The state of the Nintendo 3DS in 2017 is “still alive,” which often raises the question: When’s Nintendo going to kill this thing?
While it fell far short of the dizzying heights achieved by the Nintendo DS, the 3DS had a pretty nice lifecycle. We had some good times, didn’t we? But it’s 2017, and every person who buys a Switch is one more person who won’t want to carry their 3DS around. Yes, Nintendo calls Switch a “home system you can take with you,” but the numbers don’t lie; many more Switch owners use it primarily as a portable.
This is part of our 2017 State Of series, a look at how the major consoles, PC, and other areas of interest are doing this year.
You’d expect Nintendo to begin drawing down its support for 3DS and shifting people over to the Switch. But wait—3DS has sold nearly 70 million units, giving every new 3DS game a potential audience as big as or bigger than any other modern console. And 3DS owners are still buying software: last year’s Pokemon Sun and Moon sold a combined 16 million copies, for example.
So it makes raw financial sense to continue to supply 3DS games, for now. And so Nintendo has. Third-party support for 3DS may have been anemic at best in 2017, but Nintendo kept up a steady stream of first-party releases and even introduced a new hardware variation.
3DS may not be done, but Nintendo’s internal game development teams seem to be done with it. Gone are the days of Super Mario 3D Land and A Link Between Worlds. 2017's 3DS games were, with few exceptions, contracted to outside developers or ported from older games.
The year kicked off with two ports of older games: Dragon Quest VIII in January and Poochy & Yoshi’s Woolly World in February. I’m thankful for the latter mostly because it brought with it a Yarn Poochy Amiibo. March brought Mario Sports Superstars, April said bye-bye to BoxBoy with Bye-Bye BoxBoy! (In Japan, that game got an Amiibo too, though we weren’t so lucky.)
The next two months were all about RPGs: the intensely challenging Fire Emblem Echoes launched in May, the promising but ultimately disappointing Ever Oasis in June. Atlus announced in June that it would release a trio of new games starting this year and into 2018: Etrian Odyssey, Shin Megami Tensei, and Radiant Historia. And of course Square Enix has now pledged to bring Dragon Quest XI as well, which launched to great success (obviously) in July in Japan. JRPG nerds are assuredly the demographic that the 3DS will most continue to satisfy long into next year.
E3 in June didn’t have very much 3DS news, but the biggest announcement was a doozy: Metroid: Samus Returns, which would launch just a few months later in September. Before that came the Mii-centric RPG Miitopia and Hey! Pikmin, the latter of which had us really excited but turned out to be a snoozefest. Good thing Metroid turned out to be awesome. Ditto Monster Hunter Stories, also in September.
In October Nintendo delivered an enhanced port of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, the New 3DS-exclusive version of Fire Emblem Warriors, and the slightly delayed 3DS release of Layton’s Mystery Journey, which had wonderful new characters but a fairly weak set of puzzles.
November gave us more remixes of older games: Mario Party The Best 100, then Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. A physical release of Minecraft, released on eShop in September, brought the total of New Nintendo 3DS-exclusive physical games up to three. (It’s never been so easy to collect a console’s full run of games.) December rounded it out with the fourth entry in the Style Savvy series.
Virtual Console was almost entirely a wash. Nintendo’s well-received efforts to put Super NES games on the New 3DS eShop came to a crashing halt at the end of 2016—although a couple more games trickled out in Japan, foremost among them Final Fantasies IV, V, and VI. Pokemon Gold and Silver were the only Virtual Console games to hit the US in 2017.
Looking across the entirety of the 3DS lineup, it’s pretty clear that 2017 was the handheld’s weakest year. But no matter what sort of Nintendo fan you are, it’s likely that one or more of those games had you digging your 3DS out of the drawer this year, even if you already had a Switch.
Heck, maybe you even bought a 3DS this year. Although Nintendo pulled the regular-sized New Nintendo 3DS and its swappable faceplates off of store shelves this year, it replaced it with the New Nintendo 2DS XL, which packs all of the New 3DS features minus the 3D display. If you don’t care about 3D, it’s likely that the New 2DS is the perfect system for you.
The $80 Nintendo 2DS also remains on shelves, scooping up buyers on the lower end of the market. I’d say that I don’t expect Nintendo to release any more major hardware variations of the 3DS from here on out—but then again, I’d have said that the day before they announced the 2DS XL, too.
Since most of the good 3DS games come from Japan, looking at what’s being released there is often a good window into the next year. In addition to the aforementioned Megami Tensei and Radiant Historia entries, there’s also The Alliance Alive, another traditional JRPG from the creators of Legend of Legacy.
The Great Ace Attorney 2, the series spinoff set in the early 1900s, came out in Japan in 2017, but since Capcom didn’t localize the first one, it’s unlikely the sequel will come west either. Level-5's latest RPG franchise is called Snack World, and the company’s U.S. branch does say that it plans to roll it out in the West, so that might happen as well.
And of course, there’s Dragon Quest XI, released to great fanfare in Japan this year and coming west in 2018. Around the time of its release, Square Enix ported the mobile versions of the first three Dragon Quest games to 3DS, meaning that the entire series, in some form or another, is now playable on the console in Japan. Perhaps they will bring those here as well, since the games are already available in English on smartphones.
Nintendo itself doesn’t have a whole lot of announced projects. At E3, Nintendo announced a quirky action game called Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido. The new Kirby game that’s already out in the rest of the world will come here in early January. And there’s a sequel to Dillon’s Rolling Western that so far is only announced for Japan.
I can’t imagine that 2018 will be anything but a repeat of this year: Nintendo doesn’t want to retire 3DS yet, but its love and attention are clearly being lavished elsewhere. It’s likely that there will be some new reason to pick up a 3DS in 2018 even if you have a Switch. But after Christmas of 2018, with millions more Switches in homes, that’ll probably be when 3DS finally fades away.