The end of the Nintendo handheld era

The end of the Nintendo handheld era

At 2017’s annual E3 conference, amidst the usual flurry of coverage about new games gearing up for release over the holiday period, the news that the next mainstream Pokémon RPG would be released on the Switch, Nintendo’s home console-handheld hybrid, was presented in a relatively hurried bolt-on to Nintendo’s main showcase.

The reaction to the announcement was predictably frenzied. Long-time series fans speculated what could be achieved in a Pokémon game on the relatively powerful Switch. Could the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s engine be repurposed? Could we get the full catalogue of monsters in one single game?

However, one aspect of the Switch Poké adventure that was overlooked was what it meant for the series’ future on the 3DS beyond the upcoming Ultra Sun & Moon games. Sure enough, in September it was confirmed that the games would be the last on the system, drawing a line under one of the most definitive and important series - console relationships.

Pokemon Red & Pokemon Moon comparison

Comparison between the first Pokémon games and the latest generation.

Pokémon has been a staple of the 3DS, its predecessor the DS, the Game Boy Advance and the original Game Boy and Game Boy Colour. Much of the worldwide phenomenon we know today owes its success to Nintendo’s family of handhelds. We were introduced to the first batch of monsters and the now familiar format of the Professor mentor, the gyms and the Elite Four back in the late 1990s. Since then, there have been numerous generations, reboots and spin-off games. It has been the core RPG series, however, that has remained the main attraction.

A new Pokémon release has become as close to a sure thing in the gaming world as possible. Each new main series game accompanied a spike in console sales. Many handheld gamers maintained their fierce loyalty to Nintendo in part thanks to their love of the series.

The move to the Switch, and to home console, for the main series of Pokémon games is a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, the potential is huge. Already hopes are high that Game Freak could re-use The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s open world engine and fill a huge landscape with hundreds of creatures just waiting to be discovered.

On the other, this move signals the end of Nintendo’s line of handheld consoles, at least as we know them now. The 3DS and 2DS are likely to continue to be supported for at least another year, but they could well be the final standalone handheld consoles Nintendo launches. As smartphones gobble up market share, Nintendo may simply opt to pursue hybrids like the Switch.

Still, if this is to be the end of the classic Nintendo handheld, they’ve had a good run to say the least. Of the best selling consoles of all time, the original DS range is second and the Game Boy/ Game Boy Colour third. Both racked up well in excess of 100 million units sold. The Game Boy Advance managed over 80 million, which is more than any console of the current generation has sold.  The 3DS/2DS family will have shifted more than 70 million by the year’s end. In short, they’ve done extremely well. If this is indeed the end, then Nintendo’s handhelds will deservedly go down in history as true icons of video gaming.

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