The Ups and Downs of the 3DS eShop

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This week, Nintendo gave me a sneak peek of the eShop just days before it launches next week (during E3, even so it's nice to get an idea of the Shop now). The eShop has marked improvements in design and usability over the Wii Shop Channel and especially the DSi Shop, so finding, buying and enjoying games should be made more appealing. While that's all well and good, the eShop does have some old habits, particularly in pricing, that Nintendo won't let die. Based on my impressions from Nintendo's demo, I've collected a few positive and negative points about the eShop.

The Up: Virtually all DSiWare games will be brought over

Indeed, all 300+ DSiWare titles currently available in America are being brought over to the eShop. Those concerned that they won't be able to enjoy their old DSiWare games on the 3DS needn't raise concern -- well, maybe not too much concern. That's because...

The Down: Not every DSiWare game will make it

Specifically, a select few games that have "licensing issues," according to Nintendo, who also didn't name names. I suspect this may be some earlier DSiWare releases, or ones from companies that underwent major changes (Hudson, for example, which was wholly absorbed by Konami this year). (Update: If it's any consolation, a post at Siliconera lists the games that allegedly won't make it through.) Nevertheless, the games that I saw being promoted on the eShop frontend include the better DSiWare selections, such as Shantae, Plants Vs. Zombies, and Cave Story, so it might not be too devastating a loss.

The Up: More careful curation

Go to the DSi Shop or the Wii Shop Channel right now, and you'll be greeted with a plain display of a few "recommended titles." The eShop has some character in the way it promotes its catalog. Special categories like "Mario" (any item on the eShop with Mario in it) and "2-player games" will show you more specific collections as the shop's library grows. Weekly "staff picks" will highlight one title Nintendo thinks you should check out, and more arbitrary categories are possible -- for example, I was shown a category for games that start with 'W.' There's still a traditional search function, of course, as well as a dedicated button/page for the newest additions to the shop, which to me was a relief -- here, it only takes one tap to see the newest games, as opposed to the few it would take on the Wii and DSi shops.

The Up: Improved previews

eShop product pages will feature a handful of full-screen screenshots and oftentimes video, both for 3DS games and the older DSiWare ones. For 3DS games, those screenshots and video can also be 3D. Actual playable demos are on a case-by-case basis, but I'll take what I can get, and full-screen shots are still better than the tiny thumbnails on the Wii and DS shops.

The Down: Your Points are no good here

With the eShop using real dollars as prices, Nintendo's own "Points" rubric has been phased out. Granted, the Points values were basically dollar values without decimals, but Nintendo is starting over, relaunching their prepaid cards with dollar values, and making clear that DSi Points can't be used on the eShop. So if you have any of those Points lingering on your DSi -- it may be a good idea to find a way to spend them.

The Up: Free stuff for launch

For the eShop launch, Nintendo is giving you a free game: 3D Classics: Excitebike, the first of the re-created retro hits series. You can read about Excitebike in a separate story, but Nintendo is offering another free download: Pokedex 3D, which is what it sounds like: a full-featured 3D Pokedex (with complete level progression and ability data) indexing the Pokemon from the Black and White versions, complete with AR support so you can take pictures with any of the Pokemon you have in the 'dex.

The Down: The prices won't sway the critics

If you thought all this extra attention Nintendo put on the eShop means they have a better grip on their competition in digital download spaces (Apple's App Store and the Android Market, for starters)... well, don't jump to conclusions. The prices for the games in the eShop probably won't be dramatically different than the prices of current DSiWare games, including a minimum price of $1.99 and up (in the demonstration, I noticed the DSiWare Cave Story remained at $9.99). They're still cheap, but people want cheaper than cheap.

As a slight "Up," Nintendo stressed that outside publishers can price games anyway they want past the $1.99 minimum -- like before, but with a slight implication that they don't all have to end with ".99." But the potential for further special promotions (like discounts) doesn't match up with Nintendo's views of digital distribution, which they consider a "race to the bottom." While many people have used that same term in criticizing Apple's App Store, those people aren't running their own distribution platform, so it's inevitable that Nintendo will continue to get dinged for their above-average eShop prices. Well, at least Excitebike is free for the next month... and then it goes to $4.99.

This story, "The Ups and Downs of the 3DS eShop" was originally published by GamePro.

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