The 3DS: When Form Fetters Function

When I bought the original Nintendo DS at launch, I picked up Feel the Magic XY/XX —the first game I played that used a touch screen to directly control gameplay. Dragging the stylus across the screen to guide my black-silhouetted character through a treacherous, spike-filled path was a completely unique experience. Many of the other mini-games don’t measure up, especially the ones where you tap charging bulls and pinching scorpions, but for a launch title, it got me sufficiently excited for future DS games.

Then came Kirby: Canvas Curse, Trauma Center: Under the Knife, WarioWare: Touched!, Elite Beat Agents, and The World Ends With You. These games took further advantage of the bottom screen’s touchpad. Guiding Kirby with rainbow lines was a radical departure gameplay-wise from previous installments in the series that no other platform (at the time) could hope to replicate. When that game released, it single-handedly proved that the touchscreen was not a gimmick, but instead a completely new way to play video games.

Those previously listed games share something else in common: the action is all happening on the bottom screen. Other DS games used the touchscreen as a menu, a way to eliminate cluttered display information that didn’t facilitate the gameplay. The reverse is true for the listed games, and that’s what makes them so memorable. Controlling Link in The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass with only a stylus introduced fans to puzzles that were totally unique to that method of control.

If you look at the current 3DS library, and even upcoming releases, both are completely absent of similar experiences. This is because the two screens on the 3DS are not made equal—why would a game designer make a game for the system that ignored the larger, 3D imbued display to focus on the smaller screen? The original DS didn’t have this problem, so developers could approach it in whatever way they wanted to. Games still use the touchscreen—Kid Icarus: Uprising and Steel Diver are two of the very few examples—but they do so in a way that controls actions on the top screen.

The increased horsepower also contributes to this issue. Previous Nintendo handhelds were home to games that suited portables more than consoles—side-scrolling platformers, bit-sized high score games like WarioWare and Trauma Center, isometric and birds eye view role-playing games, etc. These games are slowly being replaced with games that would play just as well or even better on a console. As I play through Kid Icarus: Uprising, a game I’ve grown to secrete mounds of oozy enthusiasm for, I can’t help but think playing it on the Wii would be more intuitive and enjoyable. That’s a huge reason I haven’t purchased a Playstation Vita (other than me being super broke)—I don’t want to play games on a handheld that almost replicate console experiences. The DS embodied everything I loved about handheld gaming and more. It carved out its own niche and a ton of inventive developers embraced its quirky design to craft totally awesome games.

Even as the 3DS launched and its predecessor was on life support, Kirby: Mass Attack came out—another game that focused its action on the touchscreen. These kinds of imaginative games may have sadly come and gone. It’s unsettling to see the 3DS’ design inhibit game design. Now that I see developers gravitate towards the screen with the most features, I worry that the Wii U will face similar issues.

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2 Comments

  1. Wow! This blog is cool! How can I make it look like this ?

    Reply
  2. Comet Theme. I make all of the header images myself in Photoshop. The things on on the right are called Widgets and they’re east to customize.

    Reply

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