one more time

In a Nintendo Direct yesterday, Satoru Iwata announced a new model of 3DS to be released next year, featuring various improvments. Among these include a larger screen with better parallax effect, a faster processor, more memory, a second analog nub (finally) and more shoulder buttons. The New 3DS’ screen can adjust its brightness automatically to compensate for ambient conditions, and track the player’s face to keep things looking just right.

The internet hasn’t taken this well, with complaints that the current hardware is now completely obsolete, that this move by Nintendo is an “insult” to its longtime supporters, and cries of how Nintendo won’t support their hardware for any considerable length of time. One complaint which strikes me as particularly ignorant is that which “this is the first time Nintendo has ever split the userbase…depending on which re-release of the handheld they bought.” Most forum comments stop just short of outright claims of fraud. I’m left wondering how long it will be until lawsuits from jilted customers start popping up.

I really don’t see where any of this hate is coming from. It’s not much different from the overall progression of Nintendo consoles over the past 15 years or so. While the original Game Boy persisted for a good deal before finally needing a successor, the Game Boy Color was only on shelves for three years before the Advance model was rolled out. It was another three years before they changed gears entirely and released the DS in 2004. The original 3DS was released in 2010…and here we are today.

Notably, the hinge of Nintendo’s strategy was that each new model included full backwards compatibility with the previous model, allowing customers to continue playing their older games on the new hardware, and continue to get their worth out of them. While the new 3DS will have some new hardware (namely the second analog nub and second set of shoulders) that will undoubtedly result in newer games that will be unplayable on the “old” 3DS, the new model can still play the old games. An upgrade is in no way forced, and the old hardware is nowhere near being cut off from support. Even if that were a possibility of some kind, developers simply could not ignore the over 40 million 3DS, 3DS XL and 2DS units already out there. Games will still be made for these handhelds. They are not going away.

That being said, I’m not a mindless cheerleader blindly supporting the move. There are aspects I don’t like, first and foremost the name. With Nintendo still smarting from the confusion caused by the unimaginative name and bad marketing related with the Wii U, one would think they would at least try to come up with a name to distinguish the new from the old. But no, apparently Nintendo is still taking notes from Apple and are just calling it the “new 3DS”. I wish them luck in helping customers tell the two apart, and I don’t envy the legions of Best Buy and GameStop employees whose jobs it will be to enlighten them.

Hardware-wise, I actually don’t think Nintendo went far enough with the changes. The second analog nub is a joke. I fail to see how it will be comparably useful to the existing circle pad on the left side. Personally I enjoy eraser-head mice over touchpads and such, but this is a very different application. Besides the limited method of movement detection, it’s crammed into a tiny space that only leads my imagination to conjure scenarios involving my thumb slamming into the base of the hinge at high speed. I’m also less than enthusiastic about the extra set of shoulders. More shoulders means more can be done, but the placement of these buttons makes their practical use seem awkward. But I could be wrong, you never really know until you actually hold it in your hands and use it.

Other than that, the beefier CPU and extra memory mean better performance and more detailed graphics in the future, and microSD support is a nice step forward, though I question the placement of the slot in a recessed well in the bottom. In all, it seems like a mixed bag. I won’t be planning to upgrade anytime soon, as I’m quite happy with my 3DS XL. Maybe the next revision will have the true second circle pad I’ve been waiting for.