Nintendo 3DS: A Nintendo hand-held road map

Nintendo 3DSNintendo’s latest hand-held video game console – The 3DS – Is about to hit the UK’s shores. So how did we get here?

The most important part of the 3DS’ history is Gunpei Yokoi the legendary Nintendo hardware developer who created all of Nintendo’s hand-held up until the ill-conceived Virtual Boy. It is his ethos that guided the big N to the top of the hand-held video game market and has arguable kept them there ever since. Yokoi favoured battery life and affordability over cutting-edge technology. The 3DS seems to buck this trend, but Nintendo hopes that the addition of 3D visuals without the need for special glasses will buck this trend.

Things started innocently enough with the Game & Watch series of LCD games. Yokoi came up with the idea whilst riding a bullet train – he saw a fellow businessman playing with the buttons on his calculator. This gave him the idea for a watch that would also work as a miniature game device.

His idea was a huge success. 60 different models of the G&W were released which sold over 43 million copies between 1980 and 1991.

Donkey Kong Junior Game & Watch

The Donkey Kong Junior Game & Watch

So what next for Yokoi and Nintendo?
Released in 1989 (1990 for us in Europe) was the legendary Game Boy. Launched with the superlative Tetris, the Game Boy (along with the later Game Boy Color) went on to sell over 118 million consoles! It’s use of 4 shades of green seeing off competition from the Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx with very little effort. It was a device nearly everyone could afford – and one that they all wanted due in no small part to Tetris. The Game Boy had a slew of accessories including a light and magnifier, a link cable for multi-player gaming and even a printer.

Game Boy Collection

(From Left to Right) The original Game Boy, Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Light, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Game Boy Advance SP, Game Boy Micro and the Nintendo DS

Nintendo were so pleased with the success of the Game Boy that it wasn’t until 1996 that the felt they needed to change anything. The Game Boy Pocket was released as the first of a now familiar trend. The Pocket wasn’t a new console – it was a hardware upgrade and refinement. Significantly smaller than the original in every direction this model took only 2 AAA batteries instead of the 4 AAs used previously. It also featured a larger and clearer screen. This was soon followed in 1998 by the Game Boy Light. A further revision that added a back-light to the Game Boy range. This was only released in Japan and has subsequently become a collectors item.

In the interim between the Original and Pocket variations Yokoi designed something a little different.

Virtual Boy

The Nintendo Virtual Boy - the first 3D Console

The Virtual Boy bought 3D gaming to the masses. In a time when the world was obsessed with Virtual Reality this would surely be a massive hit. Whilst selling a respectable 700,000 units the Virtual Boy is considered a flop. There were complaints of headaches, that along with the heavy visor you needed to wear and lacklustre software, doomed the Virtual Boy to failure. Can Nintendo do better with their second attempt at 3D gaming?

Gunpei Yokoi

Gunpei Yokoi

Tragically Gunpei Yokoi died in a car accident in 1997. Having left Nintendo in shame over the disastrous Virtual Boy, he didn’t live to see his next creation flourish – still following his guiding principals. The WonderSwan from Bandai was a great success in Japan. it featured an innovative design so that it could be played vertically or horizontally and remains a highly collectable platform to this day.

A master of design and an inspiration to many.

Truly a legend lost.

There was one big reason the Light didn’t leave Japan – the Game Boy Color (which was also released in 1998). Although this was a new console it was fully backwards compatible with older games and even allowed you to play them with a splash of colour. The Color was a huge success, due in no small part to the Pokemon franchise that started back in 1995. This is my personal favourite of the Game Boy line although it didn’t have as many stand-out hits as it’s predecessor. Despite adding colour and more processor power this unit still lasted well on only 2 batteries. It had a decent life too – lasting until 2001 and the release of the Game Boy Advance.

Nintendo’s next console was a huge step up from previous hardware. A point made clear by the many Super Nintendo ports that were released on the GBA. Although the GBA still featured full backwards compatibility with all previously released Game Boy games. The GBA line of consoles has gone on to sell over 80 million units and provided the start of another decade of dominance for Nintendo hand-helds. The GBA SP was released in 2003 and addressed the major concern with the original – the addition of a front-light. This feature, along with the new clamshell design and inbuilt rechargeable battery, helped take Nintendo in a new direction. After an updated SP with a superior back-light, a sleeker Nintendo had one more gift to the Game Boy franchise before leaving it for good. The Game Boy Micro is Nintendo’s smallest console yet and was released to an unsuspecting world in 2005. Featuring a beautiful screen it is only let down by a lack of backwards compatibility with non-GBA games.

Released in 2004 the Nintendo DS is another innovation from the company now renowned for such things.

Nintendo DS collection

The Nintendo DS, DS Lite, DSi XL and DSi

Featuring dual screens (hence the name) and touch screen control many choose to see the DS as gimmicky. However with over 140 million units sold and a truly vast library it has captured the hearts of old and young alike. The DS is much more a lifestyle device than a simple game console. Providing brain training, books, fitness applications and virtual pets the DS has broad appeal like no other (except maybe Nintendo’s own Wii) yet still has time for the hardcore gamer. Titles like Professor Layton providing a laid back game play style reminiscent of the point-and-click adventures of the 80s and 90s PC now sadly missing from today’s games libraries. The DS Lite was quick on the heels of the original hardware and transformed the aesthetics of the device significantly. A wise move by Nintendo that saw previous adopters and staunch critics alike flocking to this gem of portable gaming.

The DSi (released in 2008/2009) was a less meaningful upgrade. Although it featured 2 cameras, a faster processor and the ability to download games it lost the backwards compatibility with the GBA and few games used the additional features. Developers (including Nintendo themselves) preferred to target the whole DS market rather than limit themselves to the smaller DSi owning market. The DSi XL was released a year later boasting larger screens and a bigger shell to appeal to older users who might find the DS Lite and DSi too small or cramped.

Nintendo had it’s next trick up it’s sleeve in 2010. It announced what it believed to be both an evolution and revolution of the DS and the games market in general – the 3DS.

Nintendo 3DS

Look at how 3D it is!

Promising parallax 3D technology without the need for special glasses the 3DS sets to improve on the DS whilst also bringing 3D gaming (and video) to the masses. Unfortunately there is no way to show this effect without using the device yourself – so no pictures or video can convey how well this actually works. All reports, however, indicate that it works very well. The 3DS is backwards-compatible with all DS titles and a future update will allow you to transfer your downloaded content from your DSi. It features an analogue controller and motion control to complement the existing digital buttons and touch screen.

The features I am most looking forward to are the 3D screen and camera. Allowing you to recreate your friends and import them into some of the inbuilt games. The augmented reality (or AR) cards also look promising. These allow you to project your Mii or Nintendog into the world around you.

Some inventive people in Japan have shown the amusing possibilities with these AR cards.

So roll on Friday then. Let’s see if Nintendo can keep it’s crown in a market now highly contested by both Apple and Sony.

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