Save a Switch, Kill the 3DS

When Nintendo finally unveiled the Nintendo Switch, it put an end to one of the worst kept secrets in gaming. The home/portable console hybrid had been rumored ever since Nintendo first began cryptically talking about their next console, at the time code named NX. The consensus after the reveal was that if they were aligning their console and handheld development resources into one platform Nintendo could do some amazing things.

With so much excitement about a unified Nintendo platform it was rather disconcerting to see Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima declare that the Nintendo 3DS line wasn’t going anywhere in an interview with Bloomberg last October.

“Thanks to our software, the 3DS hardware is still growing. So that business still has momentum. And certainly rather than being cannibalized by the Switch, we think the 3DS can continue in its own form,” said Kimishima when directly asked if the 3DS was being discontinued. This isn’t the first-time Nintendo has defended multiple hardware platforms. The Nintendo DS was originally pitched as their “third pillar” and not a GBA replacement. While there is certainly some sound logic in keeping the 3DS, ultimately Nintendo is better off ending the 3DS line and moving forward with the Switch as their only platform.

Super Mario 3D Land is one of the hundreds of excellent 3DS games available.

The games may stop but the 3DS will live on

The most common counterargument is that Nintendo doesn’t want to negatively impact 3DS sales by publicly announcing the system is dead. That argument makes sense for the Wii U, a console with a thin library, but doesn’t hold as much weight with the 3DS. Even if Nintendo doesn’t make another 3DS game it doesn’t diminish the console’s value because of the already robust and excellent library available.

The 3DS library is one of the most diverse libraries available on any platform. Everything from side-scrolling platformers to fighting games to epic role-playing games have a home on the console. On top of the 3DS library the handheld also has access to the excellent DS library as well. In fact, I would argue that there hasn’t been a better time to own a 3DS. That library will always be there; you can always find something to play regardless of the new release schedule.

By leveraging that library Nintendo can continue to manufacture and sell 3DS systems without spending any additional money on development. Sony adopted a similar strategy with the PlayStation 2. They continued to manufacture and sell consoles, the PS2 remained in production until 2013, even after the 2006 launch of the PlayStation 3. Nintendo could take another page out of Sony’s playbook and court indie developers much like Sony did with the PlayStation Vita. Sony confirmed in 2015 that it had ended Vita development but the console lived on thanks to a steady supply of independent games. The bottom line is that there is precedent for a console to live on even if there isn’t first-party development.

The Wii U had fantastic games like Bayonetta 2 but couldn't keep them coming.

Keep the games coming

While the Wii U was a commercial failure it still had its share of critically acclaimed games. Bayonetta 2, Super Mario Maker, Mario Kart 8, and Splatoon are just a few of the highly-regarded games available on the console. The problem was that Nintendo struggled to maintain a steady stream of releases.

It would be naïve to assume that third-party developers are finally going to get onboard with this console. The Wii U started out in a similar place; ports of the previous generation’s big games early in the lifecycle. Of course, the poor sales of the console didn’t inspire confidence but those sales can in part be blamed on Nintendo’s release schedule. After the system’s November 2012 launch Nintendo didn’t release another first-party game until June 2013’s Game & Wario, a seven-month gap, and that was a minigame collection. It wouldn’t see as a core game until Pikmin 3 in August 2013, nearly a year after the console’s launch.

The lack of steady releases made the console a wait-and-see proposition instead of a must buy. It was hard to justify buying a console for a couple of games and once the third-parties jumped ship Nintendo was never able to make up for the lack of releases.

In theory, moving all 3DS development over to the Switch alleviates that problem. The 3DS has largely abandoned the touch screen as a primary control method and the Switch tablet has a touch screen in the rare case a game requires it. Most games wouldn’t need to be modified much from a gameplay and controls perspective to be playable on the Nintendo Switch. Even if the third-party support dries up, which wouldn’t be a surprise, Nintendo could still maintain a healthy console with six to eight first-party games a year; roughly equal to their current combined output for the Wii U and 3DS.

Picross 3D: Round 2 shows what a perfect mobile game can be.

Give us a reason to Switch

So far, most games shown for the Switch have been traditional home console games. Right now, Nintendo is selling the Switch on the promise that you can take your game with you anywhere. The trailers show people playing expansive games such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at home and then seamlessly taking it on the go. While that is impressive it also does little to justify the portability, especially when the game’s performance may suffer as a result.

Portable games are different from console games in their design and scope. The best ones provide a fun gameplay loop in small chunks, such as last year’s excellent Picross 3D: Round 2 for the 3DS. While the 3DS has a large library of role-playing games and other genres that lend themselves to longer play sessions it also features a large library of games meant to be played in short bursts.

The ideal situation would be two distinct groups of Switch games; portable focused experiences and more traditional console fare. Both game types would still take advantage of the system’s core feature – play your portable game on the TV or console game on the go – but there would be experiences tailor made for each playstyle. The battery life of the Switch seems problematic but in a world where you are only playing an hour or so during your commute, 3 hours is more than enough time. On top of that, Nintendo has shown they love accessories so it isn’t out of the question for them to release an extended battery for the tablet.

Nintendo has a chance to do something special with the Switch by creating a unified platform for all their games. As Nintendo has shown time and time again, their development teams are arguably the best in the world and this is their chance to leverage that in an unprecedented way. Having one device to experience every one of those games isn’t just a dream; it’s a necessity if Nintendo wants to give people a reason to buy the Switch.