It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly six years since the 3DS was released. Since then the system has enjoyed success, selling over 66 million units to date. Because of its popularity, Nintendo remained financially viable, even during the darkest hours of the Wii U’s life.  To put the length of its tenure in perspective, the 3DS launched during the Wii’s twilight years, outlived the Wii U, and is now being sunsetted while the Switch seems poised to break records anew – not a bad record for a system whose launch was seen to be a blatant failure. By ending production of the ‘DS’ line of consoles, Nintendo seems willing to not only abandon over a decade’s worth of game design developed around two screens, but also strand millions of 3DS owners without a clear path to upgrade other than the comparatively costly Switch. Despite what Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima has said regarding Nintendo’s reticence to develop a successor to the 3DS, a successor is exactly what Nintendo and consumers need.

The Switch is a brilliant console but it cannot replace nearly thirty years of stand-alone Nintendo handhelds.

The Switch, for all of its must-buy, tablet-esque, console-gaming-on-the-go excellence, isn’t a true successor to the 3DS, nor was it ever intended to be. While appropriately priced for a console at an MSRP of $299, the Switch is priced too high for it to effectively serve as a successor to Nintendo’s previous handhelds. That, coupled with a crippling lack of backwards compatibility and poor battery life, demonstrates that the Switch was never intended to merge Nintendo’s handheld and console divisions. Therefore, it behooves Nintendo to release a true successor to the 3DS: a cheap, ARM-based, dual-screen device with a large battery that allows them to continue the grip they’ve held on the handheld marketplace since 1989.  They need another dedicated handheld device, a durable, cost-efficient machine designed to take a few hits and appeal to audiences too young to afford either the price or the responsibility of owning a Switch.

Power and Presentation 

Whatever new handheld Nintendo develops must be powerful, but not so powerful that it sacrifices battery life in the pursuit of pixel-pushing potential. Considering that battery life must take priority over power, an ARM-based processor, like those used in most smartphones, would likely be Nintendo’s best choice. Given their familiarity with ARM processors, and the fact that every Nintendo handheld since the GBA has utilized them, it wouldn’t be surprising for them to make a return on the next handheld. Such a move, if the right processor was chosen, would also open the door for backwards compatibility with the 3DS, allowing 3DS owners to upgrade without fear of losing the games they’ve accumulated over its six-year lifespan.

While the original 3DS was roughly comparable to the GameCube or the Wii’s power (depending on the model), the next Nintendo handheld should aim for the graphical fidelity provided by the Wii U, if not necessarily the resolution. Since the Switch improves significantly upon the performance offered by the Wii U, running games such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe at higher resolutions than its progenitor, it would stand to reason that reaching the Wii U’s power envelope in a battery-efficient handheld is not out of reach for Nintendo. If the next Nintendo handheld could aim for the graphical fidelity of the Wii U while keeping the screens at a respectable enough resolution, such as 540p, it could make for a handheld with great battery life and excellent visuals. Nintendo has done amazing visuals on much less capable hardware before, after all.

Price and Release

Any new handheld from Nintendo has to be cheap, at a maximum of $150, or half of the Switch’s price. Any higher than this and it would likely be ignored by the market that it’s trying to target (e.g. children, frequent travelers, etc.). Considering that the Switch is currently priced at an MSRP of $299, and is more likely than not to embark on a downward price trajectory over the next few years (as most Nintendo consoles have), Nintendo has to carefully consider the price. Games, similarly, cannot experience another price-hike as they did between the DS and 3DS. Keeping the MSRP of $40 for non-special edition games is essential. Any higher and consumers will begin to question the logic of buying a portable game for $45 or $50 when they can purchase a game for the Switch, which is also portable, for only $10 or $15 more.

The New Nintendo 2DS XL was recently announced, giving Nintendo a new handheld at the $150 price point. How long can the 3DS family of systems last, however, on over six-year-old technology?

As for a release date, Nintendo has said previously that they intend to support the 3DS throughout 2017 and 2018. If the 3DS is indeed being retired next year, as the Switch comes off of its first full year on the market, Nintendo could use the timing to launch their next handheld without stealing any of the Switch’s proverbial thunder. An unveiling at a Nintendo Direct around E3 2018 could provide the necessary hype to fuel a launch around Christmas of 2018 or March of 2019, allowing enough time for developers to craft a launch lineup that makes the next handheld a must-buy on launch day. A strong launch line-up, while far from a necessity, would allow the system to start off strong, avoiding the anemic sales the 3DS experienced before its price was dropped; this is an essential task if Nintendo is trying to recapture the 90 million consumers who bought a DS but never upgraded to a 3DS.

