The 3DS released in North America just yesterday and reactions have certainly been mixed. Most of us seem to love the system as a concept, and revel in the potential it holds, while remaining unsatisfied with the current launch lineup and a number of questionable design choices.
It's clear that the 3DS has room to improve, and can improve, so with that in mind we took a look at the realistic short-term things it could do in order to provide a better experience.
Bear it in mind when we say realistic and short-term -- ideally this is stuff that software updates or business decisions could rectify. We're not talking about brand new hardware iterations (so no second analog nubs) or things that are never going to change (so we can't abolish friend codes).
Read on for a list of reasonable, achievable goals that we feel the 3DS should meet as soon as possible.
1. Overhaul of the Friends System
Yesterday I Tweeted my 3DS Friend Code and pledged to add anybody who shared theirs. Within an afternoon, I added over sixty friends (I've now maxed out at 100). While it's cool to see when Dale North is playing with his virtual Corgi, there's nothing else to do. You can't message friends, you can't even get access to their Miis without using a totally separate system (more on that later). Once you waste your time inputting Friend Codes, you have very little to show for it.
Not to mention, navigation is awful. You can't sort your friends by preference or online status. There's no "back" button, so if you've added your 60th friend, you have to manually scroll through the other 59 of them in order to get to the front page and add another. As it stands, the Friends List is a clunky, useless mess. This type of thing is online gaming 101, and really shouldn't feel as archaic and limited as this.
Also -- come on, can we have some leaderboards and social connectivity? Just a bit? It's really not hard to do in the year 2011.
2. Less reliance on StreetPass
Right now, StreetPass is the most efficient way to collect Miis and access special features on various games. Unfortunately, this reliance on StreetPass alienates a vast sector of the market. I live in Mississippi, which not only won't sell as many 3DS units, but is also largely anti-pedestrian. You need a car to travel anywhere in this town, with a lack of public transport and sidewalks only featuring in the barren suburban streets or the heart of Jackson, where you'll get mugged before you find a StreetPass user.
My situation will likely ring true even for more pedestrianized areas. Unless you live in a huge city such as New York, London or Tokyo, your opportunities to use StreetPass are considerably limited. This locks one out of several Mii-based features built into the 3DS and renders the StreetPass functionality of game cartridges all but useless.
As usual, this comes down to Nintendo bucking up its ideas as far as the Internet goes. More opportunities to collect Miis online, without using those annoying QR codes, would be great. StreetPass is awesome as a concept, but heavy use of it will cut off millions of people.
3. Reasonable (and timely) eShopping
The very fact that Nintendo launched the 3DS without having its virtual marketplace online is ridiculous, yet so very fitting for a company that doesn't seem to understand how the Internet works. I'm fairly certain that most of my time will be spent playing Game Boy and Game Gear titles on the 3DS, and I'm fairly excited to see a Nintendo handheld with a robust digital content plan.
Of course, that's if Nintendo ends up using a robust digital content plan. I'm not filled with confidence when I find out that the eShop is not available at launch.
Reasonably priced portable games, with a spotlight on independent titles and, most importantly, timely releases for ALL territories, will make the eShop an awesome feature. I don't want to wait to download a game that was available to Japan six months ago, and I don't want to pay ten bucks per Game Boy title.
Fingers crossed that the eShop delivers more than Animal Crossing branded calculators.
4. Support for medium-to-small Western developers
This is a really big one for many people. Nintendo is famous for not giving a crap about companies that aren't called Nintendo, and this really should stop. The 3DS is a great place for smaller developers to showcase their talents, especially digitally. If Nintendo does it right, the eShop could provide just as big a spotlight for developers as iOS' App Store. The system is already in millions of hands worldwide, now we just need to make it easy for developers to put their content up.
Nintendo has recently stated that it supports the indie spirit -- it needs to back up that claim with action. I see so much potential for the 3DS' digital output, but that potential rests on the shoulders of a company that remains notorious for not living up to such expectations. Let smaller developers put decent content up through 3DSWare and give them a bit of publicity.
