Remembering The Nintendo 3DS: A Handheld That Brought Us Together

I first encountered the 3DS at a game store, inventively just called GAME, here in the UK. There were demos to show off the 3D effects of the system, and it was really exciting to experience. I had an original DS, DS Lite and DSi before, so I was familiar with the basic structure of a DS, but the 3D gimmick was fun at first glance. Eventually I got a 3DS, the basic red one, and that’s where my love for the system began.

I upgraded to a limited edition Pikachu 3DS XL, which was stolen from me. I replaced it with a limited edition Majora’s Mask version, and played the hell out of the system until Nintendo stopped supporting it. We’re now in the final week of the 3DS’ life, before Nintendo pulls the plug on the eShop next Monday, March 27. I can’t let this era end without gushing once about how perfectly designed this family of systems is. From the built-in software, the game library and the physical system, it’s just so… adorable.

Pikachu 3DS XL
The bright and flashy Pikachu 3DS XL was my go-to system.

Nintendo consoles have always been very wholesome and charming. Way back from the design ethos of the Famicom in Japan with its red and white toy-like color scheme, their systems were designed to look as fun as their games. Some things changed along the way, such as Lance Barr’s famous redesign of the SNES in North America to appear more functional and ‘high tech’, but as a whole their designs remained very appealing.

With big buttons, bright colors, fun console intro screens and jingles, there’s a certain childlike joy in a Nintendo system, and we still see it today with the Switch. All of that being said, there’s that one system that had the cute factor more than any other console, from both Nintendo’s history and the wider gaming industry at large. In my opinion, you cannot get a nicer system than the Nintendo 3DS.

Game Boy Advance GBA
Nintendo systems, especially their handhelds, have always been visually appealing.

Let’s start with the form factor, or the general appearance of the system. The 3DS is an entire family of systems, all with visual differences, but I’ll try to keep it simple. The 3DS on the surface is just like an original DS system, but typically bigger. There’s not much hugely special about the shape or size, but rather the designs that Nintendo featured on the outside of the systems.

Since the original 3DS XL, Nintendo released a massive amount of limited and special edition 3DS systems, based on different games and franchises both first and third-party. The 3DS editions were plentiful, like Animal Crossing: New Leaf receiving a white 3DS XL with colorful polka dots and fruits, Disney Magic Castle: My Happy Life also having a white model but covered in golden Mickey Mouse heads, or the aforementioned bright yellow Pikachu edition.

Zelda A Link Between Worlds 3DS XL
There was a 3DS for everyone.

Sure, it’s not uncommon for systems to have a limited edition version with a special design, but the numbers available for 3DS were staggering. As if that wasn’t enough though, Nintendo went a step further, allowing you to create your own unique 3DS. The New 3DS (terrible name, great system) had interchangeable cover plates, which could be purchased in matching packs of two for the top and bottom of the device. You could use a matching pair, or mix and match to represent more of your favorite games.

The standard New 3DS also had colored A, B, X, Y buttons, all in the original colors one would find on a SNES controller in Europe or Japan. It also introduced a teensy little analogue stick pad called the C-stick, which I always found to be pretty lacking in functionality, but still incredibly frickin’ cute. It’s just a little tiny thing!

New 3DS Faceplates
Your New 3DS could change style, as your own gaming tastes evolved.

More than any other system out there, the 3DS was designed to be yours. The 3DS also had a Themes shop, so the home menu of the device can either match the outside, or be something completely fun and different. The themes even come with their own music and sounds to replace the system’s default noises. If you were a big Kirby fan, you could have Kirby New 3DS cover plates on the outside with a matching theme of the Pink Puffball themselves, playing your favorite Kirby tunes. More of a Zelda fan? You could get a golden Triforce 3DS XL system, with a system theme in place to play the iconic overworld music of the series when you start up the console.

The joy of the 3DS wasn’t just for you alone, but could be shared with those around you who owned one too. That’s right, I’m talking about the incredible StreetPass functionality. If you put your 3DS to sleep mode in your bag and crossed paths with someone who also owns a 3DS on the street, you would both share character data with each other. I’d get home from school, take it out of my bag, and see that bright green StreetPass indicator lit, knowing there will be a bunch of Miis waiting for me to meet.

3DS StreetPass Mii Plaza
The StreetPass Mii Plaza will forever be alive, even without new hits.

These Miis would congregate in their own plaza, StreetPass Mii Plaza, where you could play with them, unlock pieces of jigsaw puzzles, go on quests with the strangers you passed and more. The sense of community from the 3DS StreetPass was truly heartwarming, and unlike anything done before, or since, on any gaming system. A long day out shopping in the city was followed with a cozy night in, greeting all the Miis of strangers I passed on the street – knowing they would be doing the same with me and my Mii in their own home. Nintendo are known as a family-friendly company, but what they did with the 3DS and StreetPass brought your neighbors, colleagues, teachers and friends with a 3DS all together as part of that big family. And it was all in the palm of your hand.