Conclusions

While the Switch is on its way to rewriting the record books, as well as Nintendo’s quarterly statements, it is no heir apparent to Nintendo’s handheld empire. They need a cheap, reliable, dual-screened handheld priced at less than $150 to maintain their dominance over the market that they have controlled for over 30 years: handheld gaming. For the time being, the 3DS family of systems fulfills that need. However, with the limitations of the 3DS’ hardware growing more apparent with each passing release, it would make sense for them to release a handheld that, while in keeping with the 3DS’ design philosophy, can offer increased graphical fidelity, backwards compatibility, and great battery life. Traditions need not die so easily. The Switch is great, but Nintendo needs another handheld.

Although a gamer since before I can remember, there is not a better definition of me than these three words: Christian, conservative, and learner. I am steadfast in my Faith, my Beliefs, and in my Opinions, but I am always willing to hear the other side of the discussion. I love Smash 4, a sprinkling of JRPGs, and Computer Hardware. I am also passionate about History, Politics, and the NBA. You can find me on Twitter and YouTube.

Leave a comment below.

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  • James Baker

    It should be worth noting, the Switch has a very similar battery life to the 3DS.

    • With the original model of the 3DS and, to a certain extent, the XL that’s true. However, previous handhelds, such as the OG Gameboy and DS, had truly spectacular battery life, a much needed characterisric for a handheld, and something that the Switch lacks. Thanks for commenting!

  • Marty Allen

    I hope to see iterative developments bring the two consoles closer together, and bring their prices closer together along the way. For now, Nintendo is happy to have their flashier console in The Switch and their increasingly low-priced juggernaut in the 2DS etc. As tech catches up and sales start to merit it, hopefully newer versions of The Switch will drop in price along with new iterations of the tech. I hope that the result is eventually a unified platform, as Nintendo could really benefit from having all of their development resources focused in one place.

  • DevilDogA99

    It”s not to hard to see the Switch dropping down to $200 after a year or two and if not $200, then just getting a good bundle. Third party developers are making battery cases and I’m sure Nintendo will too. So both those obstacles will go away. The big question is, without 3DS games, will third party and Indie developers, fill in the blanks.

  • John Cal McCormick

    If I were in charge of Nintendo, I can’t think of anything that would be lower on my to do list than coming up with a successor to the 3DS. The Switch is a handheld that can plug into a TV – releasing a handheld that can’t alongside it would almost certainly be a catastrophic business decision.

    • My main point is that they need to replace the aging 2DS/3DS line with something able to fill in at the same price range and appeal to the same market. The Switch is simply too expensive to fulfill those needs. Thanks for commenting!

      • John Cal McCormick

        But one of the main draws of the Switch is that without another console to distract, their home and handheld ecosystems have been amalgamated into one, and they can now potentially avoid one of the pitfalls of their last couple of generations – a lack of games – since all their efforts are going towards one platform.

        The Switch is too expensive, but throwing a cheaper option at people isn’t going to help at all. All it’ll do is distract from their new console, and that’s the last thing they need. Why kill the momentum it’s got?

        They should kill the 3DS today, and throw everything behind the Switch.

        • Well, I had said that any new handled wouldn’t be revealed until next year anyway, thus giving the Switch plenty of time to build up a good head of steam. Good points nonetheless.

  • Conner Amaya

    The only thing they should make is a more portable switch. Maybe 480p screen, or still 720 once the same horsepower can be had at a lower tdp. It won’t be long either. Next year could happen but, 2 years from now they could easily take the exact same power of the switch, put it in a smaller form factor, and have longer battery with no cooling fan. At the same time they could make a Super Switch, or Switch+, or “New Switch” whatever they want to call it. The smaller switch should have non detachable controls for one. They could easily let it connect to the TV and use a Pro controller, but my guess is they will not do that just to differentiate the two consoles. Honestly I feel they will come to find that people are more than happy with Nintendo being a handheld​ gaming company. Make the switch smaller as a solid handheld with a dock and Pro controller, done.

    • This could certainly work, and fits in well with Nintendo’s strategy for small upgrades to their handhelds. Still doesn’t solve the issue of backwards compatibility for DS and 3DS games, but I reckon they’ll solve that.

  • Jimmy Boy

    “Because of its popularity, Nintendo remained financially viable” Then why did Nintendo post their first financial loss in fiscal year 2011, ending March 31, 2012, more than 6 months BEFORE Wii U even hit shelves??? https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/05/02/nintendo-reports-its-first-annual-loss-in-three-decades-over-500-million-in-the-red/#2a42b9bc52f8 This was off the backs of the Wii, DS and 3DS, so the 3DS didn’t “carry” Nintendo as you’d have people believe. Hell, when compared to the lowest selling handheld by Nintendo, the GBA, in 4 years, it sold over 70 million, and after over 6 years, the 3DS can’t even reach 70 million! Stop acting like you know stuff, you don’t know anything!

    • Thanks for the response! “Financially viable” not “financially successful.” FY 2012’s failure was due, in part, to slowing Wii sales and (as I mentioned in the article) an incredibly poor launch for the 3DS. After a rough start, though, the 3DS kept the Big N afloat while the Wii U’s sales fell apart.