A Celebration and History of the Nintendo 3DS

Let us celebrate the life and times of the Nintendo 3DS, and the memories it gave us. From the shaky start, to the desolate end, but most importantly all the awesome stuff in-between. With the likes of Mario, Zelda, lots of Pokémon, and plenty of others, here's a comprehensive history of the inventive handheld.

A Celebration and History of the Nintendo 3DS

The history of the Nintendo 3DS begins on an interesting note. Back in April of 2010, an avid Nintendo fan wrote to the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, with a preposterous prediction. As Sony and Microsoft soared ahead with HD graphics, they predicted Nintendo would counter with a console that could display graphics in full stereoscopic 3D. Their letter went to print, only to be sneered at by the writing team. The Virtual Boy had been a colossal failure, so obviously Nintendo would never do something so risky, right?

An apology was printed in the magazine a few months later. They had called it spot on. In the wake of the immensely successful Nintendo DS, arose the 3DS. Graphics on par with a GameCube, all the online functionality of the DS and more, and innovative community-enabled features such as StreetPass. That’s not to mention the glasses-free stereoscopic 3D top screen. On the off-chance you weren’t convinced, the 3DS would be fully backwards compatible with DS games. Everything appeared to line up for another smash-hit for Nintendo.

Of course, 12 years later, we know that it wasn’t quite as successful, and remains in the shadow of its predecessor. But it was by no means a failure: over 75 million systems sold, and over 388 million lifetime game sales. Nintendo included a myriad of features that allowed the 3DS to stand out from the crowd. These notably helped it to eclipse its main rival in the handheld market, Sony’s PlayStation Vita.

Furthermore, the eShop was on a far larger scale than the DSi store. From first-party titles, to indies, and a strong virtual console offering, it covered all bases. That being said, it wasn’t always a smooth ride for the clam-shelled console. This celebration of the console’s life will go into detail throughout each year of its lifespan. Major game releases, new hardware, difficulties and disappointments, all summarised right here.

2010 – The Pitch and the Press

Conceptually, 3D was nothing new to Nintendo by now. They had actually made two major attempts already. Most well known (and infamous) of these was the ill-fated Virtual Boy. With headache-inducing red and black graphics and a tiny library, it was left to die after just 9 months. Long before that was the Famicom 3D system, goggles that allowed you to play supported games in 3D. Both instances floundered due to very poor support. Another attempt was nearly made with the GameCube, but the technology involved was too costly to produce. But it would seem that perhaps the third time would be the charm…

Sleek, shiny, and souped-up.

Sleek, shiny, and souped-up.

At the time, the likes of James Cameron’s Avatar had made 3D a huge selling point once again. Of course, such movies still required 3D glasses to watch – the 3DS claimed no such peripheral was needed. Analysts and gamers were in disbelief, but the technology was real. E3 2010 saw the big reveal – a sleeker, more modern-looking DS design that seemed to be on par with the Wii. Offering a comfortable analogue slider alongside a traditional D-Pad was chief among the much needed upgrades.

Gaming in the Third Dimension

Of course, the main draw of a console is games, and Nintendo had plenty to brag about. From old favourites such as Mario Kart and Animal Crossing, to remakes of N64 titles Star Fox 64 and Ocarina of Time, it was a strong offering. Third parties didn’t hold back either: Metal Gear Solid 3, Street Fighter IV, and a brand new Resident Evil title, Revelations. Emphasis was also placed on the 3DS’ more multimedia features. The camera seen on the DSi was now a full 3D camera here, that you could use to play AR games. Furthermore, you could watch videos such as movie trailers in full 3D. It was an admirable pitch, though admittedly these ideas were left a bit by the wayside not long after launch.

This big fella was a recurring antagonist of the small set of bundled-in AR games.

This big fella was a recurring antagonist of the small set of bundled-in AR games.

More exciting were the StreetPass and SpotPass features. StreetPass sought to provide a stronger sense of community within videogames, and did a great job at it. Many games over the console’s lifetime offered unique benefits for walking near a fellow 3DS owner if you brought yours outside with you. SpotPass, meanwhile, allowed you to enjoy online content when your console connects to the internet while asleep. Pass by a Nintendo-supported hotspot and you might find a surprise or two!

These were enhanced by the return of Miis, virtual avatars that could be inserted into supported games. Now, you could encounter new Miis just from your daily commute! Before it had even launched, the 3DS had made better use of Miis than the console they were named after. Everything was set for a massive launch.

