Has the 3DS launch really been a disaster?

August 8, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Posted in Gaming Article | Leave a comment
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There’s been a lot of negative talk about the 3DS launch of late. Critics in the media and gaming community have been lining up to slate the quality of the launch line-up, the high retail price (and the impending price-drop) and the subsequent dearth of quality titles that make full use of the console’s features. But a lot of the arguments being levelled against the console by these naysayers are completely ignoring the fact that these very same issues have plagued nearly every console launch in the last 15 years or so.

Let’s examine that first complaint: the launch titles. Critics say the 3DS launched without a must-have, core, exclusive game to drive early sales, and that its line-up was padded out by ports and licensed games. That would appear to be a fair point at first glance; there were no epic Mario or Zelda adventures to appease the core Nintendo fans, and third party titles like Ridge Racer and Street Fighter 4, while fun, were shrunk-down versions of home console titles.

 

Since the jump to 3D polygons in the 32/64 bit era, there have been just a handful of titles launched alongside a console that can claim to tick the boxes marked ‘core’, ‘exclusive’, and ‘must-have’. Thinking back to the Playstation and Saturn, we had Ridge Racer and Virtua Fighter respectively, but they were ports of arcade titles; Wipeout and Rayman were the only original franchises worth looking at. The N64 was a slightly different scenario. Its big launch title, Mario 64 is still regarded as one of the finest games ever made, but while it ticks all those boxes mentioned earlier, people forget that Nintendo delayed the console launch for over a year until they had finished Mario’s epic 3D adventure.

The next generational jump (PS2, DC, GCN, Xbox) saw a big increase in quantity of launch titles, but not necessarily the same leap in quality. Sega had nearly a year between the Japanese and western launch of its final console, the Dreamcast, in which to bolster the line-up with arcade ports (SoulCalibur being a notable highlight) and Sonic the Hedgehog’s questionable three-dimensional debut. Nintendo gave Mario a vacation and let his brother take centre stage in the GameCube’s short but enjoyable Luigi’s Mansion. Sony’s lack of internal development studios meant the Playstation 2 had to rely on third-party ports (excluding the quirky Fantavision and fun Timesplitters). Microsoft’s first foray into the home console arena had an instantly forgettable line-up, save three exceptions: DoA 3 (an arcade port), Project Gotham Racing (spiritual successor to a Dreamcast racer) and Halo (a former PC game that had been in development for nearly six years – and was incredibly awesome).

The HD generation (Xbox 360 & PS3) arrived with less of a bang and more a whimper. There were some horrible ports of SD games (GUN, FIFA and Pro Evo), disappointing sequels (Perfect Dark Zero, Quake 4, Ridge Racer 6&7), and not a lot else really (except maybe Condemned, Kameo and Motorstorm). The Wii did at least launch with a Zelda game, albeit one originally meant for GameCube, but was weighed down by poor third-party efforts that failed to show how motion controls could improve gameplay. Only Wii Sports (arguably the most important launch game ever made) could show off the potential of the new machine, and yet despite being incredibly fun and accessible, critics still found time to complain about it being too short (ignoring the fact it was a freebie).

The DS and PSP didn’t fare much better. At the time of release, the DS was mocked for being so radically different to traditional handhelds and not having quality software to back up the new technology (sound familiar). It had an upgraded version of Mario 64 launched alongside it, but even that was criticised for being just a port. The PSP hit had an incredibly successful launch in terms of hardware numbers, but its initial batch of games were almost exclusively ports of PS2 games (bar the excellent Lumines).

 

With that in mind, does the 3DS’ lack of a big launch title really seem that surprising?

 

 

 

The next argument is to do with the 3DS’ high launch price and subsequent reduction, also a very valid point.

 

When launching new formats it is incredibly rare to find a price-point that suits the market. When you’ve spent years developing new hardware and technology, there is an immediate need to try and recoup some of the R&D and production costs. From the manufacturer’s point of view, they’ve stuffed their new gizmo with all kinds of expensive bits and pieces so naturally assume the public will graciously accept that they need to pay a little extra? The PS3 cost around $800 to produce initially, so surely, thought Sony execs, people won’t mind paying $500-600 to get one. We all know what happened there: the PS3 sold far less than anyone expected and Sony were forced to quickly cut the price and offer early adopters software to make up for it (sound familiar?).

Nintendo, Microsoft and Sega have also had to cut the price of consoles when launches haven’t been as good as they’d hoped. The N64 and Xbox both had £100 knocked off within six months, and the Dreamcast was flogged for less than half its launch price within a year. Hardware revisions have also had to be made, just to give sales a jolt too. The GBA, DS, Xbox controller and PS3 have all been redesigned following early criticism.

 

The truth is, boys and girls, hardware launches rarely go to plan.

 

 

 

The last complaint is the one I find most irritating, although I do understand people’s frustrations. The 3DS does indeed have a bit of a software drought, but it is not an issue unique to the format. The truth is it takes time for developers to get to grips with a new console’s technology and bring out games that fully exploit its hardware. Even Nintendo’s internal teams have admitted to struggling with the advanced architecture (Kid Icarus’ development has been troubled, according to recent comments from designer Masahiro Sakurai). The time of the year must also be taken into account: how many times have we all complained about the summer drought (this year’s being one of the worst I can remember)?

The situation isn’t all bad though. The remake of Ocarina of Time goes some way to quenching the thirst of the core Nintendo fan, even if a large part of the target demographic have already played and completed the title on other formats before now. Its puzzles and rich characters and environments can still entertain the generation of gamers who never had the chance to play the original. Pilotwings has been heavily criticised for being too short and recycling Wuhu Island yet again, but it can still offer 20+ hours of play if you hunt for every medal and secret. Then there’s my personal favourite: Ghost Recon Shadow Wars – a deep and engrossing strategy game from genre legend Julian Gollop (X-Com), that’ll take at least 40 hours of your time to get through.

If that isn’t enough to turn that frown upside down, what about all the virtual console and DSiWare games? To those gamers who are moaning about a lack of software I ask you: have you tried Shantae, Link’s Awakening, Chronos Twins, Donkey Kong 94, Mighty Flip Champs, Dark Void Zero, Ivy the Kiwi or Glory Days? Have you exhausted the DS’ extensive back catalogue? Tried Phoenix Wright, Professor Layton, Solartorobo, Golden Sun, Dragon Quest 4,5,6 & 9, Ghost Trick, Pokemon B&W, Hotel Dusk and Bowser’s Inside Story? Those are just a few I can recommend, I’m sure there are dozens more I’ve never even played that are well worth searching for.

Few new consoles have had killer titles that define the format within a few months of its launch date: GTA 3, Mario Galaxy, Final Fantasy 7, Gears of War, Ocarina of Time and New Super Mario Bros all took a while to arrive. All helped define their respective console, and all would have been lesser experiences had they been rushed to fit a launch period. Sure Nintendo could have had a brand new Mario, Zelda or Metroid game fit for the 3DS launch but is it realistic to expect them to arrive quickly and still be worthy of their franchise? I think great games need an equally great deal of time and effort put into them; Shigeru Miyamoto once said ‘a delayed game is eventually good; a bad game is bad forever’

 

 

 

 

The point of this article isn’t to dismiss other gamer’s concerns – I share a lot of them myself – but rather to try to put them into context and show that the 3DS’ early troubles aren’t out of the ordinary or reasons for fans to despair. Once it gets into its stride I’m confident the 3DS will deliver some fantastic gaming experiences, and by the time the next console launches we’ll look back with rose-tinted specs and forget this ever happened.

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