My condolences to the early adopters who bought a 3DS. We are going to see Nintendo's greatest decline in the handheld market directly due to the 3DS, and I'm here to lament and complain and laugh.
Am I jumping the gun and drawing conclusions waaaay to early? After all, the 3DS "just came out". Actually, I think the writing is on the wall and the writing has been on the wall since before 3DS even launched. Let's count the ways the 3DS just can't seem to catch a break.
#5 - Brand Confusion. Anyone here who works at a retail store already knows this one, but the public's confusion about the 3DS's name isn't quite so apparent if all you do is read online gaming journalists. But the brand confusion with the 3DS is very, very real. Is it a DS with 3d? Is it a new system? The game cases look almost identical to regular DS cases, and the 3DS itself (at first glance) simply looks like a DS with an analog stick. The brand confusion hurts the 3DS's case quite a bit.
#4 - No reason to upgrade. When you take a 20+ million seller game and put it on your new handheld and it sells like crap, what does that mean? It means that people don't see the reason to upgrade. I'm talking about Nintendogs and the DS crowd, of course. There's no denying that the DS crowd is a diverse bunch, but apparently they're not diverse enough to see the need to jump into the 3DS swimming pool yet. And I don't blame them. The DS is a hard act to follow. It has a massive library compared to the 3DS. While I'm not a Nintendogs fan...C'MON! It's Nintendogs. You would think that it was the perfect launch title, yet it flopped. That's because "teh casualz" are smart enough to know a cash-in when they see it.
#3 - What's the point of 3D? Even before the system came out, there were warnings that the 3D would affect children's eyes. "You can turn it off," it was screamed at anyone who said the 3D gave them a headache. Okay, Nintendo, so you're alienating one of your biggest audiences (kids), and you're telling people that the main feature that justifies the 3DS's $250 cost can simply be "turned off" if you don't like it? Riiiight, good job building confidence in your system. Beyond these issues, what really IS the point of 3D? So far, it has not added any gameplay enhancements. Sure, when the DS was announced people asked "what's the point of the dual screens?", but at least there were tangible game applications. What does 3D do that can't be done in the traditional sense? Right now, Nintendo is content to simply goof off, create the exact same games they've been making, and then add in 3D to say "see? It's a totally new game!"
#2 - the Games! I wouldn't say that the internet is exactly ablaze with the news that MegaMan Legends 3 was cancelled, but the fans who were excited for that game are certainly angry, especially after Capcom's recent Resident Evil 3DS "one save" nonsense. But other developers like SEGA and Ubisoft are also putting a hold on some of their 3DS games. Even the games coming from Nintendo are a bit...disturbing. Luigi's Mansion 2? Okaaaaay, what about a sidescrolling Metroid, a new F-Zero, or even a Pokemon Snap clone (okay, kidding on the last one)? Kid Icarus...am I the only one who remembers that this game was once a PLATFORMER? The 3DS Kid Icarus is just...some bizarre shoot-em-up/action game that does not resemble Kid Icarus in any way. What about the new Mario game? ANOTHER 3D Mario in less than 5 years? Okay, I like 'em, but if the sales of the two New Super Mario Bros games tells us anything, Nintendo has a lot of fans wanting sidescrolling Mario, not 3D Mario. There are remakes up the wazoo, but no one seems to care. Why should we be excited to pay full-price for an easy-to-acquire console game (Ocarina, Starfox, Metal Gear, SF4) just because it's in 3D? Judging by the sales, a lot of other people have been asking the same question. Looking forward to upcoming games isn't going to cut it when there aren't any worthwhile games on the system right now. "But what about MARIO KART?" you might say. What about it? The game looks like it's becoming even more eccentric and bizarre. Hanggliders? Underwater tracks? Does any of this stuff make Mario Kart better, or is it just flash? More specifically, will 3D make Mario Kart any better? No, not really. And more importantly, will Mario Kart be a system seller? There's no doubt that Mario Kart sells a lot, but Mario Kart is an assumed entry on any Nintendo console. It's not going to set the sales charts on fire, you can mark my words. While the lack of games (and lack of sales) is a big problem, it is not the biggest problem...
#1 - A Bad Direction. Some people might rememeber that - early on - the DS was being outsold by the PSP. The DS's early direction was much like the 3DS's direction. It focused on 3D games (Mario 64, Metroid Hunters). However, it wasn't until Nintendo started branching out and making more old-school and unique games that the DS took off. Initially, the DS was considered a portable N64. But when the sales took off, it became a portable SNES. If the DS had focused on traditional 3D games, it would never have taken off. But wait, apparently Nintendo thinks that the 3DS can focus on traditional 3D games and that's okay? Hah! The 3DS is following the Gamecube/N64's direction, and it doesn't look good. How can I say such a thing? JUST LOOK AT THE GAMES! Where are the unique games that made the DS such a hit? Where are the RPGs? Where are the touch-based adventure games? WHERE IS SIDESCROLLING MARIO? The 3DS is going in a bad direction, and by "bad" I mean "the same direction that caused the Gamecube to tank". The problem is that Nintendo won't simply change directions and make the 3DS like the DS. The entire identity of the 3DS is 3D. Old-school, 2D-style games have no place on the 3DS. They don't fit the direction. That's why we don't see any of those games in development. 3DS is caught in an odd place. It isn't powerful enough to enjoy the "sloppy seconds" ports that the PS Vita will get, but it's powerful enough to require better graphics (and bigger, more expensive dev team). Say bye-bye to niche games similar to Phoenix Wright, Elite Beat Agents, Izuna, and 90% of the RPGs on DS.
The bottom line is this: pay very close attention to the 3DS. You may be witnessing something unprecedented. Nintendo, the heralds and champions of handheld gaming, might lose their grip on the handheld market. No, it won't be the iPhone that does them in. No, it won't be the Vita. The thing that slays Nintendo's unbeatable handheld line will be Nintendo itself, because Nintendo refuses to respond to what the market wants.