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, 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.
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.
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.