2011 – The Big Day, and Bigger Problems

On February 26th in Japan, and March 27th in the USA, the Nintendo 3DS launched. The big moment. As for the price…it was $250. In a word? Owch. In two words? Complete disaster. Bear in mind, this was the same price the Wii retailed for. The PlayStation 3 had dropped to the same price by now, and the Xbox 360 launched for cheaper 6 years prior. Reggie Fils-Aime, then-president of Nintendo of America, has stated that he had opposed the price from the beginning, but Nintendo of Japan thought differently. Ultimately, Reggie had a point; the launch price was the key road block that caused the 3DS to crash right out of the gate.

In Pilotwings Resort, the sky's the limit...or is it the 240p resolution?

In Pilotwings Resort, the sky’s the limit…or is it the 240p resolution?

The price alone might not have been a total deal-breaker, if the console was worth the price. Yeah…it was most certainly not. Out of all those wonderful games at E3 2010, the only one out at launch was Street Fighter IV 3D. An excellent game, but ultimately a port of a 2008 title. The best that Nintendo brought to the table were Pilotwings Resort, and Nintendogs+Cats. Fun distractions that made good use of the 3D, but they didn’t hold gamers over for long at all.

But it wasn’t all about physical releases, because there was the eShop! …Oh, no, there wasn’t. The eShop wasn’t ready in time for launch, and was delayed until June. In Europe, retailers actually lowered the price of the 3DS to around $200 the moment the PlayStation Vita was announced. Things were looking positively horrible, and it became the worst Nintendo console launch since the Virtual Boy. History was seemingly repeating itself.


European retailers had seemingly made the right call, as on July 28th, just 3 months after launch, Nintendo slashed the price to $170. It was a move that certainly worked in the console’s favour. Furthermore, to compensate early adopters, Nintendo made people who purchased the console pre-price cut into “Ambassadors”. What this essentially meant was that they received a total of 10 NES games to play on their 3DS over the course of the year, followed by 10 Game Boy Advance titles. It was, uh, better than nothing? In spite of sales rising, the media had levelled some criticism at the 3D effect causing eye strain in children. This was rather silly, as Nintendo had made it very clear that the 3D was not meant for children under 6, but it was bad press all the same.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D brought this magical experience to a new generation.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D brought this magical experience to a new generation.

The price tag on the 3DS was the payload, but the lack of the eShop and strong third party games was the trigger that caused the explosively poor launch. Nintendo had very little of their own games to offer, assuming third party titles would cover for them…only they didn’t. Come holiday season, reinforcements had arrived: Mario Kart 7, Ocarina of Time 3D, Star Fox 64 3D and Super Mario 3D Land gave quick and much needed buffs to the library. It was a very messy first step for the 3DS, but Nintendo had already begun course correcting it.

2012 – How to Get Away With Flying Too Close to the Sun

Just a year in, and the 3DS was already making way for it’s big little brother: the 3DS XL. With screens almost twice as large, it released in the USA in August for $200. This coincided with the main first-party title for 2012, New Super Mario Bros. 2. In spite of the mixed reviews, the coin-collecting extravaganza would go on to become the fifth best selling 3DS game. A big factor that helped it hit over 13 million sales was it being the first 3DS game to debut on shelves and the eShop simultaneously.

And how about that eShop? On top of the growing library of retail games, it also offered a myriad of free demos. Another notable aspect was the Virtual Console, returning from the Nintendo Wii. While it was mostly a Nintendo-only stage in 2011, 2012 saw support for the Sega Game Gear added. Other third parties, particularly Konami, also threw a few of their classics into the ring.

2012 finally delivered what was promised back in E3 2010.

2012 finally delivered what was promised back in E3 2010.

Much of the missing third party titles from E3 2010 finally showed up, just after the nick of time (but welcomed all the same). This included Resident Evil Revelations, a fully original title that made great use of the touchscreen to scan environments. Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D made the absolute most of the 3D effects, with intense attention to detail (in true Kojima fashion). Even Angry Birds got in on the action! A few cult classics also made their debut this year. Among those was the underrated Rhythm Thief and the Emperor’s Treasure, a spiritual successor of sorts to DS classic Elite Beat Agents. The mystery visual novel Virtue’s Last Reward was a standout among its genre, and saw critical acclaim for its mind-bending narrative and excellent voice cast.

