Earlier this week we got a chance to look at the 3DS eShop for the first time before it launches on Monday June 6. So far, the service looks similar to the DSi shop, with a handful of extra features. The main sections of the eShop are the Virtual Console, which is limited to original Game Boy games only at this time, and the DSiWare catalog, which replicates what’s already available on the original DSiWare shop. There's also a 3D Classics category, with Excitebike 3D the solo entry at launch, which will be available for free for the first month.
For Game Boy titles, the first three that will be available on Monday are Super Mario Land, Radar Mission, and Alleyway, all of which were launch titles on the original Game Boy over 20 years ago, so it looks like Nintendo possibly plans to release titles more or less chronologically to when they originally came out. Like Wii's Virtual Console, the original games appear intact and true to original form. Pricing isn't 100% clear at this time – when I asked, Nintendo told me that pricing starts at free "and moves up from there," which could literally be any amount, so OK! I saw Super Mario Land marked at $3.99, so it's possible that that's going to be a standard price for Game Boy releases, although it's also possible that some games could cost less or more. Four bucks seems awfully steep for something like Alleyway, a mediocre Breakout clone the likes of which you can find much cheaper on any smart phone.
The shop interface itself is pleasant to use and seems well-organized. Content is sorted using a shelf system, which is not totally unlike the Xbox Live interface, where you can scroll from left to right through various categories and subcategories. Shelf categories can change according to Nintendo's whim too, so content can be highlighted in different ways to make sure users can find everything they're looking for easily. Shelves can be sorted by genre, by multiplayer options, by franchise, by popularity, alphabetically and so on, and there's also a search function with advanced search options if you'd rather find what you're looking for directly.
User ratings also feature prominently too, and once you've played a game for at least an hour on the system you can submit a starred review. Reviews aren't just for downloadable titles either – you can also browse a library of user reviews for full retail releases too. And while the shop doesn't contain demos of any retail games, it will feature trailers and screenshots of highlighted retail releases.
The two titles that will be available for free when the shop launches are Excitebike 3D and 3D Pokedex (details on that here), and while the Pokedex is more of a one-off download, Excitebike 3D is the first of what Nintendo calls 3D Classics. We're not sure what the future holds for the 3D Classics umbrella after Excitebike, so we'll just have to wait and see for now. Nintendo plans to update the shop regularly every Thursday, so it's likely that we'll all find out together when that happens. If Nintendo's history of secrecy with its Virtual Console schedule for Wii is any indication, we may not know about content until it's actually released.
Maybe I'm just a grumpy old person who still remembers a time when software updates for consoles didn't exist, but I can't see any reason why this shouldn't have been available at the 3DS's launch. In some ways it feels like a classic case of one step forward and two steps back compared to Nintendo's already existing online retail systems too. Aside from the Game Boy downloads, there's really not much new to report here. The DSiWare shop already exists on DSi, and aside from the 3D Pokedex and Excitebike 3D, there's nothing that really makes use of the 3DS hardware. Nintendo as of yet hasn't announced any "3DSWare" style service for the system, which means that, at least for the time being, we won't see any downloadable titles that really take advantage of the hardware like we do with WiiWare and DSiWare. I asked about future plans for Virtual Console, like what the timeline is for adding Game Boy Color games (or, dare we dream, GBA games or Game Gear), and didn't get a response.
Either way, we're looking forward to downloading the eShop when it launches this coming Monday, June 6 – all will be revealed then.
Jun 2, 2011