Gamasutra: Josh Bycer’s Blog – What the End of the Nintendo DS Means for Handheld Games

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of the Gamasutra community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the author and not of Gamasutra or its parent company.


2020 will arguably be one of the craziest years many of us will have in our lifetimes, it was also a year that really brought the positives of easy-to-access video games to the fore. Nintendo’s Game Boy range, which has evolved into the Game Boy Advance, the DS and finally the 3DS / 2DS, is one of the best – and most original – game collections brought together through its iterations; arguably ranked up there with the original Snes and the PlayStation 2.

So it’s with some shock that you might not have realized that Nintendo not only ended production on all DS handhelds in 2020 and the entire lineup is now unreachable in its original form, and that there are no more new copies at major retailers. I didn’t realize this until I tried to get a new one after my 3DS XL’s top screen broke last week. Many of you know where I stand on the importance of game preservation and my thoughts on emulation, but Nintendo’s decision to kill one of its best products is just plain bad for the industry, bad for fans and bad for the market.

Handheld History

When it comes to the handheld computer market, Nintendo has maintained its dominance for over 30 years; beat all the competition including the PSP and Vita. What started out as a simple platform for essentially watered-down versions of console games with the original Gameboy in 1989, things changed with the release of the Gameboy Advance in 2003. For the first time in the history of the Gameboy platform, we started to see not only really original games, which used 32-bit power, but which will undoubtedly become the strength of handheld games.

With the GBA, we finally had a handheld that was powerful enough for developers to use to experiment with game ideas and work on a platform that was much cheaper than consoles. While the people are celebrating Fire emblem on the Switch, it’s important to remember that the series was originally a GBA exclusive as the only way to get it here in the US. While 3D Castlevania games suffered, 2D metroidvanias were some of the franchise’s best entries. And of course, let’s not forget the multiple RPGs and JRPGs that the genre experienced a second period of rebirth with hits like golden sun.

In 2004, the Nintendo DS was released and for the first time in the life of the platform, the DS was able to do some unique things compared to its console rivals. This was the first time we’ve seen a touchscreen feature built into a video game rig and using two screens may not seem like a lot, but it was a big deal for the design. Having this second screen allowed first-time developers to create an original user interface that represents the value of two screens of information displayed at all times. It would make it easier to play games that had a lot of information to show, like strategy titles.

The DS line has become a second home for many genres considered too niche for consoles

Not only that, but the DS would become the home of many original and unique properties that were not available anywhere else. Etrian Odyssey, The World Ends With You, Elite Beat Agents, Warioware, Phoenix Wright, and much more. Even more RPGS have been produced for the console, with many unique ones coming from Atlus. Without the DS, many original franchises would never have started or gained a foothold outside of Japan. Besides, this is where I would play for the first time a real roguelike in the form of Shiren the wanderer.

This would continue in the era of 3DS, first released in 2011. Truth be told, 3D effects were more of a gimmick than anything else, but the added power of 3DS has once again given us a generation. great headlines. New Paper mario games, several Shin megami tensei titles, and one of the most underrated games in my opinion, Kid Icarus uprising.

What would define the Gameboy line in the 3DS era was a platform that provided developers with a powerful handheld that stood out from the rest of the industry – allowing designers to experiment with new ideas that were more profitable than theirs. they were trying it on the console. Considering the value of the entire lineup, I’m surprised Nintendo killed it in favor of the Switch.

Change of successor?

While I’m overall shocked, part of me understands the immediate reason for this decision. The Nintendo Switch is essentially a handheld gaming console, and we’ll have to discuss this portability and the Steam deck in more detail at a later date.

However, a portable console is not the same as a handheld. The Switch was not marketed or designed in the same way as the DS line and handhelds before it. Games designed for handhelds were explicitly designed both for the portability of the device and to be cheaper to develop. As a result, many DS titles came out in the $ 30-40 range, unlike Switch (and console) games that came out between $ 50-60.

A major part of the NDS user interface was either playing games with both hands on the device (like holding the Switch) or with one hand using the stylus and the other holding it. Even if the Switch received virtual offers of DS and 3DS titles, there would still be plenty that wouldn’t be playable on the device.

The dual-screen UI may be possible with the Switch’s larger screen, but there’s something about having two different screens designed around unique information that the DS and 3DS have done so well. This has allowed many designers to feature very clean main screen user interfaces and place most of the information on the touchscreen or bottom screen.

For consumers, another big draw was the overall price – each DS and 3DS version being significantly cheaper than the consoles.

Respect for handheld computers

I am now very angry with Nintendo for the nonchalance with which they not only killed one of their best product lines, but they have now set up a countdown to the erasure of three gaming platforms. incredible. Right now, with my broken 3DS and Nintendo not even doing any repairs, my only options are to emulate or spend at most double the MSRP on a new 2DS XL in order to preserve the ability for me to play. this games. Even starting to buy back any games I could find on the Switch would cost me more than spending the extra markup on a 2DS XL. Even though, miraculously, we get the whole backlog for these platforms on the Switch eshop, that just puts a bandaid and pushes the clock back on a bigger issue. Like once Nintendo leaves the Switch, the problem returns.

The switch may be portable, but it is not the same as the DS line in terms of form and function

Whenever the subject of game preservation is brought up, I am firmly on the side of emulation and preservation. I’ve always felt that many consumers ignore handhelds like the GBA and DS and see them as “inferior games”.

However, just as we’ve seen this mobile gaming renaissance rise over the past five years, I’ve seen incredible and groundbreaking handheld games revert to the original Game Boy that are now in danger of being lost. Every Nintendo fan hearing this news should wreak havoc on Mario’s house, as it’s just not fair that the industry is losing so much of its history; not to mention one of the reasons for Nintendo’s longevity in the market. The success of the Gameboy up to 3DS was crucial and one of the reasons that helped Nintendo to survive in the hardware market compared to Sega which withdrew during the Dreamcast era.

If Nintendo is to stop developing the line, they should at least give consumers a “master DS” that can play these games and set itself up for long-term preservation allowing fans to download these titles to the device. On a somewhat unrelated note, this is also why I want them to put in place a long term solution to access their classic libraries, rather than having to buy them back piecemeal with each new cycle of. console.

Getting back to the preservation of games, this is the exact reason why there has to be a third party responsible for the preservation and maintenance of classic games. If a business can kill one of the best game libraries in the business and consumers can’t access it anymore, what does that mean for the rest of the market?

For the reader: Besides, hopefully being upset by this news, which titles will you miss the most for not being able to play and not available on the switch store?

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