All these made up for a weaker first-party support from Nintendo this year. Other than New Super Mario Bros. 2, the library was mostly expanded with Mario RPG and sports spinoffs. One other notable game was Kid Icarus Uprising, the first new game for the winged hero in over 25 years. Probably also his last game for another 25 years, given director Masahiro Sakurai’s comments on the matter. It was a beloved title in spite of frustrating controls, and fans still clamour for a Switch port to this day. Altogether, 2012 helped cement the 3DS into the market in time for the PS Vita’s launch outside of Japan. If only they could’ve predicted the horrors 2013 would bestow…

2013 – Luigi Ruins Everything

They say 13 is unlucky for some, and it’s almost poetic how 2013 unravelled for Nintendo. It was announced that 2013 would actually be the Year of Luigi, to celebrate 30 years of Mario’s timid brother. As such, there was a huge marketing push that put Luigi in the spotlight of multiple major titles, a really impressive effort on Nintendo’s part. How much money did it bring in? Well, the records say that 2013 saw them make…over $456 million dollars! Wait…that number’s red. Dear god. Luigi lost them almost half a billion dollars. Pandemonium.

How could Luigi do this?!

How could Luigi do this?!

I merely jest, for it was not Luigi who torpedoed Nintendo’s profits so embarrassingly, but the ill-fated Wii U. Now, while this piece is all about the 3DS, it’s important to make a note of just how bad the Wii U’s release was for Nintendo. This essentially means that with the Wii on the way out and the Wii U sinking the ship, the 3DS is all that’s left to hold everything together – and damn, did it do its best.

Another new model released, the Nintendo 2DS. Not the best idea ever – people were still calling the old DS the 2DS to differentiate it. While the idea of a cheaper 3DS model that dropped the 3D wasn’t a bad idea, the removal of the clam-shelled design was. The 3D feature wasn’t seeing much enthusiasm by now, but being able to close the 3DS to protect the screens from dust and scratches was.

Picking Up the Slack

As far as games went, however, Nintendo gave it their A-game. A Link Between Worlds gave Zelda fans the Link to the Past successor they always dreamed off. Luigi’s Mansion 2 was a surprise sequel that helped really cement this as the Year of Luigi. Animal Crossing: New Leaf gave an incredibly fulfilling town management simulator that kept fans so engrossed, some still hold it in a higher regard than the more recent Animal Crossing: New Horizons. And of course, what would a Nintendo handheld be without a pair of Pokémon games? Pokémon X and Y pushed the mainline games into fully polygonal graphics for the first time, breaking free of many of the limitations older hardware had imposed on it.

The Kalos region in Pokémon X and Y is based on France - though admittedly not to scale.

The Kalos region in Pokémon X and Y is based on France – though admittedly not to scale.

Fans of RPGs had probably realised by now that this was the system for them – development costs for the 3DS were far lower than home consoles, allowing for a wide range of releases like that of the PS2’s library. The standout among these was easily Fire Emblem Awakening. Intended as an explosive finale to the dying series, Awakening became the biggest hit in the series at the time and single-handedly saved it. Fire Emblem prides itself on the brutal permadeath on top of the strategy gameplay. However, by adding a casual mode that didn’t punish death so harshly, it opened itself up to a larger fanbase than ever.

Other standout RPG releases this year included no less than 4 games from Atlus. Shin Megami Tensei 4, Soul Hackers, Etrian Odyssey IV and Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl were all warmly received. That’s not to forget eShop-only releases that year! Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies put Phoenix Wright back in the spotlight after a notable absence. SteamWorld Dig was a tiny but charming metroidvania that would later see an even more fantastic sequel. Another great entry was the cult hit, Attack of the Friday Monsters, an endearing Ghibli-inspired tale published by Level-5.

If all these games and more somehow wasn’t enough to satisfy you, this was the year YouTube support was added to the console. Sure, it wasn’t glamorous and I think smartphones were already doing a better job, but it was a fun novelty. Altogether, the huge push Nintendo made for the 3DS this year was admirable, and would probably be better remembered had it not been overshadowed by the Wii U. 2013 was one of Nintendo’s worst years, but the 3DS’s best so far, with 16 million game sales. This momentum would pave the way for the next era of 3DS history the following year…

2014 – A Smashing Great Year

As early as January this year, the original DS was finally discontinued after a fantastic run. This would shortly be followed by the discontinuation of all other DS models, cementing this as the age of the 3DS. As far as hardware was concerned, the New Nintendo 3DS would also release in Japan this year – though an overseas release didn’t happen until 2015. With all the early setup of the console’s features well-established, yearly happenings for the system become a lot more routine from here out.

The greatest showdowns of 2014: Kyogre vs Groudon, Kirby vs Yellow Kirby, and Yoshi vs the weight of that egg.

