Nintendo isn't just a company built on nostalgia. Nintendo is nostalgia.
Study its products for more than five seconds, and you'll notice how the Japanese gaming giant likes to pay homage to the past. But watch them for a lifetime, and it starts to get silly. Left to its own devices, Nintendo references itself across space and time in ways more convoluted than even the most pedantic time-travel sci-fi. In Nintendoland, literally, no one ever dies. They are simply remade, rereleased, remastered and remixed. In game after game its iconic characters pop up, complete their narratives and then reappear, fighting the same fights, jumping on the same blocks, in aesthetically improved but always immediately recognisable worlds.
Sometimes being a Nintendo fan feels like being trapped in a relativity equation, with everything moving forward and staying static all at once. Even weirder is the fact that in their pseudo-past, your memories actually look better than they did before -- to the point that when you actually load up the original you might be surprised when it actually sort of sucks.
Even so, when it comes to its games, Nintendo's constant reference -- even adherence -- to the past is mostly adorable, and never holds it back from making tremendous entertainment.
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When it comes to hardware it's a little more maddening.
Brave, weird new consoles like the Wii U are tied, confusingly, to their previous generation. The Nintendo DS was semi-replaced by the DS Lite, then the DSi, then the 3DS, which was then complemented by the 3DS XL and the 2DS.
And now it's happened again: the 3DS has been succeeded, but not replaced, by the weird combination of brilliance and conservatism that is the New 3DS and New 3DS XL.
1) The 3DS has a 20% larger screen than the old 3DS
2) Both models now have a 'Super Stablised' 3D system, which uses face-tracking to radically improve the glasses-free 3D effect. The result is dramatic. Where before the 3DS would make you feel ill if you moved even vaguely to the side with 3D on, that problem is gone.
3) MicroSD support replaces larger SD cards
4) Built-in NFC for use with Nintendo's adorable Amiibo figures
5) A new 'C-stick' for camera adjustments, plus additional shoulder triggers (ZR ZL)
6) Faster processors (boosting menu performance and enabling new, better games to come)
7) Slightly improved battery life
8) 3DS (not XL) is compatible with a new range of face plates.
All of these things make a difference to the experience of using the 3DS. But the most important is the 3D performance. Where before the stereoscopic-ness of the 3DS was a curiosity and then an irrelevance, it's now back to being a default-on setting.
However, while the big new changes are important, it's the small differences that I noticed most.
Take the volume slider. On the old 3DS XL, it was placed on the side of the bottom-half of the case, in just the right place to accidentally flick it up to maximum. Of course when you're playing on a packed train while listening to something else on headphones, you won't notice this has occurred. You'll then spend the entire journey being the worst person in the world, without knowing it. On the new 3DS XL, it's on the top half.
This is good.
Similarly, the New 3DS has a slightly metallic, colder material 'feel'. This is oddly pleasant, and feels a little closer to the current generation of smartphone hardware even if, in most other areas, it's still a hopelessly old fashioned device.
The New 3DS also has auto-adjusting screen brightness. The camera is able to take pictures in low-light. The home button is located on its own at the bottom of the device, and Start/Select is moved up to the right panel, rather than awkwardly sharing the bottom row together. And yes, the ABXY buttons have retro SNES-style colours, which just makes me happy.
This is a much better 3DS. Which is handy, because in terms of games the 3DS is arguably the best console on the planet.
The 3DS has a lot of good games. And the New 3DS plays them all.
Of course, the New 3DS will also play exclusive games, which is where it gets a bit confusing. Titles like the new Xenoblade with require the New 3DS's improved processor - at which point it will presumably have to carry a sticker on the box with a version of this absurd compatibility chart on it, thus obscuring the entirety of the game art.
There will still be 3DS games too, of course. Hell, there were DS games until quite recently. But New 3DS games are something else. Which raises the question - is this a new console, a revised one, or neither?
And is that a problem?
You might want a super-thin, HD, Android 3DS. You might want Nintendo to make the iPod of retro games - which they could easily do.
Great. You won't get it.
Nintendo wants to make cheap, plasticy, easy-to-hold, low-resolution and outwardly archaic consoles, and that's exactly what it's going to do. Whatever the reason - lack of mass-production power, sunk-cost in games development or just resilient sales momentum - there is no chance Nintendo will dump the 3DS overnight, and none that it will replace it in the short term.
But while hoping for Nintendo to change - or give up - on its mobile hardware completely might be stretching possibility, it's still surprising that the New 3DS is so conservative. It's not thinner. It's not much lighter. It feels better and more rigid than the old one, but it's not that much different.
Yes, it's faster, but it's not that much faster, and it's still unable to do basic things like load the eShop without closing your game first. It also continues to use - but does not come with - a non-standard charger. And while the new controls open up useful possibilities - games like Monster Hunter are much easier with a second camera stick - really the system just thinks you've plugged in a Circle Pro add-on to an old 3DS... which of course you can do if you want.
What you have really is not a new console is a re-mastered DS. And that's not a typo. The beating heart of this machine is 11 years old.
It was 2007. It was cold, and wet. I was living in New York City, alone, dumped, homesick as I'd ever been and only barely employed in the collapsing field of print newspaper journalism. It had been about 10 years since I'd seriously played a video game.
But then I walked into the Virgin Megastore in Union Square, New York, and moping around like a dope caught sight of the Nintendo DS Lite in a display case. It was white. It was small. It had four buttons and a control pad, and it played Mario Kart. I didn't have a games console, but I remembered Mario Kart. Every cell in my fingers knew the feel of the turns, the weight of the cart, and the bright green and blue of Mario Circuit 1. Even the idea of playing it made me feel warm, like a comforted child. It was stupid, and regressive maybe, but on credit I bought one instantly.
I played it. It was glorious. And I still have it.
It's a weird thing to be nostalgic for something you still own, and that didn't actually happen all that long ago. But isn't that true of all video games? Even the original Elite is younger than Star Wars. And whatever the validity of that nostalgic memory, for me, the Nintendo DS, and since then the 3DS and New 3DS, are richer experiences precisely for that connection to so many moments of the past, wrapped up onto one.
Playing Mario Kart 7 on the New 3DS connects me back to Donkey Kong in 1980, before I was born. It taps a memory of playing Super Mario Kart on the SNES with my sister on New Year's Eve, running through AAs on the Game Boy on Christmas 1991, of buying a DS on a lonely day 5,000 miles from home in 2007, and wasting away a Sunday playing Mario Kart 8 with my fiancé just a few weeks ago.
It's an evolution. But in everything from hardware to games and the annoying way the screen clicks and wobbles slightly when you open it, it's also a connection - to the past, and to history.
So if the New 3DS is just the latest example of Nintendo relying on nostalgia, old tech and confusing brand line-ups to make easy money then yes, condemn them if you want.
But for me, personally? I don't really care. If there is to be one company in the world of tech who refuses to let the past die, I'm glad it's Nintendo - because my past was always better when their games were in my pocket.