Over this past weekend the 3DS turned 11 years old, not exactly the biggest of anniversaries but enough to make us look wistfully at the little portable. It’s a real favourite in our team, and I still keep both it and its charger handy when a bit of sentimental play is required — or when I want to play the best version of Shovel Knight.
I was always a ‘3D slider all the way up’ player, but likewise there were also plenty of people that always had the effect turned off, or perhaps opted for a 2DS mid-generation and avoided the feature entirely. Either way, the system’s library, and lovely features like StreetPass, made it a particularly lovable Nintendo system. For me, though, I particularly enjoyed how the autostereoscopic screen could transform visuals in some games, with depth and pop to make it seem like you’re playing a little diorama.
I still occasionally miss having the option of 3D when playing the Switch in portable mode.
It was a different time in entertainment, of course — which sounds odd to say just 11 short years later, but it’s true! — and 3D was quite the fad at that point. TVs with the feature (using glasses) were given a big push, and cinema was also trying to persuade us all that it was the future of film. As we now know, resolution has been the real arms race, with 3D TV and films far less prominent.
Even though that’s the case, the 3D effect on the 3DS was rather different, simply because it was glasses-free and on a cute little portable system. 3D on a small screen in a gaming context had a different impact for me, to the point that I still occasionally miss having the option of 3D when playing the Switch in portable mode. It was love at first sight with 3DS, and a fun memory I share with my brother of that Nintendo event where I first laid eyes (and hands) on the console.
Not long before the 3DS launched, Nintendo hosted a variety of preview events for the public at multiple locations, allowing fans to book a slot to attend. There was an event about a 45-minute train ride away from me in Scotland, and I was lucky enough to nab a slot (I wasn’t in the media at that point, so no little press badge for me). It was a fun event in which there were a lot of systems in a darkened room, running a host of demos. From a Nintendo perspective, there was Pilotwings Resort and some screens showcasing completed StreetPass puzzle images / dioramas; the third-party standouts were Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D and Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition.
Brilliant choices they were, too, as they showed what were at the time hugely impressive portable visuals, and also emphasized just what those 3D screens could do. With the dark room and the short spells on each unit, the effect was showcased at its absolute best — on those initial models, at least, long before the ‘New’ 3DS hardware revision brought super-stable 3D functionality which tracked your eyes and let you move your head without losing the 3D ‘sweet spot’.
Both my brother and I left the event wide-eyed, and not because the screen was messing with them. We were babbling like teenagers on the train home, despite our ages, and excitedly finding out everything we could about it on our phones. We had dinner at home with my parents and I recall them finding it all rather amusing as we both gushed and said how amazed we were by the 3D. We were like excitable children again, they said.
And I never stopped loving the effect. I remember when my 3DS arrived on launch day I played for over an hour non-stop, before realising my eyes were a bit tingly; that would eventually stop completely as I got used to it, though that effect prompted the usual nonsense from tabloids. A lowering battery level and a funky feeling in the eyes was the cue to take the lovely family dog for a walk, spending the whole time buzzing and talking about Nintendo’s little portable.
Ultimately, I don’t think history will be particularly kind to that 3D screen — 3D viewing was a gimmick that never truly took off, and despite truly enhancing several standout games on the system, even Nintendo itself started to ignore the feature once 2DS was introduced into the family of systems. The original 3DS had a rocky launch that Nintendo had to reverse with a big price cut and a lot of persistence, and the company gradually realised that — despite the effect being arguably more impressive and useful in a gaming context — much like the movies, it was an inessential addition for many.
I’ll always defend it though, as I still take great pleasure in its simple magic. 3D slider all the way up; it’s the only way I can play the 3DS.