The greatest showdowns of 2014: Kyogre vs Groudon, Kirby vs Yellow Kirby, and Yoshi vs the weight of that egg.

Nintendo brought some, but not many big hitters to the table this year. Kirby Triple Deluxe marked the first 3DS title for the adorable pink blob. In spite of the 3D capabilities, the gameplay remained as being controlled from a 2D perspective. At least the wait for a full 3D Kirby was worth it in the end. Yoshi’s New Island became yet another attempt to recapture the success of the original Yoshi’s Island on SNES, but failed to meet the standards set by the 1995 classic.

Of course, there was also the yearly(ish) Pokémon entries, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, remakes of the third generation titles. While generally well received, there were criticisms – some valid, others…infamous. There was also Tomodachi Life, an incredibly chill environment to allow your Miis to live out their…interesting lives. Definitely a unique and entertaining oddity among the 3DS library.


Perhaps the lack of major releases could be attributed to the fact the spotlight was on Super Smash Bros. Hitting a portable console for the first time in the fighting series’ history, Super Smash Bros. For Nintendo 3DS offered a stellar roster and exclusive features that its partner release on the Wii U lacked, such as Smash Run. It also pushed the 3DS to its absolute limits; while running the game, you wouldn’t be able to access Miiverse or the internet browser from the Home menu. With Smash, Nintendo had put the majority of their eggs in one basket. Fortunately, it paid off, selling over 1 million copies in Japan alone during the first week.

Nintendo 3DS - Super Smash Bros. for 3DS E3 2014 Trailer

Third party support wasn’t letting up either. Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright was a crossover that people had wanted for years, and they finally got it with this legendary meeting of the minds. Square Enix revisited the core foundations of what made them great with Bravely Default. While a fairly typical JRPG, it triumphed in its simplicity, offering gamers a more traditional JRPG experience while their flagship Final Fantasy series struggled to successfully reinvent itself on home consoles. All these went together to help Nintendo actually turn a profit in 2014 for the first time since 2011, a stark change from 2013’s disaster. While a joint effort from the 3DS and Wii U, it was clear that both systems still had a bright future ahead.

2015 – Play Through the Pain

For Nintendo, 2015 was a year of both great gains, and significant losses. One such loss was the phasing out of the original 3DS and XL worldwide, just in time for the New Nintendo 3DS to hit shelves overseas. And what a gain it was; double the RAM allowed for far better performance from supported games. An amiibo scanner allowed even more use from the highly sought after collectables, and the new C-stick was a big change for camera control in games. I’m not sure who was using the 3DS internet browser, but it saw a major upgrade too. You could now watch videos in the browser, for instance…if the YouTube app wasn’t already enough for you. Notably, the New 3DS would have an exclusive library, including a SNES Virtual Console not available on standard models.

Another loss hit Nintendo in 2015, however, one incredibly sudden and tragic. The untimely passing of then-President of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, made waves both inside and outside of Nintendo. Tatsumi Kimishima would take on the mantle, and there was much restructuring within Nintendo’s own studios following this. This primarily impacted the schedule of Wii U titles, however, as the 3DS still had a pretty strong showing. The mysterious “NX” was also announced, with no clues as to what it could mean. Spoiler alert: it wouldn’t be very good news for the 3DS’s continued existence.

Monster Hunter, Pokémon and The Legend of Zelda. Monster hunting, monster catching, and monster masks.

Monster Hunter, Pokémon and The Legend of Zelda. Monster hunting, monster catching, and monster masks.

Nintendo’s big 3DS release for the year was a much-anticipated remake of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. While providing plenty of improvements to the original N64 title, significant changes were made that fans hold in contempt. Bosses were nerfed, and certain gameplay segments made much more cumbersome. Another Zelda release was Tri-Force Heroes, a charming successor to Four Swords. It was a fun way to bring online co-op to Zelda, but it was lucky to release the same year as a mainline title because it certainly cannot compare to them. Pokémon fans also got to enjoy Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon. This colossal entry allowed you to befriend all 720 known Pokémon at the time, and was seen as a return to form after 2012’s disappointing Gates to Infinity.

