I bought a 3DS (XL).

Earlier this year, I started going through my old game collection and selling what I could on Amazon. This was remarkably easy (especially because of Gloria’s endless help; she stood in line at USPS for me and send me snapshots of my tracking numbers; she deserves massive high fives) and surprisingly lucrative. My plan was to put the proceeds toward a next-gen system, but I found that nothing really was compelling enough to get me to buy one this year. It looks like 2015 will be the year for me. Instead, I started to think about getting a 3DS.

My first portable Nintendo was a GBA, which I really enjoyed. I played a ton of Wario Ware and Metroid while doing cardio at the gym, ten years ago, and the only complaint I had was that I could never beat Nightmare in Metroid Fusion. I’ve got it on OpenEmu now, and I hope I can do it, this time. Shortly after I started at my current job, I received a DS Lite (thanks again, Gloria!) which was great. It’s still a great system, and I was playing it off and on up until recently.

There were a bunch of games I wanted to play on the 3DS, though, and I finally decided I should just take the plunge. I suggested to Martha that she could save her allowance toward buying a 3DS (or 2DS) too, and she was all over this idea, because it meant she could have her own Animal Crossing down and maybe get Tomodachi Life. She started saving and once she was pretty close, I ordered mine, in part to keep her excited. I got a black, refurb 3DS XL for $135, direct from Nintendo. This is an excellent price, about a third off, and still includes a full warranty. She’ll be getting an original size 3DS, in pink, for under a hundred bucks. Nice! One annoying thing: you don’t get Club Nintendo points for registering a system that you purchased refurbished, which means I’m down 320 points that I thought I’d be earning this year. I’m a bit miffed about that.

Before buying, I made a list of games I would be likely to play. Here it is:

“Probably” Games

  • Animal Crossing: New Leaf
  • Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
  • Pokémon X/Y
  • Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon
  • Fire Emblem
  • Pushmo, Crashmo
  • Mario Kart 7
  • Super Mario 3D Land
  • Resident Evil: Revelations
  • NSMB 2
  • Mario & Luigi: Dream Team

Less Likely Games

  • Paper Mario: Sticker Star
  • Tetris Axis

Animal Crossing (“ACNL”) wasn’t really a “possibly.” It was a “definitely.” If any one game was going to drive the 3DS purchase, it was Animal Crossing. I don’t know why I like it so much, but it’s just delightful. I especially like playing with Martha, now that she’s such a good reader and writer. I’ve already bought two copies, which brings me to my first little complaint.

I bought ACNL before I even got my 3DS. My 3DS shipped as slowly as UPS was able to move it, so I sat there staring at that box, just wondering what it would be like to be mayor of my own little town. Finally, the system arrived, along with Luigi’s Mansion, and I played both games. It was great! The not so great thing was carrying the game system in one pocket and the other game cartridge in another pocket. Then to change games I’d have to fiddle around with these little stamp-sized slips of plastic. Ugh!

Most, if not all, 3DS games are also available digitally. I bought the 3DS with money I made by selling my physical copies of old games, so I knew the value of getting the physical media… but now other portable systems (namely iPad and iPhone) have spoiled me on game carts. It seemed absurd to have to fiddle around with game carts, now. I considered switching to digital copies, even though I’d never be able to resell them, and even though they’d probably not be available to me for free on Virtual Console in the future. The real kick in the pants, though, was that I paid $24 for an ACNL cart on Amazon, but the digital download was going to cost 25% more! The physical media sometimes goes on sale, but as far as I can tell the digital downloads don’t. You always pay MSRP. Maybe there are sales, but they’re not easy to find. There isn’t enough competition for the digital download. In fact, it gets weirder: Nintendo sells ACNL on its eShop for $29.99, but you can buy a “download code” from Best Buy to get the same download… for $34.99.

I just don’t get it.

Finally, though, my discomfort with carts won out. I bought the ACNL download, and I’ll give the cartridge to Martha.

The GBA had no visible operating system. You’d turn it on and be in your game. Game systems have had a lot more “user experience” added since then, starting, I think, with the original PlayStation. These days, they’re pretty darn slick. Except for 3DS. It feels a little bit like webOS: lots of good ideas that have been weirdly executed. Lots of its UI reminds me of iOS or webOS, but without the affordances I’d expect. It’s never clear when I can use which input methods. The mechanism for sharing screenshots is abysmal. It feels now, like it felt when the original Wii launched, like Nintendo is a company unmatched in making games, but they just can’t be bothered to spend much time on the rest of the system.

On the other hand, that’s not quite fair. What they don’t do well at is the stuff that everybody else does well. They do other stuff that nobody does, and while it isn’t always incredibly polished, the ideas are a ton of fun. The one that’s really got my interest right now is StreetPass. It’s a system by which two 3DS systems can, when near one another, exchange data without being part of the same 802.11 network. This data could be your Mii, or parts of your town in Animal Crossing, or your armies in Fire Emblem. StreetPass is function of the 3DS itself, and a number of games take advantage of it. There’s a dedicated LED on the 3DS that tells you when you’ve been “tagged” on StreetPass.

I’m not sure whether I’m likely to get a lot of tags just walking around town. I briefly found myself wondering, “Where can I go hang out, where there will be a bunch of ten year olds playing video games?” Then I thought better of that. Still, I’m carrying the 3DS XL around, even though it’s big and heavy, because StreetPass is such a fun idea. Even if I don’t get tagged, the 3DS has a pedometer, and I get “game coins” for my steps. They can be traded for in-game content, later.

I’m probably going to get a number of tags every week anyway, though, because Nintendo has also set up “StreetPass relay” systems that pick up tags and pass them on later, so you can tag someone who has passed through the same area as you, even if they did it days or hours ago. The Philadelphia Greyhound station, which I pass through about six times a week, is a relay zone. So far, that’s netted me seven tags in two days.

I mentioned that I’d bought Luigi’s Mansion. It’s great. I really enjoyed the first one, and the new one is at least as good. It’s really funny, and it’s fun, and it’s not really like anything else. I’m so tired of variants on the first-person shooter and console role-playing game. I realize that’s entirely personal preference, and that I’m then playing a bunch of even older game styles, like platformers and tactical combat games, but so be it.

I also picked up Tetris Axis and Pushmo. Every portable Nintendo system needs Tetris. Tetris Axis is adequate. I think Tetris DS was better, and I might just try playing it on the 3DS. I feel certain, though, that it wasn’t so much better that it would justify carrying around the darn cartridge. Pushmo is another puzzle game, and I’m enjoying it quite a bit. I’m making my way through it slowly, with a bit of struggle. I’m not great at puzzle games, and often I get sick of them quickly. So far, Pushmo is keeping my interest. I’m glad I didn’t start with Crashmo, the sequel, which I’ve heard is all around harder.

I’m not sure what game I’ll move on to after Luigi’s Mansion. Fire Emblem and Zelda are both very likely, but Pokémon is up there two, if only because Martha might enjoy playing it at the same time. I think I’ll wait and see on that fornt.

My gut tells me that a dedicated portable device for video games is not something that will be popular for a whole lot longer, but I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts. The games on 3DS are, so far, very good, and do things that iOS games just don’t. I hope that if the dedicated portable gaming console goes away, Nintendo forgets their promise to quit making games, and starts making them for whatever new hardware we use. A pocket without the Mario Bros. in it would be a sad pocket.

Written on September 2, 2014
🎲 games
👾 videogame