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Missing the Boat: Why I'm Okay With Not Owning a 3DS Yet
by Andrew Testerman

Two Sundays ago the gaming industry was graced with a brand new bundle of joy: the latest handheld from Nintendo, the 3DS. The 3DS has been the talk of the industry for some time now, and the focus of technical folk everywhere for its promise of glasses-free 3D gaming. Impressions of the console have been mixed, ranging from rather positive to somewhat negative, though apparently it has sold fairly well since its initial launch. As a lover of portable gaming, I’ve been thinking about its launch carefully, and I’ve decided I’m going to do the same thing I did when the original DS launched in back 2004: wait.

Make no mistake, I’m pretty stoked about what the 3DS brings to the table. I am a mild appreciator of a well-done 3D effect (I have embarrassingly caught myself musing how awesome Final Fantasy XIII would look in 3D), and the prospect of not having to wear glasses only sweetens the deal. There’s also the fact that the 3DS is undeniably more powerful than the current DS, and much more able to handle intense 3D graphics (we’re talking polygons) that modern gamers seem to enjoy. Not to mention the gyroscope, twin cameras, analog stick that actually works, and any other manner of technological enhancements brought on by the new hardware.

There are a number of known caveats with this new handheld, however. The battery life is said to last anywhere from three-to-five hours, which, by my calculations, lands it firmly in the realm of the Game Gear, and just barely lasts longer than the PSP. There is also an apparent cavalcade of warnings on the side of the box, all the better than to keep the system out of the hands of the child it was presumably bought for. Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, the 3DS is a whopping $249.99; though not quite as shocking as when the PSP debuted for that back in 2004, it’s still a good chunk of change to invest in order to play PilotWings Resort.

These are the superficial complaints, the flaws that can be levied against the system by anyone who has read about it. The real issues holding me back from purchasing a 3DS, though, are a bit more personal, and I’d like to explain why this lifelong fan of portable gaming is taking a powder* from Nintendo’s biggest hardware launch this year.

The most obvious reason, perhaps, is its anemic lineup of launch games. A few months ago, many in the industry were speculating on how the 3DS could have the strongest collection of Day One software ever, with a 3D remake of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, a reboot of the Kid Icarus franchise, and several other titles worth their weight in drool. What did we actually get? Super Street Fighter IV 3DS, and Nintendogs + Cats. Or, as I like to think of them, games I’ve already played. True, it would be nice to be able to throw down Shoryukens on the road, or to look after a digital kitty during the daily commute (I’m much more of a cat person), but these are merely extensions of experiences I’ve already had, rather than a new killer-app that the 3DS can truly call its own. Though they may be fun, system-sellers these titles are not.

Secondly, I don’t think I can properly convey how inconvenient that three-to-five hour battery life is. I’m rather old-fashioned from a tech standpoint, and perhaps my largest gadgetary peeve is charging my smart phone more than once a day if I’ve been using it heavily. With three-to-five hours of potential usage, it’s as if Nintendo doesn’t want me to play with the thing, forcing me to concentrate on how long I’ve been using the machine, rather than getting lost in the gaming experience. Plus, I live in Montana, which has roughly the landmass of Japan, and I need a handheld to have a good, strong battery life for weekend road trips to visit family around the state.

Another reason I’m content to wait is much more me-centric: I just bought a DSi XL last year, a decision that ranks up with buying an iPod three weeks before Apple announces new models (which I have also done). I absolutely love my XL and its enormous screens, and I want to justify my buying decision as best I can by hanging onto it; I pussyfooted around for nearly a year before upgrading to the XL, and I will not so readily surrender my purchase and throw away my money to upgrade to a platform with whom my interest is merely academic. Melodramatic? Perhaps. But even in the short time I’ve owned my XL, it’s travelled around with me quite a bit, leading me to grow quite fond of it, and I’d rather keep my sentimentally-attached handheld than swap it our for a new one, thank you very much.

Lastly, and perhaps most cynically, I’m waiting for the almost inevitable upgrade that Nintendo seems to do with all of its handhelds. The Game Boy Advance saw the GBA SP release slightly more than two years after its backlight-less older brother, and the DS Lite (which is where I hopped on the bandwagon) dropped about a year and a half after its chunkier predecessor. While the 3DS is nowhere near needing an out-of-the-gate hardware upgrade as the other two systems I mentioned (seriously, did they even look at the DS Phat before they shipped it to the public?), I’m confident that Nintendo will continue to iterate on its device, just like it has in the past. Besides, by the time the 3DS Lite ships, its library should be so full of good games, I’ll have no choice but to buy it.

There’s always the chance that, by choosing to sit this one out, I will completely miss out on a new epoch in gaming; maybe by the time I’ve decided I want a 3DS, the novelty of 3D gaming will have passed, and we’ll be on to bigger and better things (I’m calling it now: portable Kinect). Still, even if I am missing the 3D boat, I’m okay with that for now. I’m still playing catch-up on all of the great DS games that I haven’t played yet, not to mention cutting my teeth into Pokémon White. There’ll definitely be a day when I’ll waltz into Target and plunk down my hard-earned coin for some glasses-free three-dimensional goodness, but for now, I’m too busy having fun with my DSi XL to notice all of the fun I could be having with the 3DS.

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- Andrew Testerman

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