Sega was still embracing the 3D gimmick, hiring emulation experts M2 to produce 3D remakes of classic Sega games on the eShop. I don’t know how they did it, but they made it work! Capcom also localised Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate outside of Japan. While overshadowed by newer entries now, it was a standout title on the system in both graphics and gameplay. Level-5’s riff on Pokémon, Yo-kai Watch, was also brought over to the West. In spite of a major marketing push, it sold under half a million copies in North America, far less than the 1.4 million in Japan. If nothing else, at least the marketing showed us Nintendo at its most absurd:

YO-KAI WATCH – The Very Important Meeting Part 1

One other curiosity to note is that the New Nintendo 3DS received its first major exclusive – one of just 15. It was a port of the beloved 2010 JRPG, Xenoblade Chronicles. While an impressive port for the system, it’s heralded as the worst way to play the title, even compared to the Wii original. 2015 saw a few missteps and was far from the 3DS’s strongest showing, but given the tragedies they endured, I think it was a fair effort. But perhaps it was beginning to show that the system’s time in the spotlight was limited.

2016 – Finest Hour

Mobile games! Love them or hate them, Nintendo had joined the trend, partnering with DeNA to bring their IPs to smartphones. If that wasn’t making it sound like the 3DS might be about to be pushed aside, the Nintendo Switch was formally announced in October. The lean, mean hybrid machine threatened both the 3DS and Wii U’s continued existence by fulfilling both of their functions. In spite of what may have seemed like impending doom, I’d call 2016 one of the 3DS’s finest years. Or perhaps it was just that Nintendo wanted to make sure it went out with a bang.

Developers had the hardware pretty much dialled in by this point, and it showed. Somehow, Koei Tecmo managed to take the Wii U’s Musou epic, Hyrule Warriors, and crush it down onto the 3DS. Sure, the draw distance was abysmal and graphics a little crunchier, but it was a marvel that the game even ran! Fire Emblem Fates took the newfound momentum from 2013’s Awakening and ran with it. Going down the route of Pokémon with two separate versions of the game, sales surpassed Awakening – despite hardcore fans deriding the writing.

Move over, Mario Bros. and Pokémon: Kirby's gone full Gundam!

Move over, Mario Bros. and Pokémon: Kirby’s gone full Gundam!

Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam crossed over the RPG antics of the Mario and Luigi series with that of Paper Mario. It didn’t use the Paper Mario side as well as fans hoped, but was still a solid game. Kirby Planet Robobot was a standout game for the system, greatly amping up the fun factor compared to past Kirby titles. Even now, it’s considered to be among the best entries in the franchise.

While Kirby found new ways to stay fresh, Pokémon totally overhauled several foundations with Pokémon Sun and Moon. Gone was the grid-like movement of the overworld, and the traditional gym-fighting league challenge. While the battle system remained familiar, Sun and Moon made key innovations that divided reception. Ditching X and Y‘s Mega Evolution for the underwhelming Z-moves was a misstep in this regard. Critics praised the steps forward into modernising the game, while some fans lamented the loss of gyms.

Rough With the Smooth

Despite this absolute deluge of first party games, they couldn’t all be winners. Metroid Prime Federation Force became exhibit A on how not to do…anything. Metroid fans felt insulted over waiting 5 entire years for a cartoonish co-op shooter that had almost no relation to the IP it was attached to. It bombed massively and has been swept far under the rug since release.

Indies were there to pick up the slack though, with the likes of Gunvolt, Shantae and Terraria to provide retro game fans with something that looks and plays like the games of yesteryear. That is, if they weren’t already playing them on Virtual Console. Speaking of Virtual Console, the original Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow versions were finally re-released on there! Not only this, but they were enhanced with Pokémon Bank compatibility, allowing players to store their Gen 1 ‘mons on the cloud, and transfer them to Sun and Moon.

You know, I really don't think crossovers get any more ambitious than this.

You know, I really don’t think crossovers get any more ambitious than this.

In case it wasn’t clear that this was the console for RPGs, Square Enix dropped a sequel to Bravely Default, Bravely Second. Bandai Namco also released Project X Zone 2. Both that and the original Project X Zone were ambitious crossovers – Sega, Capcom and Bandai Namco IPs all collaborated. Ever wanted to see Dante (from the Devil May Cry series) and Yakuza’s Kiryu Kazuma fight enemies alongside Phoenix Wright and Segata Sanshiro? Awfully specific request, but it’s right here!

This explosion of games in 2016 helped the 3DS hit over 60 million lifetime console sales. Nintendo’s 2016 is largely forgotten due to how huge the Switch’s launch was the following year. However, within the context of the 3DS, I’d say that 2016 was fantastic, on par with 2013; another year overshadowed by something bigger. Pretty much sums up the 3DS’s existence, really. Always living in the shadow of something else.

