With the furore around a possible Nintendo Direct (not helped by Nintendo’s merciless trolling on this topic), one thing is shifting into clearer focus; the 3DS isn’t dead… yet.
For all the hype around Switch announcements, I’m of the viewpoint that there will be a good number of new 3DS titles announced and released within 2018 – things like Detective Pikachu for the West, for example. With a movie in the works, it’s easy to forget there have been two of these games and neither have seen an official release outside of Japan – which is a thing Nintendo is likely wanting to change with movie rights and casting already ironed out. I’m guessing there’ll also be some other major reveals for the 3DS, nothing earth-shattering or life-changing but enough support to keep the 3DS alive a little longer.
Having said that… 2018 really should be the last year we see major support for the 3DS.
There are reasons for this but let’s get to the major one; the Switch is doing really, really well. It’s easy to overlook, but the 3DS is this year more than likely set to overtake the PS4’s lifetime Japanese sales – the Switch is already at 3.5 million units in less than a year, whereas after four years, the PlayStation 4 is sitting at 5.9 million units. In Japan, the Switch is outpacing the 3DS several times over. Japan is a big market for Nintendo, and the market is speaking volumes – the Switch is where people want to be right now, and the 3DS can tick over for a little while longer but it’s unlikely to see sales spikes that put it in the same league of the Switch this year.
Which leads to the second problem; the “Why Is This Not On Switch?” conundrum.
Whilst Nintendo might have gotten away with 3DS support through 2017, it will be harder for the company to continue justifying support throughout 2018 and it will be next to impossible to justify additional development time into 2019. The Switch is a portable device – a hybrid, sure, but portable nonetheless. It’s got a bigger screen (nine and a half times the pixels), more RAM, more power, bigger cartridge sizes… in short, the Switch -is- set to be the next step in the handheld console space, if not already considered by many to be an entirely new handheld generation in its own right.
This means that new games on the 3DS will have to put up with that question; why is this not on Switch? There’ll be some excuses for 2018, such as delayed developments and projects that were starting development back when Nintendo was still being a little coy about the Switch. They probably won’t wash for most people, it’s true, but these will be understandable reasons – but those reasons can only really hold for one more year. After that, any new 3DS game is likely to be given a dour glance at choosing to be on ageing hardware – and let’s be reasonable here, the 3DS was launched back in March of 2011. Seven years is a good run for any handheld console – the DS only ran for seven years, after all.
I also think that the 3DS should be phased out in line with, if not before, major handheld titles see their lives begin anew on Switch.
The obvious one is Pokémon Switch; this is a big deal. Whilst Ultra Sun/Moon have done well, it’s clear most have braced themselves for an all-new take on the Switch (which may or may not happen depending on how ambitious Game Freak want to be with their first steps into the Switch) and the sales dropped off somewhat for the Ultra variants. By the time Pokémon Switch rolls around, the 3DS is going to be consigned to history anyway so it may as well all coincide numerically (if only because people will want to bank their Pokémon to transfer over to the Switch). Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright… eh, they’re big but I think they’ll come before the 3DS is sunset.
I’d go as far as to say Tomodachi Life is likely to coincide with a big Online push later this year – it sold almost six million units on the 3DS, which is a very healthy figure, and Animal Crossing will possibly come later. But again – once these games are on the Switch, the question will continue to be – why is the 3DS still a thing? Everything people really cared about on the 3DS is… well… now on the Switch. Heck, Monster Hunter XX is already on the Switch, and the only other major major games would be Luigi’s Mansion (quite possibly seeing a new Switch version anyway) and Nintendogs (Go on Nintendo, give Paris Hilton a lovely wedding gift!). Bravely Default is rumoured to be getting a full-on Switch port alongside Bravely Second, Fire Emblem is already confirmed to be happening on Switch…
By the end of 2018, most – if not all – of the biggest 3DS hits will be spreading their wings on the Switch and that leaves the 3DS visibly looking like the last-gen handheld it… well, kind of is. Fighting to keep a handheld alive when you have an actual, superior device out there is kind of silly. After all, remember the DS line wasn’t intended to entirely replace the Game Boy line; except, it just did. The hardware was so much more superior, the potential so much greater, that within a year of the DS being on the market, the Game Boy Advance and by token the Game Boy brand was consigned to the scrap-heap.
Most of all though… it would pay to keep the focus entirely on the Switch.
I believe big third-party announcements are in the works; Dark Souls is reported to be getting an overhaul for the Switch, which would be a serious coup. Grand Theft Auto V would be a major bonus. There are rumours that Nier: Automata is in the works for the Switch, though I’m not clear on the publishing rights on that front. Square-Enix has already made noises about a Final Fantasy XV port, and Capcom clearly has something in the works if it isn’t a Resident Evil 7 (though this is one game I won’t be double-dipping on). The point is – this is the device which has, somehow magically, built bridges between Nintendo and third parties – even third parties Nintendo has historically not been on good terms with like Bethesda and RockStar North (there’s a long story behind that involving an N64 game called Body Harvest which I may regale you with another day).
With so much focus and attention on the future of the Switch – which is the brightest future Nintendo has seen since the early days of the Wii – getting distracted by the 3DS doesn’t make professional sense. Yes, games were already deep in development for the 3DS and yes, they’ll come out this year and yes, Nintendo will want to at least give them the time of day in a Direct showcase. But I think that well is drying up and drying up rapidly. Beyond 2018, I don’t see a future for the 3DS – especially not one competing with the firestorm of hype that is the Switch.
Still, by the time it is totally sunset – which I think will be March 2019 – the 3DS will have survived eight years on the market and that’s an impressive innings, outliving the official DS lifespan by a whole year. By this point, I suspect the Switch will have likely crunched that 15-20 million extra units Nintendo is pitching for, and the 3DS sales will have collapsed somewhat, necessitating the end of production if only on a costing front.
When it is officially done – I will write an obituary for the Nintendo 3DS. But for now, I think one this is clear; Switch sales will rise, and 3DS sales will fall, and no-one will be shocked when later in the year Nintendo does start to somewhat officially wrap up the 3DS for good.
And then they can be 100% focused on the Switch… and the market will tremble. Well, possibly.