Last month E3 clogged up the internet with a shitstorm of videogame announcements. While Nintendo certainly came out of the event looking pretty damn good, E3 overshadowed a major achievement that the all-powerful N made last week. On June 6th the first 3DS update was sent out to blurry-eyed system supporters, opening up the Nintendo eShop and brining along a flurry of impressive freebees and confirmation that the handheld system officially marks the end of the company’s online struggles.
It’s been years since X-Box Live made online play a vital component of console gaming and while Nintendo has tried to extend online services to it’s vast audience, they never quite got it right. The Wii Shop and DSi online services were a joke compared to their competitors. Sure, you could download original content to Nintendo’s handheld systems and have access to a massive library of classic Nintendo titles on the Wii, but clunky menu systems and endless load times ensured that it was never worth the trouble. As lifelong Nintendo supporter and occasional apologist, I’m pleased to announce that the 3DS finally brings the company a bright online future.
The first thing you’ll notice when booting up Nintendo’s Eshop is the clean n’ clear design. Touch screen buttons display all the products with the 3D screen showing more detailed images. It’s a breeze to navigate with new products prominently displayed and a series of subcategories breaking things down so that even the most inexperienced or drug-addled of gamers can understand. Just want a Mario title? There’s a section for that. Looking to download classic Gameboy titles on the virtual console? You’re covered. Want to watch some free trailers? You’re only one touch screen click away. It all runs smoothly with little-to-no load times. What’s really nice is that every game has detailed descriptions with 1:1 screenshots. That might not sound like much, but given how confusing it was to even know what you were downloading from Nintendo in the past, it’s actually a massive improvement. There are even preview videos available for some of titles that stream instantly and allow you to see the game in action.
Of course, all of the pretty program designs in the world are useless if the functionality and content isn’t there, and fortunately Nintendo didn’t drop the ball. Downloading and installing games will take less than 30 seconds, putting a stop to the endless waiting the company required in the past. Granted, the games available for the 3DS are a fraction of the size of downloadable Wii titles, but comparing how quickly previously released DSiware titles load onto this new handheld vs. the sluggish performance of the old DSi downloads it's like night and day. I was being delightfully frustrated by the by the DSi port of Dragon’s Lair within seconds of deciding to make an impulse purchase rather than having to wait like a sucker for the privilege as I would have in the past.
While it’s nice to download DSi titles with the speed and ease that should been available years ago, that’s previously released content. The real test of the Nintendo eShop is the quality of the unique 3DS content and fortunately that’s where the service really shines. Only a few new titles were available for launch, but do they ever deliver the goods. The big one is the new 3D remake of Excitebike, the first of Nintendo’s 3D classics series. The goal of this line of online exclusives is to update classic Nintendo titles for the 3DS and based on Excitebike alone, it’s going to be a fantastic service. Excitebike has been ported over to nearly every Nintendo system, but this 3D edition is the best version yet. The 3D effect works incredibly well, allowing the characters and backgrounds to pop off the screen. Turn off the 3D effect and you’ll get the original Excitebike in all of its 8-bit glory. Turn the slider on and you’ll see the perspective stretch out and all-new backgrounds slide into view. You can even do this while playing with no visible lag. It looks damn cool and it works. The game itself is exactly the same, equal parts thrilling and frustrating. What’s really nice about this version is that ease with which you can save any tracks you create, something that was always irritating and nearly impossible on previous incarnations. Download it before July 7th and the sucker is absolutely free. After that it’ll be $5.99, which is still good value. Nintendo has similar 3D remakes planned for titles like Megaman, and based on the quality of Excitebike, they can’t come out fast enough.
The 3DS’ Virtual Console opens shop with two of the greatest Gameboy titles in the back catalogue: Super Mario Land and Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX. Select them off the 3DS menu and you’ll hear the familiar power up Gameboy tone, which is nostalgic bliss. The games themselves are perfect ports. Mario Land appears in it’s vintage grey n’ black glory while Link’s Awakening is the superior 1998 Gameboy Color remake, complete with an additional dungeon. You can play em’ with the original square screen, or hold “start” while turning them on to unlock a fun easter egg that plays them on a virtual Gameboy (complete with old school battery light) with a subtle 3D effect. The easter egg doesn’t add much to gameplay and shrinks the screensize considerably, but it’s still a nice addition. The games themselves are untouched ports of classic Gameboy masterpieces that instantly made me nostalgic for the old brick-sized handheld units. They’ll only set you back about $6 a pop. The only all-new 3D software available at the moment is Pokedex 3D which allows gamers to collect, view, and trade animated 3D Pokemon character models. It’s a fun free addition with lots of online potential, but since I’m not a Pokemon guy, it’s kind of lost on me.
Simply put, Nintendo knocked one out of the park with the new eShop. It’s well designed, easy to use, fast, and cheap. What more could you want from an online service? The 3DS may have stumbled out of the gate with a rough selection of launch titles, but it was always clear that the hardware was full of potential (the AR games really need to be seen to be believed). Now the online component is another system seller. The eShop works well and the beta content is fantastic. I’m even finding logging onto online Street Fighter IV 3D battles to be incredibly quick and easy. I’m never more than a few seconds away from getting my ass handed to me by a Street Fighter pro versus the endless delays and cancelled matches I face every time I wants to get emasculated on Marvel Vs. Capcom 3. To be honest, not only does the 3DS’s online functionality kick the ass of all previous Nintendo online ventures, I even find it easier to use than even the Playstation Network. When critics grumbled about the 3DS’s lackluster launch, Nintendo retained a Buddha-like calm. Now that E3 has passed, it’s easy to see why. They were holding back.
The online additions are fantastic and the onslaught of original 3DS titles we can expect over the next year is very impressive. In fact, you can now download 3D trailers for upcoming marquee titles like Metal Gear Solid, Starfox, Ocarina Of Time, Luigi’s Mansion, Kid Icarus, and Mario Kart. If you have a 3DS, you’ve got to download these trailers. It’s one thing to see gameplay footage online, but it’s quite another to see it on the 3D handheld. There’s even a 3D trailer for Green Lantern available that looks amazing on the system, opening the door for other 3D video opportunities and bringing me one step closer to my dream of holding the 3D poop flinging glory of Jackass 3D in the palm of my hand. Very quickly this powerful little handheld is taking up a lot of my gaming hours and if the upcoming titles play as good as they look, it could become my go-to gaming system, which I never thought I would be able to say about a handheld. Oh, and the system’s battery life issues? Yeah, they’re real. But if you pick up Nyko’s $30 battery pack addition, the playtime is doubled and the problems are solved. I’ve got a feeling that this is going to be a big, big year for the 3DS.