2017 – Not Ready to Switch Off Yet

As early as March, the future of Nintendo had arrived. The Nintendo Switch was on the scene, functioning as both a home console and a portable one. While it wasn’t getting in the way of the Wii U (because it had already been discontinued), it looked like time was nearly up for the 3DS. Despite this, Nintendo would pledge to support the 3DS as long as there was demand for it. But with the Switch being such a runaway success for them, the twilight years of the 3DS began here.

This more than made up for the previous 2DS.

This more than made up for the previous 2DS.

One final hardware revision was released this year, the New 2DS XL. Forgoing a smaller model, the N2DS XL featured all the improvements of the N3DS, but without the 3D and at a lower price. Unlike the previous 2DS model, the clamshell design of the console was retained – thank goodness. There were still new games releasing to play on it too, such as Miitopia. A sort of stand-alone successor to the built-in RPG StreetPass Quest, it provided a fun new way for players to use their Miis. Coincidentally, Miiverse, the social network that worked across Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, was shut down the same year. Suffice to say, perhaps it justified Nintendo’s continued aversion to social features in their consoles.

Oops, All Remakes

Other first party games made sure that there was still good reason not to sell your 3DS for a Switch just yet. Easily the headline attraction was the long-awaited return of Samus Aran, in the aptly-titled Metroid: Samus Returns. A full remake of Metroid II by developers MercurySteam, it was a well-liked return to the series’ roots that paved the way for 2021’s fantastic Metroid Dread. Game Freak dropped one last pair of mainline titles, Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, attempting to address complaints with the seventh generation titles. Unfortunately, they reviewed surprisingly poorly and were derided as a mere cashgrab rather than an expansion on the originals.

Fun fact about Samus Returns: developer MercurySteam are the only studio to have worked on both Metroid and Castlevania.

Fun fact about Samus Returns: developer MercurySteam are the only studio to have worked on both Metroid and Castlevania.

Another set of major RPGs also arrived in 2017. Dragon Quest VIII took the critically acclaimed PS2 classic and added a ton of quality-of-life enhancements, such as the removal of random encounters. It’s definitely the best way to play the game, though the downgraded music and removed voice acting are unfortunate compromises. Monster Hunter Stories was a new spin on the franchise that turned it into more of a Pokémon-like than simply bashing the monsters’ heads in with a large club. It became highly sought after, and saw a sequel on home consoles in 2021.

The New Nintendo 3DS didn’t exactly have the strongest exclusive line-up, but saw a couple of notable additions. One was Fire Emblem Warriors, essentially a Fire Emblem-themed Hyrule Warriors. It was still impressive how they crammed everything onto the tiny system, though. Joining it was none other than Minecraft. Yup, Minecraft on 3DS. A lot of compromises were made, chief among them the removal of online multiplayer. Altogether, 2017’s offerings weren’t bad, but it was clear that 3DS was getting leftovers while the big releases jumped to the Switch.

2018 – Cast Aside

By now, the 3DS was beginning to wind down. With such a strong library growing on the Switch already, first party support was on the way out. Sales for the 3DS were less than half of last year, falling far faster than Nintendo had anticipated. If that wasn’t damning enough, Pokemon Let’s Go! Pikachu and Eevee launched for Switch this year. One of the biggest system sellers for the 3DS had now well and truly jumped ship.

Poor Luigi, he's still torn up about 2013.

Poor Luigi, he’s still torn up about 2013.

First party releases weren’t bad by any means, but nothing especially standout. Luigi’s Mansion was an unexpected remake of the GameCube original, but was questioned for being a late 3DS release rather than the Switch. WarioWare Gold brought together the best microgames from the beloved series in a very late 3DS debut. Meanwhile, the surprisingly great puzzle platformer, Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker, also saw a port. Another notable release was the English localisation of Detective Pikachu, over 2 years late. It might not have been brought over at all had it not been for the announcement of the pretty awesome live-action movie, which released the following year.

The Exodus Begins

Third parties were long gone, pretty much. Yo-Kai Watch, once a huge hit, was floundering in both Japan and the rest of the world. This was made clear when the third entry had a very limited physical release and almost no marketing. Besides them, Atlus were the only ones still clinging hard to the aging handheld. Remasters of Radiant Historia and Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey were welcome additions. They also published The Alliance Alive, a pretty great RPG that went under the radar, even when it was remastered for modern consoles.

Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology is one of the few games considered a worthy successor to Chrono Trigger.

Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology is one of the few games considered a worthy successor to Chrono Trigger.

