In March 2011, Nintendo threw a launch party for its then-brand-new 3DS. As midnight approached, a couple hundred loyal fans and less loyal reporters gathered outside the Best Buy in Manhattan's Union Square to watch Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime extol the virtues of his company's new system.
"The era of 3D glasses ends right here and right now," Fils-Aime said, tossing a pair of plastic spectacles in the air as the crowd followed suit. It was silly, but effective: a symbolic statement that the 3DS's dimension-popping technology would render those annoying old glasses obsolete.
Today, Nintendo's message looks a little bit different. We still hate 3D glasses, but the 3DS isn't about 3D anymore. It's about video games. And that's undeniably a good thing.
Go ahead and rewatch last week's Nintendo Direct conference. It's a fun, albeit slightly awkward 22 minutes that consists mostly of non-stop footage from upcoming 3DS games. And other than a quick segment about movies, they don't mention 3D once.
When chatting about their games, Nintendo no longer seems interested in bragging about three-dimensional perspectives. This is a stark difference from last year, when the system's biggest title was Super Mario 3D Land, a game that sold itself as "the first-ever true 3D Mario platforming adventure." Today's Mario games are being marketed as... well... Mario games.
Even at E3, where Nintendo dedicated an entire hour to talking about the portable gaming system, 3D wasn't a talking point. Even while discussing Paper Mario, a series with a penchant for playing with dimensions, Nintendo's executives barely mentioned that hey, you can play it in actual 3D this time. (Super Paper Mario, the last game in the series, allowed you to flip the flat plumber between in-game dimensions to find secrets and solve puzzles.)
What makes people want to use a dedicated gaming handheld over their iPhones and Androids is remarkably simple. Video games.
This is wonderful. To me—and I imagine, to many people like me, based on the 3DS's sluggish start last year—3D is absolutely useless. It might be fun for a few seconds, from an "oh, wow, lookit" point of view, but it's not the type of aesthetic enhancement that can actually improve the way you play video games. And it kind of hurts your eyes.
What makes people care about a video game system—and what makes people want to use a dedicated gaming handheld over their iPhones and Androids—is remarkably simple. Video games. People will buy the 3DS not because it will pop images into the backs of your retinas, but because of New Super Mario Bros. 2, Kingdom Hearts 3D, Luigi's Mansion, Professor Layton, Paper Mario, Fire Emblem, Animal Crossing, and all the other appealing games on the system's horizon.
And guess what? I'm playing them in 2D.
Just ask Mario creator and Nintendo creative force Shigeru Miyamoto. As early as last year's E3, he hinted that 3D might not be the most important part of his new system.
"There are times when people are going to want to play in 2D anyway," he said through a translator. "I think it's fair for people to say, 'Oh yeah, for this section of the game, I'm just going to turn the 3D depth slider off.' And, in other parts of the game, they may want to turn it on. I think that's a perfectly acceptable way to play the games."
Many of Nintendo's critics have labeled the company's quirky devices as "gimmicks," a way of derogatorily saying they add nothing to your gaming experience. In most cases, those critics are wrong. You may not have liked the Wii remote's motion-controlled waggling or the DS's dual-screen swiping, but it is impossible to deny that they changed the way we can play games.
3D, on the other hand, is utterly and entirely a gimmick. The depth slider is proof of that. The fact that you can play—and completely experience—any 3DS game with the 3D functionality turned completely off is proof that it's a vestigial, unnecessary part of the system. And it seems like Nintendo has realized that.
For a couple of years now, clueless analysts and investors have begged Nintendo to shift gears and start developing powerhouse games like Mario and Zelda for mobile devices. This is silly for a number of reasons (that Wired's Chris Kohler has articulated well), but it's also unnecessary. Nintendo doesn't need to make games for other systems; Nintendo needs to realize that its system's selling point is its games.
Hopefully they've come to their senses. Their two-dimensional senses.