The End of the 3DS eShop – What Makes a Console ”Retro”?

    Does the 3DS now count as a retro console?

    I often call myself a big fan of retro gaming, but what exactly does “retro gaming” refer to? People will often commonly agree that systems such as the SNES and Genesis are retro consoles. What about newer consoles such as the Nintendo 3DS? With the upcoming closure of the 3DS eShop in just over a month, this raises the question. Of course, players will still be able to re-download titles that have already been purchased, but shopping functions will no longer be accessible. However, this essentially marks the end for the 3DS

    So, does the end of the 3DS eShop make the handheld a retro console? The answer to this question may not be so simple. At what point does a console become “retro”?

    The Passage of Time

    Xbox 360

    One of the most obvious ways to determine whether a console is retro is by its age. The problem is that video games are relatively young compared to other mediums. The game Pong celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. While this may be very old for the medium of video games and is far older than me, a large number of people living today can still remember when Pong was introduced. I can guarantee you that far less remember the release of Citizen Kane, one of the most historically significant films ever made.

    Since video games are a fairly young medium, it can be more difficult to determine exactly what classifies as “retro”. I think we can all agree that a console from 30 years ago is retro. How about a console from around 20 years ago? This is where you start making some people feel really old. However, it still isn’t too controversial to label a sixth-generation console retro. There’s going to be a lot more disagreement when it comes to machines from the seventh generation.

    Think about the Xbox 360 for a minute. Would you believe me if I told you that it’s getting fairly close to 20 years of age? As you may know, several titles on the 360 marketplace have been delisted. While it isn’t getting any new games, the console is still “alive”, but its days are numbered. Playing 360 titles through the means of emulation has become increasingly popular with the development of Xenia. If the Xbox 360 isn’t considered a retro console now, it will be soon.

    Technological Advancements

    A Super Nintendo Entertainment System

    If the Xbox 360 is a retro console, why doesn’t it feel that way? Keep in mind that the 360 is only 15 years younger than the SNES. There’s more time between now and the release of the Xbox 360 than there is between the release of the 360 and the SNES. However, when the 360 came out, the SNES was undeniably retro. While home to many classic titles still worth playing, the system already felt like something from a bygone era. On the other hand, the 360 still feels like a very recent memory to several people.

    I believe we are seeing diminishing returns in terms of technological advancement when it comes to video games. There are still many innovations to be made of course, but they are becoming less noticeable. The seventh generation of consoles marked the beginning of this trend in many ways. While games from this era may contain less graphical detail and less complex lighting, several modern trends started here.

    Online gaming really took off with the Xbox 360 and PS3. Sure, online functionalities existed prior to the seventh generation, but this is where it became mainstream. For better or worse, many games implemented downloadable content and it’s still here to stay. In addition, open-world games became more plentiful as better hardware allowed for bigger worlds. With the increasingly demanding resolution targets that home consoles aim for, it’s no surprise that games from 15 years ago sometimes don’t feel all too different from many modern games.

    Diminishing Returns in Handheld Technology

    Handhelds have come a long way. While the Switch’s hardware is very much showing its age at this point, the experiences on it are vastly different from what you could play on a 3DS. More recently, the Steam Deck is capable of playing many new games with acceptable performance. It’s safe to say that handhelds are seeing diminishing returns in technological advancements later than home consoles.

    If a 3DS feels more outdated to you than an Xbox 360, there’s a reason for that. The hardware limitations of the 3DS meant that games had to be developed with the handheld in mind. You could get away with porting older games, but modern titles stood little chance of running on the hardware. The 3DS marked the end of an era where handheld “ports” of games would essentially be completely separate games. With the arrival of the Switch, that all changed.

    With the Switch currently being the most popular handheld on the market by far, it’s clear that a lot has changed. Handhelds are now capable of delivering console-quality games on the go. Even if the Switch is only capable of running games not much more advanced than what you would see on an Xbox 360, a lot of the modern console experience remains. Moreover, it’s even marketed as a hybrid home console/handheld. The hardware may be showing its age now, but the concept has been a great success. 

    Does the End of 3DS eShop Services Make the Handheld “Retro”?

    Nintendo eShop logo

    These days, a digital storefront for a console is basically a necessity. You could technically make a new console without one, but it would likely be a big mistake. The 3DS eShop has played an important role in the handheld’s life cycle. As long as you had the storage for it, the 3DS eShop provided a convenient method of purchasing titles. Not every game was available to download, but the shop was home to several unique titles

    Virtual Console games and other titles exclusive to the eShop will become impossible to purchase. Unless you somehow buy all of these before March 27, the system will lose some degree of functionality. As you might imagine, this will make the console age faster. That doesn’t mean you still can’t enjoy your 3DS as you did before (unless you failed to purchase the digital games you wanted). It just means that it’s starting to get old. 

    If a digital storefront shuts down, it’s likely because very few people are using it. Unfortunately, this is an inevitability for consoles with digital storefronts. It’s often a good sign that a company is done with its product. It’s made as much money as it’s going to and needs to be retired. A unified digital storefront across different console generations would be necessary to avoid this outcome. 

    Is the 3DS a Retro Console?

    Nintendo 3DS Blue Eshop

    I wouldn’t say it’s quite retro yet, but it’s getting close and probably will be in a few years from now. It represents the end of an era for handheld consoles. New handhelds aren’t held back by the same restrictions most old ones were. Almost every kind of game is viable to make for a handheld now. The 3DS is from a different time when that wasn’t possible.

    The end of the 3DS eShop doesn’t make the 3DS retro. However, it may mark the beginning of its transition into a retro handheld. I was only 11 years old when the 3DS made its way to store shelves. I got one close to release and remember the ambassador program like it was yesterday. However, I am a fully grown adult now, and time is moving by quickly. At some point, we just need to accept that we are getting older, and that can suck. 

    Keep in mind that the Wii U eShop will be shutting down at the same time as well, and that console feels even less retro than the 3DS. The capabilities of the Wii U don’t even differ too much from the Switch, but it has already aged a lot. What makes a console retro may be more complex than we think. Instead of simply measuring how retro a console is by its age and hardware, there is more to consider. While innovations for gaming are still being made, it’s at a slower rate, and that’s why some old consoles may not feel retro yet.

    Itch has a strong passion for PC gaming and retro consoles (especially the Dreamcast). From Melty Blood: Actress Again to Forza Horizon, he will play just about anything that catches his eye. Ever since playing Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit as a young child, he has been in love with the medium of video games and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

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