Fresh off a new sales report that shows the Switch selling faster than an F-Zero hovercar, Nintendo says it has no plans to let the success of its play-anywhere console eat into its strategy for the 3DS — a true portable that carries the on-the-go DNA of its legendary GameBoy predecessor.
The 3DS, which has relied on an innovative split-screen setup and a steady diet of quick-turnaround titles that keep it perennially near the top of the sales charts in its native Japan, has been on the market, in one form or another, for seven years now. But, says Nintendo, the 3DS is both profitable enough, and distinct enough from the hybrid Switch, to justify its continued support.
In a new earnings summary this week, the Big N said the 3DS is a niche unto itself; one that has the power to keep drawing new and casual gamers into the rich Nintendo ecosystem populated by Mario, Link, and a stable full of first-party mascots.
“Nintendo 3DS is set apart from Nintendo Switch by its characteristics as a handheld game system that is lightweight, price-friendly, and highly portable,” the company explained. “Affordability is the strong point that positions Nintendo 3DS in a niche clearly separate from Nintendo Switch. In the grand scheme of things, Nintendo 3DS has a prominent position as the product that can be served as the first contact between Nintendo and many of its consumers, and for this reason we will keep the business going.”
While Nintendo didn’t mention its competitors in the report, the decision to double down on its commitment to the 3DS comes just in the wake of one of the gaming industry’s biggest what-if stories: the demise of Sony’s PS Vita handheld. In contrast with Nintendo’s lower-cost, developer-friendly approach to portable gaming, Sony’s sleek and powerful machine was a technical marvel, but it also landed in stores at a much higher price. And the games themselves, while approaching PlayStation 3 levels of graphical and processing power, took developers a whole lot longer to make.
When Sony ends production of the Vita next year, it won’t be followed by a replacement, which leaves the 3DS pretty much on an island (or maybe, rather, a mountain of gold) in the world of dedicated portable gaming. As of mid-2018, the 3DS reportedly had lifetime sales of more than 70 million units, compared with the Vita’s 16 million. Though, of course, mobile phones have also sliced off a significant portion of that pie, as well.
Judging from Nintendo’s strong roster of upcoming 3DS games, that lifetime is set to extend well into the foreseeable future. A remake of Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is coming in January, and an all-new installment in the Etrian Odyssey RPG franchise in February, followed by major releases like Shovel Knight: King of Cards and Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn later in 2019.