Why didn’t Nintendo make their handheld games more easily obtainable?

The Nintendo 3DS logo on a white background

It feels like every couple of months, I go through a bit of gaming nostalgia. It lasts a few days then disappears, and it almost always leads me to look at eBay before ultimately deciding not to buy anything and just continuing my regular gaming. This time, it started by looking at backlit kits for an original Game Boy Advance, which then turned into me looking at Nintendo DS Lite handhelds. 

Why didn't Nintendo make their handheld games more easily obtainable?

The only reason why I went from GBA to DS was that the first two versions of the DS (OG and Lite) could play GBA games (so it was a logical move from looking at if I could mod an original GBA to finding another way to play GBA games). I used to have a DS Lite but decided to give it to a friend because she would actually use it. Used DS units aren’t actually that expensive and in some cases, even cheaper than buying a GBA SP or GBA Micro.

This got me to thinking: why didn’t Nintendo sell digital versions of DS games on the 3DS? Heck, why didn’t Nintendo put more of an effort into re-releasing older Game Boy and Game Boy Advance games to the console? I wrote about the high price of Nintendo 3DS games last year, but now I’m looking at why older games from previous handhelds weren’t ever made more easily playable.

Even in 2021, Nintendo still can’t do digital right

The Virtual Console on the 3DS was pretty disappointing. Sure, you had plenty of classic NES, SNES, and Game Boy games available, it stopped there. Unless you were a part of Nintendo’s Ambassador Program (their way of thanking those who supported the 3DS during its rocky first year), those were the only GBA games to ever grace the handheld. 

Why didn't Nintendo make their handheld games more easily obtainable?

There are so many fantastic portable games that are next to impossible to find and unless you’re willing to pay the high mark-ups or “settling” to play them through emulation. I’ve never been a huge fan of emulation, so for me, if I want to play handheld games I need to play them on their respective units or the next best thing. I doubt I’ll ever get my hands on the Analogue Pocket (super expensive and will probably be impossible to get when it does launch in May 2021).

Nintendo has never been smart with its digital storefronts. Beyond the weak Virtual Console on 3DS, I will never understand why first-party games only go on sale once or twice a year and the discount is usually never more than 30%. Every once in a while, I’ll check the 3DS eShop to see if anything is on sale and while I will regularly find Atlus, Sega, and Capcom games on sale, Nintendo games never get discounted. This is sad considering that nothing in the 3DS eShop should cost full-price as the handheld was officially discontinued about six months ago (September 16, 2020).

The DS Library has so many great titles that are hard to find

When I started looking at some of the ‘Best Nintendo DS games of all time’ lists available on the web, I noticed a few things. For starters, outside of the Advance Wars series, nearly all Nintendo-franchises that released on the DS have had newer games released on the 3DS. Outside of “Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story” which did get a 3DS update, it clearly felt that Nintendo did not want to re-release older games when they wanted to focus on newer ones. 

The key art to Mario & Luigi Bowser's Inside Story for the Nintendo 3DS

Yes, that’s not true. Nintendo famously re-released Super Mario 64 and both The Legend of Zelda games from the Nintendo 64. However, I couldn’t find any other DS to 3DS ports outside of Bowser’s Inside Story.

While Nintendo-developed games didn’t see many updates, a few third-party titles did eventually see re-releases on either the 3DS, the Switch, or on different platforms altogether. For example, The World Ends with You got an update for the Switch. The first three Phoenix Wright games were re-released on both the 3DS and Switch. Then there are the countless Square-Enix games that got ported to mobile and Steam. 

From the list of must-play DS games that I missed out on, only the DS versions of Advance Wars and a few Pokemon games are stuff I would want to play. With Pokemon, I skipped Black/White (and its follow-up Black/White 2) and HeartGold/SoulSilver. Both are extremely hard to find or incredibly expensive. Most of the other DS games that appear on those lists I still have and could play on a 3DS (or my DSi).

Why didn't Nintendo make their handheld games more easily obtainable?

But Marko, what about the Wii U Virtual Console?

I was just about to wrap up this blog post when I came to the sad realization that Nintendo did actually release Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS games digitally. The only problem is that they only made them available on the Nintendo Wii U. Yup, you could only play 74 available Game Boy Advance and 31 Nintendo DS games if you owned the Wii U.

Looking at the list of games, the GBA list of games available includes both Advance Wars, both Golden Sun releases, both Metroid games and three Castlevania games just to name a few. While the DS available games, only Nintendo published games made it to the Wii U Virtual Console. Meaning, you could play Advance Wars: Dual Strike, Metroid Prime Hunters, and both The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass and The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks on your Nintendo Wii U. But if you wanted to play something published by someone other than Nintendo (like Chrono Trigger or Ghost Trick), then you were out of luck.

That being said, this isn’t where I would want to play handheld games, even if the Wii U controller was portable. I still own a Wii U and now I’m seriously considering trying to dig it out of storage and connecting it, only so I can see if these are still accessible or playable.

Why didn't Nintendo make their handheld games more easily obtainable?

Maybe we’ll get something on Switch one day

None-the-less, it’s still disappointing at just how poorly Nintendo managed to mess this up and still hasn’t made it right. I get that it’s too late to do anything on the 3DS, but Nintendo could still do something incredible in 2021. Considering they already have classic NES and SNES games through their “Nintendo Switch Online” offering, they could add handheld games to the mix. It’s not impossible, it’s just a matter if they feel the value to do it (which I definitely think there is).