Nintendo surprised us all today with the announcement of a 3D handheld gaming device, tentatively called the Nintendo 3DS. The company didn’t explain how the technology would work, only saying that the 3DS will be released this fiscal year (before March 2011) and will be shown in greater detail at the E3 expo in June.
Surely, I’m not the only one whose mind jumped to the Virtual Boy, Nintendo’s short-lived foray into 3D from 15 years ago. In lieu of any hard facts about what Nintendo’s doing this time, here are a few lessons that could be learned from that failed experiment.
Gimmicks don’t work: Short-sighted gamers once thought the Wii and the Nintendo DS were gimmicks, and they were wrong. These gaming devices fundamentally changed how games are played, with new control methods and ways of seeing the action. The same couldn’t be said for the Virtual Boy, whose games were often like any other console but with a cheap 3D effect (the controller’s dual D-Pads were meant to enable 3D controls, but most games used them interchangeably). Hopefully the 3DS will unlock new possibilities for gaming instead of just looking cool.
Comfort is Key: One issue with the Virtual Boy that I’ve never experienced on other gaming consoles is the requirement to sit in a very specific position, at a table with your head stuck into a set of tripod-mounted goggles. Obviously the Nintendo 3DS won’t be so extreme, but it could be a pain in the neck if you’re required to hold the device at specific viewing angles.
Headaches stink, and so do breaks: In the middle of some intense gaming, no one likes being told by the machine that it’s time to rest, as the Virtual Boy did. Nor does anyone enjoy getting a headache, as induced by the Virtual Boy, after ignoring the advice. I hope Nintendo’s new attempt at 3D doesn’t present the same dilemma.
Don’t Underestimate the Killer App: The Virtual Boy’s pack-in title, Mario Tennis, failed to convey the technology’s advantages, because it was basically a straightforward tennis game with a 3D perspective. By comparison, the Nintendo DS hit Nintendogs effortlessly showed the advantages of stylus and touch screen gaming. The 3DS needs to come out of the gate with something that sells the console over the existing and wildly popular Nintendo DS.