Back to Minecraft: New Nintendo 3DS Edition
The Nintendo 3DS is now firmly in Nintendo’s rearview mirror and the dazzling success of the Switch indicated that the market for dedicated handheld consoles belongs solely to Nintendo’s hybrid console. In 2017 things were quite different and Nintendo was counting on the 3DS to bridge the gap between the inept Wii U and their next generation of hardware. In that vein, they launched several interesting titles on the handheld system through early 2019, most of them ports and remasters of existing tiles.
Although some of them are intriguing, especially the Luigi’s mansion port that Digital Foundry has covered in a fascinating article in 2018, a project that deserves a closer look is the one from 2017 Minecraft: New Nintendo 3DS Edition, a new 3DS-only port of Mojang’s hit sandbox game. Taking advantage of the Powerful of the “new” 3DS line, the port team at Other Ocean Interactive were able to do some magic with primitive hardware and create a perfectly usable port of this classic game that, while not universally acclaimedshould be praised for its ambition and scope.
Shaders… Which Shaders?
It’s worth a little recap on 3DS hardware before diving too deep into what makes Minecraft: New Nintendo 3DS Edition such a crazy success. Originally announced in 2010 and released in early 2011, the first model of the Nintendo 3DS was primitive even for its time. Early models of the 3DS (e.g. 3DS, 3DS XL and 2DS) used an older ARM11 design originally published from 2002 to 2005, containing a dual-core configuration clocked at 268 MHz and 128 MB of FCRAM, and a 268 MHz PICA200 GPU with what was missing programmable pixel shaders.
The updated ‘new’ 3DS model improved the system in a number of ways, increasing VRAM from 6MB to 10MB, doubling RAM to 256MB, doubling the number of CPU cores from two to four, and increasing the clock speed from 268 MHz to 804 MHz on said cores. Nonetheless, the GPU remained the same, surely to allow developers to use the extra CPU cycles to hit higher frame rates if they wanted to without needing to forge too heavily into the user experience.
Due to the way Minecraft processes blocks and hits CPU rather than GPU limitations more easily, the decision to enable support only for New 3DS systems makes sense. The two extra cores and huge clock speed might have been developer Other Ocean’s only way to run the game. Minecraft experience on other platforms, the decision to focus on creating a port of Minecraft because only the New 3DS makes sense in hindsight.
While a personalized version of Minecraft which combined the two SKUs of the 3DS could surely have been created, the need to use an already built version of the game (Pocket Edition Alpha 0.15.4 according to Destructoid’s review) and the limitations of having to release the port before the 3DS got too far into its lifecycle certainly contributed to the kind of port we received.
Good… with caveats
That being said, the harbor impressions are… interesting. After a update in 2018, the game received 60fps support in the base game and 30fps in the ‘Super Mario’ edition map. However, even after the update, the frame rate is inconsistent. As new tracks are loaded and CPU is strained as the player zooms into Creative, the framerate seems to hit the 30s in the base game and into the upper teens in the “Super” edition maps. Maria”. I’m not a human frame counter and these results could be wrong, but the input lag is noticeable and frustrating.
However, outside of creative mode, the game runs relatively well, delivering a perfectly playable version of Minecraft it’s not to feel significantly different from its console and PC brethren. Even visually, the game runs well, with texture work that’s delightful given the 3DS’ draconian frame buffer limitations. On the 240p screen of the 3DS, Minecraft looks relatively crisp and well rendered, with only my 2DS XL’s lukewarm TN panel dampening the experience.
The greatest harm to the new 3DS version of Minecraft is the very small render distance. At best, it’s an atmospheric addition that makes what can be an already tense game feel a little scarier and, at worst, it’s incredibly distracting and, worst of all, disorienting, allowing you to find your way back to base. , even when using the bottom screen. map, quite difficult. Using the screenshot feature on my CFW New 2DS XL, I was able to capture a few screenshots that show the major issues with the system’s draw distance.
Emulation solves nothing
I decided to throw Minecraft: New Nintendo 3DS Edition in Citra to see how the game performed when the bottlenecks of running on a real console were removed. Using GodMode9 to empty my cartridge (don’t hack, kids!) and pushing the resulting .cia file to my desktop, I discovered that New Nintendo 3DS Edition works relatively well in Citra, despite broken sound (unfortunately common in 3DS emulation).
The resulting output, rendered at 6x native resolution, previews the tricks used by Other Ocean to improve performance where possible, with trees devoid of noticeable transparency effects and even textures until the player is directly above them. The LOD distance is obviously very small, with textures not displaying even thirty or forty blocks away from the player. While these issues are noticeable when inflated to 1440p on a 34″ monitor, they are far from a problem on the 3DS’ small 240p screen.
Note that these results are far from definitive because New Nintendo 3DS Edition isn’t rated highly on Citra’s compatibility chart and, well, if we’re being honest, emulating a 3DS port of a PC game on a PC probably doesn’t make much sense, to begin with.
Some will probably object to what I call Other Ocean’s Minecraft: New Nintendo 3DS Edition an “impossible port” in the vein of Panic Button amazing ports to Nintendo’s new handheld. However, given their lack of experience with 3DS development at the time and the extremely archaic nature of Nintendo’s last generation handheld console (again, they stopped producing new ARM11 chips in 2005!), I am willing to call Other Ocean’s work here a great Port.
Sure, it lacks the features found on even the most anemic of somewhat modern Android phones, runs at a lower resolution, and overall looks worse than that. all other version of the game, but it’s also a fully functional version of Minecraft not only on an ARM system (a radical departure from x86 platforms which Minecraft was originally developed for), but on a platform significantly less powerful than most 2017 phones.
This development in itself is enough for me to consider this a success by Other Ocean, a testament to the flexibility of Minecraft as a concept and an even further indictment of the tendency to poorly thought out and even more poorly executed”cloud versionof games on Nintendo’s current-generation hardware. If even an inexperienced developer can publish this good of a port, then there’s no technical reason why more experienced and seasoned game developers shouldn’t have the chance to prove their skills on tougher Switch ports.