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Nintendo 3DS launched in Europe 10 years ago today


10 years ago today, Nintendo 3DS launched in Europe. It had been a month since the handheld arrived in Japan, and North America was soon to follow.

The initial 3DS model now looks angular and small compared to some of its many later, larger redesigns. Back in 2011, the dinky portable was available in just Aqua Blue and Cosmos Black colours, and launched without a major Nintendo franchise as a system seller.

Nintendo's 3DS system features trailer.Watch on YouTube

Sure, it had Nintendogs + Cats, as well as Pilotwings Resort. And from third parties such as Ubisoft and Sega it had Rayman 3D, Super Monkey Ball 3D and two Tom Clancy games. But there was no Mario, no Zelda - at least not yet.

The handheld's StreetPass notification light.

Instead, it had other things to play with - not least the portable's stereoscopic 3D which you could adjust or turn off with its volume control-like depth slider. Each console came with a series of AR cards to conjure up 3D models of Mario, Metroid and Pikmin in your living room. And then there was an app called StreetPass - which arguably went on to become the system's best and most-missed feature.

I wrote about the brilliance of StreetPass back in October, when we highlighted some of our favourite features from consoles across the ages. For me, StreetPass is certainly up there.

"One of the things I loved about the 3DS' StreetPass was the feeling there were countless people around me all with a 3DS in their pocket," I wrote at the time. "Even if you didn't talk to that person next to you at the bus stop playing 3DS surreptitiously by themselves, you knew you might have a little hello from them waiting, another puzzle piece, another warrior to help defeat a dungeon alongside you."

3DS caught the eye of several UK tabloids.

I look back at the 3DS now and think what a success it was - 75m units sold, 383m games shifted, countless redesigns to grow its audience, and a fantastic library of titles such as Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Super Mario 3D Land, Pokémon Sun and Moon, Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and Mario Kart 7.

But that success was not assured. Immediately after launch Nintendo faced a sales wobble only helped by a dramatic price cut less than six months later, with existing owners gifted a pile of classic digital games and crowned as "Nintendo Ambassadors" to smooth things over. And there were persistent, high-profile smears in several UK tabloids around the safety of the console's 3D features, and the suggestion (which Nintendo and retailers flatly denied) there had been "record" returns of the device.

10 years on, though, the Nintendo 3DS legacy stands tall. Nintendo's most experimental handheld - and perhaps its last portable-only console - finally ceased production in September 2020.

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