5. More AR gaming
If one thing really stands out for its potential brilliance, Augmented Reality gaming is surely it. The 3DS comes with a selection of "AR Cards" that work with the built-in camera to make things appear as if they're in your house. More than just a gimmick, the AR gaming is already providing some fascinating fun, allowing players to physically strafe enemies and shoot them in the back, or move the 3DS around to avoid incoming fire.
As is often the case, however, the current AR offering is a half-assed affair. The 3DS comes with a variety of character cards, allowing you to bring such popular Nintendo icons as Mario, Kirby and Link to life ... except they don't come to life. They just stand there, and you can take photos of them in different poses. Had Nintendo actually bothered to make these characters interactive, almost like virtual mascots that can be played with, it would have been utterly fantastic. I can imagine Nintendo making a fortune in selling booster packs of these cards with brand new Nintendo characters, all of which can be played with like a portable EyePet. The potential is magnificent.
There's nothing stopping Nintendo from releasing new cards that can do this, and I hope it does so. I'd actually buy cards that let me interact with a "living" Kirby or Link as opposed to a virtual statue. I hope that's the direction Nintendo takes, because the current AR character cards are lazy and boring.
6. A useful game suspension feature
Right now, it's borderline useless to suspend a game in progress to do other things with your 3DS, mostly because anything you'd want to do requires the suspended game to close. If you need to mess with your system settings, view your activity log, or access any other type of software, you cannot proceed without terminating your suspended game. All you can do so far is check your Friends and Notifications, both of which are pointless in their own right.
If your turn your system off, the suspended game is also terminated, meaning you can't exit a game during a plane ride, for instance, and pick it up instantly later. So far, the only thing it achieves can also be achieved by physically closing the 3DS -- keeping a game in sleep mode for later play.
Returning to the Home Screen automatically suspends any running software, and thus you need to hit a notification whenever you want to play something else. What this means, is that game suspension's only real use is in annoying you with a mandatory, unnecessary step between switching from one bit of software to another. What is the point?
At least saving a suspended game while powering down the 3DS would give it one practical, applicable use.
7. A game about those badass 3DS Sound parakeets
Okay, this is not exactly an exciting improvement for the system, but I can't help adoring those little parakeets in the 3DS Sound program. They happily chirp away while helping you record your own Starscream impressions, and they never judge your singing ability. I've loved these little fellas since they appeared on the DSi, and I still love them today.
If Nintendo were to release an exciting new game all about them, or at least released Nintendogs + Cats + Sound Parakeets, I'd be a very happy man.
8. Full account integration
This, right here, is the big one, and something that affects several previous points. One of the 3DS' biggest issues right now is how gated all of its features are. For example, adding a friend does not grant you access to their Mii. Instead, you need a separate Mii code to access it. Friend Codes and QR Codes for Miis require users to exit the 3DS experience and contact other 3DS uses via an exterior means, and that's simply unacceptable. Why isn't everything integrated and acting in conjunction with another? Xbox Live, cell phones, all manner of online social platforms have set a very basic standard, one the 3DS simply isn't reaching right now.
The 3DS meets us halfway by allowing content transfers between 3DS units, which improves on the DSi, but it's just not enough. Users lack any semblance of online identity with the system, and with every feature being so insular, you get no sense of cohesion. A unified user experience is something that made Xbox Live a huge success, so much so that even the iPhone has been catching up to it with features like the Game Center. Gamers generally like to feel that everything they do on a system is part of an overall, interlinked entity. The 3DS currently fails at this.
These are the ways in which we believe the 3DS could improve -- and quite easily, too. While this article comes across as negative, it's worth stressing just how much we like the system at Destructoid. It's a neat bit of technology that's fun to mess around with and is destined to get a great library of games, as handheld Nintendo games typically do. Things like AR gaming and eShopping are exciting concepts, and I personally salivate at the thought of this system's future accomplishments.
It's just that the system lets itself down with some truly half-baked design. The 3DS feels like it was dragged into the 21st Century, under duress, and it's not happy to be here. It'll do the bare minimum required to be considered modern, but it won't go all the way. All of our suggestions for improvements could be done through simply software updates and decent decision making, though, and if done so, we could have a real contender on our hands.
One can only hope Nintendo does the right thing.