We can’t talk about the 3DS’ charming social features without also addressing the Miiverse. Partly a forum, partly a Twitter clone, full-time psychiatric hospital for deranged levels of shitposting. Miiverse allowed you to join communities based on games you played, where you could write messages, draw pictures and upload screenshots to one big community timeline. You could also comment on posts, to add to the madness.

Miiverse 3DS Meme
The Miiverse encouraged creativity, community, and whatever this is.

The Miiverse was responsible for some truly unhinged memes, but was also very sweet and accessible. Don’t have any gamers near you? No problem. You could snap a screenshot of your proudest achievements, ramble about your love for a game and share it with an entire community of others that love that game, right there from the 3DS.

I’ve been putting off talking about the actual games of the 3DS, because unlike StreetPass, the console cover plates and Miiverse (which was also on Wii U), every Nintendo system has good and wholesome games. It’s not unique to the 3DS, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some standouts or notable examples. For example, the 3DS had, in my opinion, Nintendo’s first real attempt at a handheld eShop. Sure, the DSi had a storefront too, but it was pretty limited, and used a points-based system to purchase games. The 3DS ditched that in favor of a more traditional digital store, but with all the charm and personality you’d expect from a Nintendo one.

Nintendo eShop 3DS
The eShop of the 3DS was a significant upgrade.

The 3DS eShop offering such a variety of games also led to some incredible new indies. The obvious one would be Pushmo, known as Pullbox in PAL regions. This was a download-exclusive puzzle game, in which players had to create steps to reach a goal by pushing and pulling colorful puzzle blocks. The game was a critical success, described at the time by IGN as “the 3DS eShop’s killer app.” That it was, as this innocent little puzzle game exploded into a franchise with two other 3DS sequels, as well as a Wii U release. The sweet little Pushmo would also be featured in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, as well as WarioWare Gold.

The charming and cozy presence of the 3DS brought some other big games to prominence that matched its aesthetics. For example, there’s the Yo-kai Watch series. Appearing seemingly out of nowhere, this Level-5 franchise boomed onto the scene in 2013 with its first entry. Yo-kai Watch was a similar experience to a Pokémon game, but with befriendable creatures that were based on traditional Japanese mythological creatures. The games were bright, vibrant and fun for all ages, and even though Level-5 wanted better sales, it was still a popular game for the system.

The colorful charm of Pushmo is one you have to try for yourself.

The last 3DS game I’ll spotlight here is Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale, another game published by Level-5. It’s a download exclusive in Europe and North America, telling a story set in 1971 Tokyo where a boy gets lost on an errand. He suddenly sees huge kaiju battles happening every Friday evening above a scenic Japanese town. It’s a beautiful game, and just oozes the unique charm of the 3DS. It’s both laidback and incredibly engaging, with a palpable sense of community and togetherness. It’s a feeling the 3DS evokes endlessly, on every level, and it’s one I adore.

Even just the basic, boring system default services have a refreshing and playful vibe. I recently got a Pikachu 2DS XL, and was mesmerized by the data transfer screen. A bunch of tiny Pikmin were running off-screen into my old 3DS, and carrying over my data into the new one. The big game data chunks were carried piece by piece, with the Pikmin even stopping for a break in between. It’s incredibly pointless, but utterly delightful. The same can be said about the AR cards the system comes with. For absolutely no reason other than for fun, you can scan in a bunch of AR cards and play some built-in games using the 3DS cameras. These cards weren’t separate purchases or had any in-game transactions, it was purely to enjoy.

Attack of the Friday Monsters 3DS
Attack of the Friday Monsters is a story of a simpler time, much like that of the 3DS itself.

The 3DS came at a turning point for Nintendo. The massive sales of the fad that was the Wii were followed by an extremely unpopular Wii U. This means the 3DS was something of a lifeline for Nintendo, carrying them through that hardware generation with an install base much larger than that of their disaster of a home console. The games were great, the franchises sold well and people were having fun. Nintendo has since gone on to find new levels of success with the Nintendo Switch, which is much more powerful as a hybrid system, but a little less personable. There’s no eShop music when you’re browsing, there are no system themes, and despite how beautiful the special edition Switch models are, there aren’t many of them.

Nintendo is, in some metrics, the biggest player in the game right now, and the 3DS eShop is closing down while they move onto bigger and better things. But yet, the 3DS will live on as a time capsule that will forever be locked in an era where fun, customization and community were paramount to the design philosophy of the system. As time goes on, I’ve picked up less and less StreetPass connections. One day my Mii Plaza will be nothing but ghosts of a time long gone. And yet, the 3DS will always feel like home.

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