t just a niche market for gamers, but was instead a titan in the gaming industry. I mean, it technically is still a financial titan (even with its worst financial year in 2011 and a very weak 2012, market researchers think it could stay afloat just on its games alone for the next ten years), but the company used to be the arbiter of development and innovation in the gaming medium.
Now though…my Wii U gathers dust while I wait for some sign of hope from Nintendo as to something great coming down that particular pipeline. Now, I could write a whole separate article about my opinions on the Wii U and the state of some of Nintendo‘s less “fresh” franchises (*cough* New Super Mario Bros U), but I do believe that there is a light of hope for Nintendo, a piece of machinery that has already captured some of that old creative lightning in the bottle. I really believe that the 3DS is one of the best and most innovative pieces of machinery that Nintendo has put out in quite some time. Here are some reasons why the 3DS has my vote….
1. There are some gorgeous 3DS games.
Needless to say, some of the titles put out for the 3DS are plain gorgeous; in fact, they are some of the best design and visuals that I have seen on a handheld system in general. Even without the 3D enabled, many of the games I have played have had amazingly polished cut-scenes expert artistic design, and some pretty decent graphics. And then when you enable the 3D…whoo. I was hesitant at first to purchase the 3DS as I felt that the 3D graphics were just going to be a huge gimmick, but really, I haven’t felt so absorbed by the games I have played in quite some time. Rhythm Thief (pictured above) had some of the best rendered anime cut-scenes that I have seen in a video game, and as a game highly dependent upon its touching story and setting (it is set entirely in Paris), the 3D really helped pull me, as a player, into the world and story of the game. Even a strategy game like Fire Emblem: Awakening, with its grid battle maps, comes alive with the 3D enabled. As someone who has been playing video games since I was three (yup, huge nerd), it takes a lot to get me invested in the game that I am playing, but the 3DS has offered a way to literally suck me into the game.
2. Refreshing takes on Nintendo’s franchises
In my recent little “Nintendo-thon” of playing through the old systems, I really have come to regard the Gamecube as one of the better and totally underrated consoles of its time. The reason for this, I believe, is that it really took its long existing franchises, such as Mario, Zelda, and Star Fox, and decided to get experimental and crazy with them. At the time, people were upset at Wind Waker’s cel-shaded style, as they wanted more Ocarina, but in retrospect, I enjoyed Wind Waker much more than Twilight Princess. As well, who wants Mario to clean up grafitti on an island that gamers have never seen before? They wanted more Mario 64! But, again, Super Mario Sunshine is now making a resurgence among retro gamers as one of the more exemplary Mario titles. And notice, in the next generation with the Wii, many of the franchises backslid into the expected due to these criticisms: Mario returned to his roots, with a side-scrolling platformer that, while saying New in the title, retreaded Mario’s past games rather than improving and making something new out of them. Granted, there were some gems (Galaxy 1 and 2, Donkey Kong Country Returns), but many franchises were content to merely push out more of the same (*cough* Skyward Sword). Same so far with the Wii U; New Super Mario Bros. U feels like reheated Super Mario World.
But the 3DS seems to be in the same vein as the GameCube. The big Nintendo franchises on the small portable system seem to be getting a much more experimental and interesting shake. Paper Mario: Sticker Star takes the classic Paper Mario/Super Mario RPG formula and gives it a new twist in combat that infuses the series with some new life while retaining its inherent humor and charm. From what I have heard, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon has taken the complaints with the original Luigi’s Mansion, namely that it was too short and lacked replay value, and added so much more content and diverse gameplay options, even only using the same tools that Luigi had in the first game. Perhaps the best example of this is in Kid Icarus: Uprising, which completely re-imagined the original NES game, making it a third person shooter/action game, with amazing voice acting, hilarious dialogue, tons of varied levels, a very meaty campaign, and some great gameplay. Granted, the 3DS is also a platform for some rehashing of some of our old favorites: Star Fox 3D, Ocarina of Time 3D, and even Snake Eater 3D, but overall, it seems to be the only Nintendo platform that is pushing its franchises into new and exciting directions.
3. It brings the perfect blend to casual/hardcore gaming
One of the complaints leveled against Nintendo during the Wii generation was its move towards pursuing the casual gamers: either non-gamers or those who enjoyed games but didn’t have the time for a full scale 8-40 an hour video game. Thus the age of Cooking Mama, Animal Crossing, and Wii Play/Sports was born. Many felt this shift alienated its longstanding gaming audience. Now personally, I had no complaint with this, as companies need to change with the time; if Nintendo wasn’t going to be the biggest and the baddest system around, it needed to transform into something else. But I will admit that in some ways, its shift towards more casual games wasn’t especially balanced, and the Nintendo fans definitely went through a bit of a drought.
With the 3DS, though, I feel this has been rectified in the perfect way: they have created games that satisfy both the hardcore gamers and the casual gamers. The mini-games in Rhythm Thief are both challenging and creative enough that they have that feeling of “play” about them (the best example is the Violin rhythm game where you match the stylus to the strokes of the violin to play the melody; it was one of the most challenging yet rewarding segments I have ever played, as I actually felt like I was making beautiful and skillful music!), and Super Mario 3D Land has challenging levels, but the hand-holding mechanic of the Silver Leaves if things become to difficult. Nintendo was always about “play”: eschewing heavy narrative and design opulence for pure gameplay and fun. The best example, I feel, for what I am saying is in New Super Mario Bros. 2. Though I just knocked it’s Wii and Wii U counterparts for being rehashes of Nintendo‘s earlier games, I felt that NSMB2 managed to recapture that feeling of simple fun. It gave hardcore gamers the classic Mario gameplay, but offered the casual gamers the coin collecting gimmick.
4. Finally, it reminds me of what Nintendo is all about
The 3DS, to me, just feels like it was the next logical step for Nintendo, much more so than the Wii U has been (though I am still holding out hope for that ship to turn around). The 3DS accomplishes a lot at once: it celebrates Nintendo‘s long heritage (I mean the thing looks like Gunpei Yokoi’s old Game & Watch machines), it pushes the technology forward, and it is actually taking its intellectual properties in the directions they should be progressing. It captures that old Nintendo spirit of “play, ” curiousity, and innovation, all without sacrificing either its casual gaming or its core Nintendo fans. It pushes its work not only in fun directions, but also artistically as well, as it has made games that have not only delighted its players, but also astounded and affected them as well. Now I know many of you may decry my article as being fanboy-esque, but please believe me when I say I am also one of Nintendo‘s harshest critics, as I have been equally frustrated with some of their choices. I am finally just glad that they have a console, albeit a handheld one, that is finally making some of the right decisions. It really is bringing me back to my childhood, with my boxy NES, playing the old 8-Bit games that amazed me and drew me to video games in the first place. I really hope more people buy more of this great machine, as I would hate to see it become a failed system. So please, if you are looking for a fun, fantastic little gift to yourself for the gamer on the go, check out the Nintendo 3DS, and if you happen to be Nintendo, please keep up the good work, and know that you have one of your fans back.