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A Nintendo 3DS Mea Culpa

With the recent news that the Nintendo 3DS was the best-selling system (according to NPD) for the year, I'm here to admit I was wrong about it – I didn't think it would take off for various reasons. It appears I was looking at the wrong variables, once again proving that handhelds have always been a reliable refuge for the company.

Two factors formed my thinking when the 3DS came out and subsequently floundered during its first year back in 2011: 3D as a feature, and the price. Naturally you're going to have a little sticker shock when you see a handheld debut at $249, but even the relatively quick price drop down to $169 (within five months) didn't dampen my negativity; it only fed it. To me, the price drop wasn't the beginning of a new lease of life for the 3DS, but smelled more like blood in the water. At the end of last year, all versions of the 3DS (including the 3DS XL) sold almost 10.5 million units in North America alone.

I've never been high on 3D as a selling point for anything, and given the death of 3D TVs and gamers' general lack of zeal for the feature, it looks like I'm not alone. However, perhaps I misjudged the extent to which 3D actually mattered to the system. Sure, it was the feature that Nintendo led off with, but perhaps I was quick to castigate the system because of it. What's at the heart of the 3DS is what's at the core of the rest of Nintendo's handheld systems – great games and an understanding of its audience. The 3DS as a successful system has nothing to do with 3D. Ironically, I had at least an inkling of this when I first had hands-on with the unit at the 2010 E3, but somewhere that got lost in the shuffle. I voted for it before I voted against it.

The 3DS' dual screens, of course, had already been done by Nintendo with the release of the original DS back in 2004, and perhaps that time interval between the two – almost seven years – and gamers' hunger for a new Nintendo handheld in general accounts more for the 3DS' current success than 3D itself. Even the interval between the DS Lite and 3DS is almost five years.

Does this change of thinking mean anything for my current negative prognosis of the Wii U? I don't think so (check back in a few years, I guess!). Different systems with different circumstances. The fact that the 3DS is a handheld makes its target audience and price naturally different. Also, gamers' expectations of handhelds vs. home consoles from Nintendo are not the same (such as which kinds of games should come out).

In fact, a big part of the Wii U's problem is its fundamental identity crisis. The Wii was more directed at the casual audience (and very successfully so) and yet the Wii U can't hang with even the PS3 or Xbox 360 when it comes to online, graphics, or media features – to say nothing of the new systems. Handhelds like the 3DS, however, are a simple, easy-to-understand proposition even when filled with some of the features that the 3DS has.

Nintendo marches to the beat of its own drummer, and it isn't an easy company to handicap. I was wrong about the 3DS, and time will tell about the Wii U. In the meantime, Nintendo will continue to surprise us in both good and bad ways.

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