Nintendo appears to have discontinued production of all variants of the Nintendo 3DS, marking the first time since 2004 that Nintendo has not produced dual-screen portable systems.
Nintendo’s Japanese website now lists all recent hardware variants 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, appears to have been scrubbed of all mentions of the 3DS: the system’s official landing page now simply redirects to Nintendo’s general home page, while Google’s cache and internet archive showed an active promotion page a few days ago.
In 2017, Nintendo explicitly said that the newly launched Nintendo Switch would not replace the 3DS. Since then, the company has repeatedly affirmed that continued support, saying until November of last year that the 3DS would be supported until 2020.
But despite a brief sales spike in 2018, Nintendo acknowledged in early 2019 that 3DS sales were falling “faster than expected.” With new 3DS software slowly starting to trickle in as developers moved to the Switch, the launch of the $200 Switch Lite last year likely put the final nail in the 3DS’s coffin (and helped the earlier 800×240 portable resolution make it look even better). look downright old-fashioned).
A modest success
Launched in early 2011, the 3DS relied on a new (and somewhat gimmicky) glasses-less stereoscopic 3D display to attract new customers. But the system ran into lower-than-expected sales almost immediately, thanks in large part to its price of $250 ($290 in 2020 dollars). The original Nintendo DS, on the other hand, launched in 2004 for $150 ($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 swift move helped the 3DS survive as a modest market success, thanks in part to even cheaper hardware options that ditched the stereoscopic 3D displays.
The 3DS line shipped more than 75 million units in a span of nearly 10 years. The original DS, on the other hand, shipped more than 154 million units between 2004 and 2013, while the Switch has already racked up 61 million shipments in just 3.5 years.
An uncertain future for portable games
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 launch of the original Game Boy in 1989. Outside of Nintendo, however, portable gaming is still dominated by the small computers that just about everyone has in their pocket.
Sony officially gave up the PlayStation Vita in 2019 and looks set to focus on smartphone-based cloud streaming for its portable play options going forward. Microsoft is similarly focused on xCloud streaming on smartphones rather than a dedicated portable version of the Xbox (despite many years of rumors to the contrary).
Aside from major console makers, dedicated portable gaming is now mostly geared towards nostalgia: handheld devices like the Evercade and the upcoming Analogue Pocket that represent the low and high sides 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 to your heart’s content with emulators and (legally acquired) ROMs.
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 era of dual screen gaming, we hope more experimental hardware makers will take on that mantle and play with unique portable form factors that extend handheld gaming beyond the touchscreen on your smartphone.