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March 30, 2010

Struggling to Define "Gimmick" in a 3DS World

We gamers are a sensitive type. Deep down inside, we all love the gimmicky products that are ever present in our industry of choice, but we need to be the first to call out bullshit marketing ploys when we get the faintest whiff. But it's a very hard line to walk, because in the American capitalist society, even genuine attempts at pushing an industry forward are also thinly veiled attempts at becoming the "next big thing" in video games.

After I started playing my DS, I was eager to pick up some games that made use of all of it's features. Unfortunately I picked up Yoshi Touch & Go, which simply wet my appetite for the future of touchscreens and dual screens and microphones. My skeptical mind was convinced that this game showed what could really become of the future of handheld gaming, and I was excited.

It has been five years now since I was overwhelmed with the possibilities of the DS. Where do I stand? Well, I'm playing through Final Fantasy 4 at the moment, and I hope to pick up Chrono Trigger after that. In case you aren't aware, the use of any DS-specific functionalities in those two games is minimal at best. Now, I'm not saying that that proves the DS was a gimmick, it just leaves me confused.

I don't know if any of the DS features helped push the industry further into the future, because at the end of the day I am seeking out games that don't take full advantage of those features. Sure, there were great games like Elite Beat Agents, but that's because Nintendo's innovations -- gimmick or not -- are the most well supported innovations/gimmicks in video game history.

Of course there will be developers that experiment and get creative with them, because they aren't risking that much to do so. In the past, you had to hope that enough people not only owned the needed peripheral, but also bought your game to make it profitable. With the Wii, DS, and now 3DS, they can be assured that everyone has the ability to play their experiments, but that doesn't mean their experiments will become the future of gaming.

That leaves me with the sad realization that no matter how excited I am for more information on the 3DS, I will most likely just be saddened and frustrated a few years after I get my hands on it. I recently wrote an article about how many games are on the Wii now that should appeal to hardcore gamers, and many of them are using the Wii controls in lots of unique ways -- Yet, nobody is playing them. It could be because of numerous reasons, but I'm worried it's because of gamers inability to deviate from tradition for too long.

The 3DS would be especially susceptible to this, as it would be easy for developers to just fall back on the 3D being pretty to look at and not at all involved in changing the gameplay experience. So after a couple years of nice experiments, when the normal gamer decides they are happy with simply getting ports of their old favorite games and genres now in 3D, developers can stop thinking outside the box and just meet the demand. It isn't the future I want, but it is definitely the easiest to envision.

Imagine puzzle games by Level 5 and 5th Cell that take advantage of the 3D to design their puzzles. I'd love it if instead of just porting all of the Final Fantasys to 3DS, Squenix made a new RPG franchise with a grid-based tactical battle system sort of similar to Grandia, allowing you to strategize around your opponents positions both in the second and third dimensions. How about a rhythym game like Elite Beat Agents, only the note path is coming right at you, and you've got to turn the screen to see around objects for the next note to hit? Hell, I'd even like to see Personal Trainer: Automotive, where I can turn and look around the parts of a car in-game and be taught how to do basic things that everyone should know like changing your own oil and brakes.

These are the things I want to see on my 3DS, and these are the things I hope define the entirety of the 3DS line-up. Sure, it might be cool to replay Final Fantasy 4 again in 3D, but it certainly won't be that interesting or inspiring. So what do you think? Will the 3DS help push the industry forward, or eventually just fall back on basic gameplay design? If it is the latter, does that make it a gimmick, or just a failed attempt at innovation?


MTWhitney said...

My only problem with Nintendo is that lately, when it comes to handhelds, they have been attempting to churn out new innovations seemingly faster than developers can keep up with it. No one except for Nintendo has used the DSi's capabilities correctly (or at all) yet and now they've already been given kits for the 3DS - which, thank goodness, is just a working title and won't be the actual name -.

It just makes me wonder if third party developers will ever be able to catch up and release quality titles that take full advantage of it.

Lance Darnell said...

I don't understand the 3DS. Are the graphics going to be 3D, or is it going to be like watching a 3D movie where things jump out at you? If Nintendo can think of a way for the stylus to be able to affect things seen in 3D, that would be really cool.

But when you look at the DS and then the Wii, you can almost see how Nintendo took a shot with touch screen, and then went even further with the Wii. So my thought is, if the 3DS succeeds, will the next Wii be a fully 3D interactive experience?

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