By now, the last particularly notable games had trickled onto the system. You’ll probably notice these year-by-year descriptions start to get a fair bit shorter, because while the system continued to cling to life, it had been left to starve. It had been a solid run, with ups and downs, but now the sun was setting.

2019 – A Pitiful Swansong

If anyone was still in doubt as to whether the 3DS and Switch could coexist at this point, 2019 would put those doubts to rest. Reggie Fils-Aime, the man who unveiled the original DS back in 2004, finally stepped down as President of Nintendo of America. While I have doubts that his departure, and Doug Bowser’s succession, had anything to do with what happens next for the 3DS, you could easily draw a parallel here. Out with the old, in with the new.

I think the cast of Persona Q2's expressions here just about match the fans watching the 3DS burn out.

I think the cast of Persona Q2’s expressions here just about match the fans watching the 3DS burn out.

Speaking of out, AlphaDream tried their hand at remastering Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story for the 3DS this year. The resulting release was considered a disappointment, and sold poorly enough to actually bankrupt them entirely later in the year. Atlus brought in Etrian Odyssey Nexus, a celebration and perhaps a farewell of sorts to the DS-bound franchise. While the series isn’t over just yet, it felt like a goodbye. Persona Q2 also brought the cast of Persona 5 to Nintendo for the first time ever. Notably, Atlus did not dub either game in English due to the current state of the system. The only notable release that didn’t have any kind of negative correlation was Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn. While it was nice to see the adorable 2010 Wii platformer again, it simply didn’t look as nice on the small screen.

Nothing was especially damning about the 3DS this year in terms of figures, at least compared to 2018. Lifetime console sales hit 72 million, while over 6.25 million games were sold. The total number of 3DS games sold eventually hit over 384 million, more than about half of Nintendo’s consoles. Sure, it didn’t take long for the Switch to demolish that, but it’s not a bad achievement. Still, by now the writing was clear on the wall.

2020 – Emptiness

September 16th, 2020. All the remaining 3DS models are discontinued. With that, Nintendo had marked the primary death of the 3DS family of consoles, and thus the legacy that began with the DS back in 2004. All major support for the console had ceased, and I don’t even have any games to talk about here. Zilch. It can easily be assumed that the Switch was more of a success than Nintendo was expecting (especially compared to the Wii U), and with the Switch Lite on the market, there was now a cheaper alternative to the Switch without any compromise on the performance or the library. The 3DS no longer had a place in the market, and was left to die.

Perfectly matching the vibe here (screenshot from Ocarina of Time).

Perfectly matching the vibe here (screenshot from Ocarina of Time).

While there aren’t any major releases to talk about, it’s both tragic and hilarious that the Wii received 2 notable new releases. The Wii. Retro City Rampage DX and Shakedown Hawaii both saw a physical release for the ancient console. After all, the Wii Shop was already shut down by now. Plus, the Wii Shop wasn’t the only dead storefront. Nintendo also announced the closure of the 3DS and Wii U eShop in over 42 countries. These eShops were specifically a “limited” storefront that only allowed basic functions, such as redemption of download codes. Nevertheless, it painted a very scary picture for the future of the system.

2021 – The Dead Speak

In spite of all the big publishers (most small ones too) having long since moved on by now, something changed. Although the 3DS was on death’s door by now, there was still a decent array of indie releases. Moonbound made for a pretty alright arcade-style title – in fact, most new games by now were basically simple arcade games. Just ask nuGAME, who released literal weekly instalments in their Bricks Pinball and Bricks Defender series for a while.

New Nintendo 3DS - Super Nintendo joins Virtual Console!

Nintendo also withdrew repair support for the original 3DS/XL this year, though still committed to repairing the New 3DS/2DS models. As it turns out, by now we were 4 years into the Switch’s lifespan. It had also become alarmingly clear that the Switch was never going to have a traditional Virtual Console akin to prior systems, only having a very limited selection of games on their online subscription service (which could still do with a handful of cool GBA titles, by the way). As such, the system was still pretty valuable for retro game fans. That’s not to speak of all the exclusives that were never ported over to newer consoles. As such, people remained attached to the 3DS family. It sure would be a shame if something were to happen…

2022 – For Whom the Bell Tolls

Something happened. In February of 2022, the death knell was sounded; the 3DS (and Wii U) eShop was to close in March of 2023. Reactions were grim; this was not long after Sony announced the closure of the PS3, PSP and PS Vita stores. Of course, Sony had backtracked on closing the PS3 and Vita stores after backlash, so some hoped Nintendo would follow suit. Others sparked much-needed discussion about the importance of game preservation. Many people (such as myself) also may have panic-bought a few things. Some publishers prepared final sales, though the turnout wasn’t particularly stellar either.

