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Next-gen is here, and it's pocket-sized.
In March, I reacted to the news of Nintendo’s 3DS in the same manner I’m sure most Nintendo fanboys had; with a shameless, euphoric curiosity that—for hours—compelled me to rifle through the wasteland of speculation circumventing the oh-so-reliable internet. The official press release had whipped my imagination into a flurry of intangible possibilities, so you could imagine my pathetic disposition following the console’s unveiling at E3. Like a 13-year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert, I was prepared to rebuke my purity ring upon the slightest indication of the 3DS’ interest.
There’s plenty of reasons to get excited about Nintendo’s new handheld. With several reputable third-party developers conveying enthusiasm about the console, and others like Hideo Kojima already in the process of contributing software, the long-term prognosis of the DS’ successor appears more than promising.
But beyond the positive ramifications to occur within Nintendo's camp, the 3DS’ imminent release further signals handheld gaming’s entry into a new precedent set for portable entertainment.
From its earliest incarnations, portable entertainment has typically remained steadfast to one marketing strategy: Innovate technology to enable the convenient mobility of home entertainment.
Bare-bones functionality. Not much to look at, but it got the job done.
Obviously, that philosophy has evolved since its inception, with elements like size, personal style, and even environmental impact often bearing significant importance in conjunction with a portable device’s main service(s). But, ultimately, the fundamental religion of the portable market has remained largely intact, with smaller, sexier, and often pretentious portable conversions of household staples hitting store shelves faster than you can begin to appreciate the obsolete model of the same device you’d purchased yesterday.
This product model, however, seems to have reached its limit as signs indicate a dramatic shift in the portable landscape.
Case in point: About nine years ago, a company with a fruit-shaped logo introduced a small device called the iPod that would inevitably revolutionize the music industry and popularize the use of digital media. Then in 2007, during a press conference, the CEO of that same company began his keynote presentation with this modest, yet, compelling observation: “Every once in awhile, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything.” This was his subtle manner of acquainting to the world another portable gadget named the iPhone, which—three years and a few aesthetic touchups later—has altered the course of communication and made the home phone look like the ugly BFF of the hot chick you’ve been eyeing since forever.
Bare-bones functionality meets badass. Goodbye mundane expectations.
Certainly, Apple can be accredited with heightening consumer expectations as they pertain to portable devices. No longer can hardware developers rely on simply mimicking home-based entertainment as portability has now become synonymous with cutting-edge technology. Consumers expect to grasp the digital future in their hands and now it’s Nintendo’s turn to deliver.
Up until this point handheld gaming, although exciting in its own right, has subscribed to the basic laws of portable entertainment. Always lagging a generation or two behind home-console functionality, handheld consoles—for whatever reason—were accepted as they were. The notion of expecting more from portable gaming hardware became somewhat taboo; like seeing white guys on a basketball court, the gaming community had simply conceded to the limitations of smaller consoles, forming a stigma of these devices as an inferior gaming vehicle. Yes, we love our handhelds, and still do. But whether consciously aware of it or not, our admiration comes coupled with a degree of complacency that deters the vocalization of advancement. My prediction is that with the release of the Nintendo 3DS this will no longer be the case.
Should this really have been enough?
The 3DS will be the first portable console to set a standard of functionality that surpasses the capabilities of its home-based counterpart.
Boasting out-of-the-box innovations in graphics that showcases full 3D images without the need for glasses, a 3D enabled camera, motion controls, and, of course, touchscreen functionality; Nintendo has engineered a beastly machine that stands at the forefront of gaming progress.
Yes, 3D isn’t new, but it’s far from perfect. Immersion into the third-dimension of gaming does not come easy, nor is it cheap. Not only requiring 3D enabled home consoles, but also specialized TVs and glasses, the entertainment technology of the future regretfully gets cock-blocked by technology itself.
Nintendo, realizing that the concept of true portability rebuffs the need for additional peripherals, saw an opportunity in which a portable device could offer what a home console could not. And capitalize on it they shall.
This is the archetype of handheld gaming design that never was, but should have always been. In retrospect, was enthusiasm over SNES capability on the Gameboy Advance justly warranted in the era of Gamecube and PS2? Likewise, is contentment in re-experiencing Gamecube and PS2 level graphics during the Wii and PS3 age acceptable? We’re gamers—when have we ever applauded the de-evolution of technology?
Despite an all-digital facelift, the PSPs difficult times may be accredited to its too literal name and functions: It's a Playstation that's portable—nothing more.
With the dawning of the 3DS, a console offering a gaming experience unlike any other, handheld gaming enters an era of self-reliance. No longer to be overshadowed by their home-based counterparts, they will contribute to a higher standard of quality gaming. Hardware developers (*cough* Sony) that stubbornly chide this new model will likely meet their demise in the portable gaming market.
Kudos, Nintendo. It’s better late than never.