The Nintendo event where we got a chance to have a go with the 3DS admittedly didn’t have much on show that was truly interactive (which itself may be cause for concern), but what was available often ran up against familiar problems.
Simply, the third party games all looked a bit…uncomfortable on the platform, like the technology was new to the developers and they were still learning how to use it. None of the titles we saw felt like they truly benefitted from the addition of 3D technology, just as most of Wii games feel at odds with the motion controllers. It reminded us of playing emulated games or ports on our iPhones and being constantly aware that it wasn’t quite how the game was meant to be played.
In a way, it’s to be expected. 3D is a relatively new technology in some ways and is being forced down the collective gullet of the consumer market with alarming speed. That means the origins of most 3D games aren’t likely to start off with a designer having a good idea, but rather of a publisher telling a developer they need to make a game using 3D. The history of other platforms which introduced new interfaces has shown that the result is usually rushed, sloppy, at odds with the platform and comprised mostly of minigames. It’s one of the reasons that ‘minigames’ is now almost synonymous with ‘Nintendo’.
Oh, Link, just go away for a bit please?
The same thing happened with the original DS, obviously. The touchscreen was shoved upon developers and it took a lot of them a long time to figure out what a good DS game should be like. The saving grace of the original DS (and Wii) was Nintendo itself, who naturally had a clearer understanding of the platform and how to best use it. Thus, the first-party games were always better than the clones they spawned.
The problem is that the 3DS might not follow that same pattern, judging from the few titles Nintendo had on show. 3D games need to be designed from the ground up to work with that technology and have to meet some difficult expectations – if they don’t then why are you paying extra for a 3D capable handheld, anyway? We suspect that Nintendo may have created a rod for its own back by requiring 3DS games to also work without the 3D effect.
Nintendo didn’t let us see much and crucially wasn’t showing any of the first-party titles that are likely to appeal to hardcore crowds, such as Kid Icarus: Uprising, but what we did see didn’t blow our socks off. Sure, PilotWings looks OK in 3D, but the UI was a bit jarring in 3D and we don’t reckon it’s worth getting hyped up over. Nintendogs in 3D was equally underwhelming, suggesting that Nintendo might also be struggling with the idea of games in the third dimension.
Not representative of target audience
Die-hard Nintendo fans will obviously retort to this opinion by pointing out that that’s but a fraction of the full line-up – what about StarFox 64 3D or Paper Mario? What about Zelda?
Well, it may just be our ingrained cynicism talking, but what about them? Honestly, we’re getting a little tired of ported classics and the same milked-dry franchises getting wheeled out every time there’s a new SKU. It may well be that Paper Mario on the 3DS will be an absolutely brilliant game, but we’re so sick of that little Italian plumber and his bloody moustache that we flatly refuse to get excited until we see it in action. We’re certainly not going to jump for joy just because his hat now has an added dimension.
On a technological front, the 3DS is interesting and does work despite a few caveats, but judging from the titles we’ve seen so far we worry it might also be a bit premature. There are big developers who still haven’t got their heads around designing games for the original DS, let alone this new 3D trend – and for once, it looks like Nintendo’s own line-up might be on the back foot too.
There’s a lot to say for progression and pushing forward, but if there are plenty still trying to make the most of the tools currently at their disposal then isn’t there something to be said for patience too?