I’ve been using Nintendo’s hand-held consoles for almost my entire life. I played my first video game on the family Game Boy Advance in 2005, enjoyed the original Wii when it came out in 2006; received my rose gold DS Lite on my birthday in 2008, borrowed my brothers’ 3DSes when they got them in 2010, eventually bought my own 3DS in 2018 (more on that later), a 2DS in 2019 and got my Switch in 2020. I’ve reviewed and reported on several different pieces of Nintendo news in the last few years, and I really do enjoy spending time with my consoles and playing what are quickly becoming “retro” games.
Calling a console or game that’s come out in the last 20 years “retro” seems weird, but in the quickly developing video game landscape that’s what it feels like. You can’t buy Game Boy or DS titles at regular stores like you can find Switch titles, and the number of 3DS titles still on shelves is dwindling. The easiest way to directly buy Nintendo games for the 3DS or Wii U is through the Nintendo eShop.
But that’s soon to change. Two weeks ago Nintendo announced they would be shutting down the 3DS and Wii U eShops in March 2023. That’s right – in a year, you’ll no longer be able to purchase new games for those consoles, download demos or redeem download codes, and no new content will be released for those consoles. By the end of May you’ll no longer be able to add funds to your Wii U or 3DS eShop accounts, and by the end of August you won’t be able to add funds with a Nintendo eShop Card, either. Basically, you have until 2023 to buy whatever games you want, and then they’re gone for good. There are 434 games released exclusively for the eShop for 3DS and 266 games released exclusively for the eShop for Wii U.
Nintendo themselves summed the problem with this up in the Q&A on their support page, in a quote which has since been removed:
“Q: Once it is no longer possible to purchase software in Nintendo eShop on Wii U and the Nintendo 3DS family of systems, many classic games for past platforms will cease to be available for purchase anywhere. Will you make classic games available to own some other way? If not, then why? Doesn’t Nintendo have an obligation to preserve its classic games by continually making them available for purchase?
A: Across our Nintendo Switch Online membership plans, over 130 classic games are currently available in growing libraries for various legacy systems…We currently have no plans to offer classic content in other ways.”
Nintendo Switch Online, which costs $20 a year, comes with 59 NES titles and 50 SNES titles, and if you pay for the $50 a year Expansion Pack subscription you also get 10 N64 titles and 19 Sega Genesis titles. In other words, they don’t offer any 3DS or Wii U titles currently. Hopefully this will change in the future, but it isn’t the case now.
Now, to be completely fair to Nintendo, it costs a lot of time and money to maintain the online stores, and production of the 3DS and Wii U ended in 2020 and 2017 respectively. It’s good that we’ve got a year in advance to buy and download what games we want, but it still sucks that the titles for these consoles will be unavailable for future players unless they get ported to newer consoles.
In the outrage that went around the internet after this announcement, I saw a number of posts linking to tutorials for hacking your 3DS. The 3DS I bought off eBay in 2018 was Japan region-locked, meaning the whole console was in Japanese and I couldn’t play American 3DS games on it, so I hadn’t done much with it. But with the last class-canceling freeze, I had nothing better to do, so I sat down and followed the tutorial from 3ds.hacks.guide.
To my surprise, everything was pretty straightforward. The tutorial explained everything well, and it was pretty much a matter of downloading some files onto the SD card in my 3DS. The immediate benefit is that I can now play any of my physical 3DS games with no issue, but there’s more. I can download custom themes that other people have made, and even download titles for the 3DS and earlier consoles that I would otherwise be unable to.
“But wait a minute,” you say, “you’re downloading games? Isn’t that piracy? Isn’t that theft? Isn’t that bad?” That’s debatable, and I don’t blame you for thinking that way. But I ask you – what else am I supposed to do if I want to play games Nintendo doesn’t sell anymore? If I manage to find the games second-hand at GameStop or on eBay or Amazon, Nintendo isn’t getting the money from my purchase anyway. Some of the games I’ve downloaded, like Brain Age, were preinstalled on older consoles, so I wouldn’t have been able to buy them in the first place. Maybe what I’m doing isn’t 100% right, but I would argue it’s not 100% wrong either.
If you’re still on the fence, there’s a different category of games that can be downloaded: homebrew titles. People have gone out of their way to port games made for other devices onto the 3DS, like Five Nights at Freddy’s or Among Us. While these games aren’t always fully functional, it’s interesting to see what people are doing with the software tools available to them.
At the end of the day, the closing of the eShops was probably inevitable, though it sucks to see them go. But the 3DS and Wii U are only dead if we let them die. I hope more people are inspired to hack their “retro” consoles like I was. It’s time to take back control of the products we’ve paid for.
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