When Metroid Samus Returns and Pokemon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon got announced back in spring there was a lot of excitement from the fans. But, amongst all the hype there was one prevailing question I saw from many fans: ‘Why is this game on the Nintendo 3DS? The system is dead now that the Switch is out.’ It is easy to see why people might think this. After all the Nintendo 3DS is a Nintendo handheld and so is (arguably) the Nintendo Switch. Despite Nintendo marketing their new system as either a console or a third pillar, to many fans it is viewed as the successor to both the Wii U and 3DS. As soon as the Switch was released the Wii U died but the 3DS has continued on. Some fans don’t understand why Nintendo would do this, so I decided to shed some light on the situation. Let’s take a look at all the games Nintendo has released for Nintendo 3DS, in all-major territories, post-Switch launch.
So this is what we currently have after the Switch and there may very well be more to come. The focus here is on Nintendo published first-party titles as you would assume that most of their teams have Switch dev-kits and the focus moved to that. To an extent this is true. A lot of the 3DS games on this list are made by third party studios (Namco Bandai, Mercury Steam, Tecmo Koei) but there are studios closely associated with Nintendo like HAL Laboratory and Game Freak that seem to still be focused on the 3DS (although these two in particular have confirmed Switch titles are also in the works).
So the current hypothesis is that companies outside of Nintendo’s internal offices have moved on and it is only the outside studios that are still working on games. Let’s see if this theory holds up as we look to the past and see how previous consoles handled this, starting with Nintendo’s first system.
The jump from the NES to SNES was a slow one for Nintendo. In my article about Nintendo’s launch titles I revealed that the SNES had a pretty dire launch with only four games and the reason for that might be here. The SNES launched in late 1990 but in its first year Nintendo still supported the Famicom in Japan with many Mario games (with a focus on Yoshi) as well as a new Fire Emblem and some new IP. This support is shared world-wide, although the lack of the Famicom Disk System in the West means that only the Mario games saw a release there. Europe remained behind every other country but overall support was consistent across the globe until 1994.
So this goes against the hypothesis as many of these games were made internally, however a reason for this may lay with it being Nintendo’s first console switch and the company testing the market and figuring out what to do. This possibility makes it a bit of an erroneous result. The next system jump creates a more clearer picture.
With this system gap we see something very different. The worldwide consistency is gone, with Japan continuing support for four years after the Nintendo 64 was released and the US only doing one year with one game from a major franchise. In Europe there was no support once the N64 dropped (Donkey Kong Country 3 was released before the 64 was in Europe, and they never got Kirby’s Dream Land 3). Some of these did come from Nintendo internally like Marvelous and Shin Onigashima Heishi so it goes against the hypothesis. BUT, there is a big asterisk here. The majority of the games on the Japan side are heavily tied to the Japan exclusive Satellaview. Bass Fishing held contests on Satellaview and the majority of these games were originally Satellaview exclusives, getting a cartridge release due to their popularity.
There are two exceptions to this. Power Sokoban and Fire Emblem Thracia 776. Power Sokoban wasn’t made internally by Nintendo and was originally exclusive to the Nintendo Power cartridge so it is in a similar situation to the Satellaview. Fire Emblem Thracia 776 is entirely different though, starting development when the Nintendo 64 was two years into the market. It is possible this was done due to Intelligent Systems having trouble with the Nintendo 64, something we know because Fire Emblem 64 got cancelled and Paper Mario was the only game they released on the system, right at the end.
So ultimately, most of these games were made for a specific reason meaning it matches my original hypothesis. When the Nintendo 64 launched Nintendo completely stopped making entirely new games for the SNES and only released pre-made stuff. And this was the last time Nintendo supported their consoles after the next one had been released. No Nintendo 64 games came out after the Gamecube and no Wii games came out after the Wii U. Gamecube had Twilight Princess launch after the Wii but this is an exception to the rule as the game was cross-platform with the Wii. Same for Breath of the Wild and the Switch/Wii U.
On the handheld side of things we have a very different situation.
Between the Game Boy and Game Boy Color there was no crossover but they use near-identical hardware so that makes sense. This isn’t the case from Game Boy to Game Boy Advance but, looking at the games released none of the games created here are from Nintendo’s internal teams. Pokemon Crystal and Zelda were both out in Japan already, the Pokemon TCG was made by Hudson Soft, Hamtaro by Alphadream and Mobile Golf was designed to work with a Japan exclusive mobile phone adapter. So here, Hamtaro is really the big anomaly as the other games are all from big series. As it came out the same year as the GBA in Japan it was likely too far in development to change.
It’s a Pokemon festival here in here. While Kirby released in the same year and Fossil Fighters Champions was already out in Japan before the Nintendo 3DS launched none of these Pokemon games were. The Nintendo DS was very successful for the Pokemon series so releasing them here meant there was already a market. It may also be because Game Freak just wasn’t ready for the Nintendo 3DS at this point, it would’ve been their first game in 3D after all.
So both these handheld devices match our hypothesis. Nintendo internally stopped supporting the old system once the new one came out. So does this mean the Nintendo 3DS to Switch support is truly unique or do Nintendo actually consider the Switch as a home console device and not a handheld. After all Nintendo DS support continued after the Wii came out. Well this last point is the most interesting, because look what happens when we see the transition from Game Boy Advance to Nintendo DS.
Now that is a lot of games. Once again, most of these aren’t made by Nintendo’s internal teams but there are a lot made by companies associated with Nintendo. This looks far more like our current situation than any other generational jump, so why are they so similar? Well, if we take a look at how Nintendo refers to both this system jump and the current one we learn something interesting. Nintendo originally referred to the DS not as a GBA replacement but as a ‘third pillar’ and with the Nintendo Switch they did exactly the same thing. It seems that, internally, Nintendo does consider the Switch as not a replacement system but a new system entirely (at least before the Wii U was completely abandoned).
My hypothesis does still hold true but now the context has been altered. For Nintendo, the Switch is not a successor to the Nintendo 3DS, hence why the 3DS is still getting games and will likely continue this until the end of 2018. But, if the Switch is truly a major success then Nintendo might consider dropping the 3DS in 2019 and only focusing on the Switch going forward. If this is something we want then we need to show Nintendo that the Switch is the right direction forward for the company. Otherwise a Nintendo 3DS successor will be on the horizon instead.