When I left home at the age of 18 handheld games became very important to me. Video games have been part of my leisure time and part of how I’ve managed stress since early childhood; and when I was a student, frequently moving between low-quality accommodation and with very limited income, handheld gaming provided something of a lifeline. I spent a lot of time with the Game Boy Advance, an underrated device that had an amazing lineup of games; and the DS was pretty good too. Although I never really liked it as much as the GBA, the DS benefited from strong support from Nintendo and Japanese developers, as well as backwards compatibility.
Around 2009, I stopped playing handheld games, for two main reasons. The first was that by then I was working full-time and finally had the money, time and space to get a 360. The second was that the proliferation of smartphones and mobile gaming that started around then made me think that dedicated handheld consoles were finished, and that mobile phone gaming experiences were the future. So why bother with a Nintendo handheld?
How wrong I was. My smartphone gaming experiences since then have been risible, mainly consisting of a brief Angry Birds addiction around 2011 and a disappointing Warhammer RPG in 2013. I’ve been put off by the abysmal controls, low production values and terrible performance most mobile games seem to suffer from, as well as the sinister rise of freemium gaming. As a result I haven’t played any handheld games at all for the last couple of years.
So I’m delighted to have recently purchased a New Nintendo 3DS. The main inspiration was the release of a trio of new Fire Emblem games, which brought home the fact I never played the well-received Awakening. I love the Fire Emblem series and, 25 hours into my first Awakening playthrough, it’s thrilling to be able to return to it. The game features mature writing, humour, satisfying gameplay, and great polish and production values that you just don’t get with most mobile games. It’s more expensive, sure, but well worth it, particularly considering the insane replay value the series is known for. I’m absolutely loving it and looking forward to reviewing it and doing a character analysis on this blog.
It’s also been a pleasure to introduce my girlfriend to the Fire Emblem series, and I think she likes Awakening even more than I do. We’ve got a couple of Zelda games lined up, including Majora’s Mask, a birthday present from my brother. The console has an amazing back catalogue. As for the machine itself, it’s very nice. It’s compact, with a satisfying weight, and a pleasing appearance. The front and back panels are prone to blemishing but they can be replaced if we want. The stereoscopic display is an intriguing feature and a lot of fun. Overall that’s the best way to describe it–the 3DS feels like wholesome fun.
It turns out I still have my old DS Lite–untouched since about 2010–and my old copy of the original Fire Emblem on GBA; the only GBA game I still have. As well as firing that up for another playthrough we plan to get Chrono Trigger to play on the old DS. Chrono Trigger was never released in PAL territories when it came out for the SNES, and though I played Secret of Mana in the late ’90s, CT is a big gap in my gaming library. I’m very excited about playing it, and the DS version is supposed to be the best adaptation around. We’re also going to track down some old Advance Wars games as it doesn’t look like there will be a new one for the 3DS any time soon.
I realize now that in assuming dedicated gaming handhelds were finished, I fell victim to the kind of techno-faddishness I regularly decry when it’s applied to music or books. It’s a very good thing that Nintendo have continued to support high-quality handheld game experiences. I should have learned by now not to make sweeping assumptions about future technology markets, so I will just say that I hope Nintendo continue to do so, and handheld games like Fire Emblem continue to thrive; and that the growth of the toxic free-to-play industry, centered around exploiting gambling and addiction, doesn’t put paid to it all.