People are pissed at Nintendo today. You'd think the company contaminated the local water supply, based on the response to news that Nintendo's preparing a circle pad add-on for the 3DS to launch alongside Capcom's Monster Hunter Tri G. I added to the pile last night with a hyperbolic headline.
I don't regret writing that headline; it was a knee-jerk emotional response to the moment, underscoring the collective feeling after learning this crazy rumor was true. I'd dismissed the idea of an analog accessory that sounded ripped from the mid-90s Sega playbook, and being confronted with this monstrosity featured had me glancing over at my 3DS with contempt.
The response is ironic, too, given how many called for Sony to release a PSP revision with a second analog stick. In the PSP's case, however, a good portion of its premiere games were handheld console games that would have benefited from the analog.
Sony never pulled the trigger, pushing the feature onto the next handheld--Vita has two sticks. The biggest reason fans have heavily scrutinized the 3DS since launch has little to do with a lacking analog stick and everything to do with a lacking set of even halfway decent games to play.
At this point, Nintendo's been forced to admit 3DS was overpriced, slashing the handheld from $249 to $169 roughly six months after launch--six months in Japan, five months everywhere else. The company mitigated most of the ill will with its 3DS Ambassador program, promising a dose of gaming nostalgia worth more than the price difference. It wasn't a perfect solution, but we were asking for games, after all.
There's precedent for Nintendo to cater towards the whims of Monster Hunter, easily one of the most powerful franchises in Japan. Nintendo worked alongside Capcom to tweak the layout of the Classic Controller Pro to ensure it would best compliment Monster Hunter Tri. That sort of collaboration with another company on a piece of Nintendo-produced hardware was basically unprecedented.
"Someone within Nintendo said, 'What? You're going to ask the development staff of another company?' said Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. "But since we were going to make a new controller so that people who had played Monster Hunter before could play comfortably, I thought we should at least get the seal of approval from the game developers."
It's hard for us to understand why Nintendo would be so keen to bend over backwards for Monster Hunter, as the franchise hasn't gained much traction outside Japan. Monster Hunter is largely credited with saving the PSP over there. It's a big reason the machine's been viable, and for Nintendo to make sure Monster Hunter's core players are satisfied would be a smart move.
Herein lies the rub: there are so many details about this add-on we don't know about.
- Will Nintendo charge for it, or will it be bundled?
- Has this been exclusively designed for Monster Hunter 3G?
- Will Nintendo's first-party games get behind this add-on?
- Does this indicate the biggest addition to the inevitable 3DS revision?
The rollout of this announcement has been extremely poor. It's clear the full details will come next week, where Nintendo will be holding an event just prior to Tokyo Game Show devoted to talking about the 3DS. Nintendo of America and Nintendo of Europe are only acknowledging the add-on exists without divulging anything more. Lack of information leads to speculation, speculation leads to imagining worst case scenarios, speculation about worst case scenarios leads to a bunch of bitter fans.
The last question is where the ire comes from. The price drop prompted a host of people to buy a 3DS, and just weeks after taking the plunge, there are indications Nintendo's set to fundamentally modify the hardware. When we took the leap from DS to DSi and original DS customers were unable to hop into the eShop, it was understandable. Application marketplaces weren't standard when Nintendo's revolutionary handheld launched, so the idea of the DS being incapable was acceptable.
If we assume this will be part of a 3DS revision, what's confusing is how it runs counter to how Nintendo's traditional mindset. Nintendo goes against the grain not to be different but believing reactionary development is doomed to mediocrity. Rather than trying to cobble together better versions of what your competitors are creating, strike out on your own. This arrogance has lead Nintendo towards is greatest successes and failures. It's never a sure thing, but when an idea clicks, everyone around you is left in the dust, struggling to catch up. You might not like Nintendo's output, as many hardcore Nintendo fans would say about the Wii, but it's unique.
Maybe it's an add-on only Monster Hunter will use. Maybe Nintendo and some other developers will add token support, as was the case with many Wii accessories, making this mostly a niche product. Maybe it's our first hint at an updated 3DS.
It's easy to respond to all of this "well, I told you so" and blame early adopter syndrome, but adding a second circle pad can substantially impact gameplay. It's where the PSP criticisms came from. If a game maps the camera to the other circle pad, that's huge. When I purchased a 3DS, I knew full well the battery life was terrible. I swallowed that pill. This is different.
If Iwata steps on stage next week and shows a tweaked handheld with a second circle pad, he should be prepared to deal with his hardcore base looking for blood. And no amount of free games may make up for the one-two punch of a surprising, drastic price cut and being told your hardware's outdated. How many people are willing to gamble all over again?
Probably more than I care to admit, actually.