Being a relatively recent adopter of the 3DS (about a month now), I have become well acquainted with the system’s strengths and weaknesses. It has great graphical capabilities, fits pleasingly in the hands, has immense potential for future enjoyment (I’ve said as much in our podcasts) and genuinely feels like a “next-gen handheld”. On the other hand, it runs out of power at a moments notice, is currently bereft of many “Triple-A” games (although that is changing rapidly) and has finicky 3D that, although awesome when it works, will boil your viscous fluid inside your eyeballs if you hold it wrong.
But as any gamer will tell you, all games begin and end with their controls. A game can have kickass, well, EVERYTHING, but will be utterly sunk if it controls horribly. It doesn’t even have to control terribly, to be honest. If there is a consistent issue where you actually have to take time to finagle around with the controls so that you can do what you want, then there is an issue.
Handhelds are becoming closer to console experiences every generation. Actually, with the 3DS and Vita, one could argue that, content and production wise, they are already there. But there has always been an issue with control on handhelds, as the decrease in button real estate means having to trim down the number of them to accommodate the portablility of the device. When games were simple, mostly 2D sidescrollers and puzzlers, this wasn’t an issue. But consider this: the original Gameboy Pocket had five buttons on it: direction pad, “A”, “B”, “start” and “select”. The DS? It has nine: all the aforementioned ones, plus two shoulder buttons and two additional face buttons.
And now the 3DS has added a control stick (in this case, a “Circle Pad”, but it serves the same purpose), just like the PSP before it (there called the “Analogue Nub). We seem to forget, since it has become so natural to us, just how integral the control stick has become to the frequently intricate and precise controls that games require. And anyone who asks why the system needs a second stick has obviously never played a modern platformer or action RPG. Go ahead, play a game without a second stick for item management, or sweet Jesus help us, camera control.
It’s obvious from everything we’ve seen so far that Nintendo plans to have some very complex experiences on it’s new handheld. And there is no doubt that an additional stick, and the increase in controller fidelity, would help help that cause. So, thoughts that this should have been there from the beginning notwithstanding, I support this endeavor, and will definitely watch it’s use with great interest.