Fragrant Story - Nintendo 3DS - Trailer

Another interesting by-product of the closure announcement was in the indie scene. These smaller developers began a race of sorts to see who could get the last release for the system. Several notable examples arose from this, perhaps the most infamous of which was Fragrant Story. Named after the Square Enix classic Vagrant Story, and featuring music from the composer of said game, it received a surprising amount of hype – hype that it inevitably failed to live up to. The game was a mere half-hour long, and was fairly simplistic.

Indie developer Jerrel Dulay also made a bold claim; over 7 new entries in his Silver Falls series would launch in the remaining year between the Wii U and 3DS. It was a nerve wracking time all-round. Some hoped against hope that the closure would be reversed, and others wondered how best to preserve the games about to be lost to time.

2023 – Final Hours

You might want to listen to this while reading this, it’s only fitting. With just 3 months to go, things were wrapping up. Nintendo had already pulled credit card and eShop card support, all that remained was the eShop itself. Of course, users would still be able to redownload purchased content for the foreseeable future – but as this retrospective has shown us, the future of the 3DS was always very hard to foresee. The big final sales began rolling in by this point – Atlus notably botching their final sale because they had already held one in winter of 2022. Due to
Japanese laws surrounding the matter, they had to abandon their otherwise-final sale within Japan.

I'd be shocked and disheartened too if my game got removed from the eShop earlier than everyone else's.

I’d be shocked and disheartened too if my game got removed from the eShop earlier than everyone else’s.

Speaking of RPGs, Fire Emblem Fates was pulled a month early, due to the unique way its DLC functions. Players were only able to purchase which path they want to take once they’re some distance into the story. Therefore, it makes sense to delist it early so as not to screw people over who buy it at the last second, then find themselves unable to progress. That wasn’t the only early casualty either; Nintendo Badge Arcade, an endearing but predatory way to spend money to customise your 3DS home screen, had the free plays disabled a few days early.

Just in the Nick of Time

On March 9th, 2023, with just weeks to go, Jerrel Dulay made good on his promise and squeezed out those Silver Falls games, just in time. Nintendo actually allowed him to release them in an unfinished and broken state just to have them available in time, while he patches out the issues in a later update. I can’t help but admire the dedication. YouTube personality Jirad Khalil, better known as The Completionist, took the opportunity to live up to his name. Making headlines, he purchased the entire available Wii U and 3DS eShops, donating the $20k+ worth of games to the Video Game History Foundation. Check the video out here (credit to The Completionist):

I bought EVERY Nintendo Wii U & 3DS game before the Nintendo eShop closes

With that, the 3DS eShop finally shuts down. If the console wasn’t considered dead when the games stopped, or production ceased, it was definitely dead now. While online multiplayer remains functional for several titles, we all know it’s only a matter of time before they get shut down as well. In spite of everything the 3DS accomplished, it was a quiet and almost disrespectful way for Nintendo to send it off.


You can interpret the history of the 3DS in a lot of different ways. Pessimistically, you could say it was a gimmicky overpriced system that failed to live up to the DS. You wouldn’t be wrong; stereoscopic 3D didn’t stay popular, and the AR gimmicks were largely forgotten. I also question who exactly was pulling out a screwdriver to affix the decorative plates to their New 3DS. But also think about it optimistically: the 3DS sold just fine past the early hiccups. Not only that, it helped Nintendo through what had to have been their worst years thanks to the Wii U.

It's been fun, Nintendo 3DS.

It’s been fun, Nintendo 3DS.

It might seem a little late after the closure of the eShop, but the 3DS is still arguably worth owning. If you ever find a used one for a solid price, you’ll find a very competent little machine. That said, nostalgia forms a lot of my love for the system. I’ll never forget my memories of unboxing it, and getting lost in the AR games and the 3D camera. Metal Gear Solid Snake Eater 3D made me a fan for life, and StreetPass encouraged me to get out more. That might be the saddest part – StreetPass may still work, but you’ll be hard pressed finding anyone still bringing their own 3DS with them. Nevertheless, there’s still a wealth of games you won’t find anywhere else. So here’s to the Nintendo 3DS, the perpetual middle child that I’ll never forget. See you in silicon heaven.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar photo

    Truly a wonderful retrospective. I was going to buy Gotta Protectors before the store closed, but my Nintendo Network ID setup was busted and I had no idea how to fix it. Oh well.


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