Nintendo seems to have halted production on all variations of the Nintendo 3DS, marking the first time since 2004 that Nintendo is not producing any dual-screen portable systems.
Nintendo’s Japanese website now lists all the recent hardware variations in the Nintendo 3DS line (the Nintendo 2DS, New Nintendo 2DS LL, and New Nintendo 3DS LL) as “Out of Production.” Nintendo’s US site, meanwhile, seems to have been scrubbed of all mentions of the 3DS: the system’s official landing page now just redirects to Nintendo’s general home page, while Google’s cache and The Internet Archive showed an active promotional page just days ago.
Back in 2017, Nintendo said explicitly that the newly launched Nintendo Switch wouldn’t replace the 3DS. Since then, the company has repeatedly reaffirmed that continued support, saying as recently as last November that the 3DS would be supported into 2020.
But despite a brief sales spike in 2018, by early 2019 Nintendo was acknowledging that 3DS sales were falling “faster than anticipated.” With new 3DS software slowing to a trickle as developers moved to the Switch, last year’s launch of the $ 200 Switch Lite probably put the final nail in the 3DS coffin (and helped make the earlier portable’s 800×240 resolution look downright antiquated).
A modest success
The 3DS launched in early 2011 counting on a novel (and somewhat gimmicky) glasses-free stereoscopic 3D display to attract new customers. But the system ran into lower-than-expected sales almost immediately, thanks in large part to its $ 250 price ($ 290 in 2020 dollars). The original Nintendo DS, by contrast, launched at $ 150 in 2004 ($ 208 in 2020 dollars).
Nintendo responded to the lackluster launch with a significant price drop to $ 170 and a selection of 20 free downloadable classics for early adopters. That quick move helped the 3DS survive as a modest market success, thanks in part to even cheaper hardware options that ditched the stereoscopic 3D screens.
The 3DS line went on to ship over 75 million units in a span of nearly 10 years. The original DS, by contrast, shipped over 154 million units between 2004 and 2013, while the Switch has already achieved 61 million shipments in just 3.5 years.
An uncertain portable gaming future
For now, the Switch Lite keeps Nintendo involved in the production of dedicated portable gaming hardware, a space it has dominated in an unbroken line since the 1989 launch of the original Game Boy. Outside of Nintendo, though, portable gaming continues to be dominated by the tiny computers practically everyone carries around in their pockets.
Sony officially gave up on the PlayStation Vita in 2019 and seems focused on smartphone-based cloud streaming for its portable play options going forward. Microsoft is similarly focused on xCloud streaming on smartphones rather than any sort of dedicated portable version of the Xbox (despite many years of rumors to the contrary).
Major console makers aside, dedicated portable gaming is now mostly focused on nostalgia: handheld devices like the Evercade and upcoming Analogue Pocket representing the low and high ends of cartridge-based retro players, respectively. Then there are devices like the GPD XD Plus, which add physical buttons and tiny analog sticks to an Android tablet that you can load up with emulators and (legally acquired) ROMs to your heart’s content.
Aside from that, quirky efforts like the monochrome, crank-controlled Playdate somewhat capture the spirit of portable gaming experimentation that led to systems like the Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS in the first place. As Nintendo marks the end of the dual-screen gaming era, we hope more experimental hardware-makers will take up that mantle and play around with unique portable form factors that expand handheld gaming beyond the touchscreen on your smartphone.