We geeks love our gadgets. Can’t live without ’em. Granted, I have a dumbphone and a laptop—neither a tablet nor smartphone to boast of. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t rather own a Galaxy S-III or MacBook Air or Microsoft Surface. But unfortunately, money is sometimes a concern.
As someone who is both a young, introverted creative-type and working-class desk jockey, I like to seek a healthy balance between experiencing all the entertainment value and storytelling fun that I can manage, and not going broke in the process.
So of course I’m judicious about which gaming console or system I buy, or whether or not a particular film is worth the extra coin to get the collector’s edition Blu-ray as opposed to the DVD. Call it a first-world problem.
Nintendo caught my notice when they released the remastered, 3-D version of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for their then-brand-new 3DS handheld system, two years ago.
Now, I’d long ago jumped ship and fallen in with the Microsoft camp, due to the massive role Bungie’s Halo franchise played in my prolonged adolescence; not since the GameCube and its handful of temptations, like Luigi’s Mansion and Wind Waker, have I paid much attention to Mario and company.
But the Nintendo 64, from middle childhood and into my early teens, had an immeasurable impact not only on my childhood but also on the gaming demographic worldwide.
You can meet a complete stranger, share pleasantries and smalltalk, et cetera—but you mention Ocarina of Time, Super Mario 64, Star Fox, or Goldeneye? Hell, it’s like you’ve been best friends your whole lives. You understand one another, based solely on that shared virtual experience.
Which is a large component of the Nintendo 3DS’s appeal, at least for someone in my age group. It’s not a children’s toy—part of Nintendo’s lasting success comes from their ability to renew the same beloved characters and formulas again and again while also making their engineered experiences feel wholly new.
And with the 3DS XL, they take that business strategy and hit one light-years outside the park.
The system features a five-inch primary screen with three adjustable positions, for maximum comfort; a large piece of sturdy, utilitarian hardware that manages to feel weightless in your hands; and a simple nine-button control layout, with directional pad or “d-pad,” a sliding disc-shaped joystick, and an additional touchscreen-and-stylus combo that feels strikingly intuitive.
The beauty of its design, however, is that they actually manage to make the 3-D gimmick work.
Without need of specialized glasses or anything else obtrusive, the 3DS and its big brother the XL utilize glassless three-dimensional technology that looks stunning yet natural.
Characters like Mario and environments like the Hyrule Field overworld are rendered in such a way that the added third dimension doesn’t distract from the gaming experience; instead, it’s just a means of giving greater depth and emphasis to key objects within the world of the game.
And aside from great secondary features like a built-in camera, four-gigabyte replaceable SD card, and downloadable apps like Netflix (free) and various classic games from the Nintendo eShop (cheap), the 3DS-specific cartridges are the obvious heart of the device.
My game library is small but somewhat diverse, at this point: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Super Mario 3D Land, and Paper Mario: Sticker Star. I’ve got Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon pre-ordered through my local GameStop, as well.
While Ocarina of Time has proven to be a potent gateway drug back into the Nintendo-verse, as I’d hoped it would, games like Fire Emblem: Awakening and Super Mario 3D Land showcase the system’s true gameplay potential. The marriage of simple, classic game mechanics like turn-based strategic combat modes and stellar, 3-D presentation highlights the untapped power of dedicated handheld consoles—despite the recent, gradual takeover of iOS and Android apps in the mobile gaming arena.