I won’t get into the history of the 3DS’ launch, or the painfully dry Summer that followed it. I’ve covered that time and time again, and really, there’s not much to say about it. The console launch was so bad that Nintendo price dropped the system less than six months after launch. And Nintendo never drops the price on anything these days. So for them to do that is a pretty telling sign of how bad things were going.

And yet, it’s my favorite gaming gadget of 2011.

For you see, despite all of its missteps this year, once it found its footing, the system positively ran with itself. That’s not to say Pilotwings and Nintendogs, Street Fighter IV and Lego Star Wars III were bad games, because they weren’t (I took advantage of those Toys R Us launch sales). But they lacked something. Sure they showed off 3D, and it was neat, but there was just something missing. The supposed launch showcase title, Kid Icarus: Uprising, went MIA until next year.

Not to mention that the system itself felt incomplete. The eShop finally took off in late Summer, activating a StreetPass feature was a rarity (though I did hit gold one day during a Disneyland visit), and of course a combination of Nintendo’s apocalyptic warnings, and news media exaggeration made the “3D headache” issue seem like the 3DS was going to kill your children Scanners style if they dared to look at the 3D with the slider all the way up.

Finally after E3, the eShop opened up with a free Pokedex and Excitebike, a tiny handful of Virtual Console games (where are the Game Gear and Turbo Duo titles already?). But it remained silent for a long time after that.

And then Ocarina of Time came out. And Starfox 64.

The 3DS was decried as now being a “port” system with no new content, but it was two of the Nintendo 64’s best, most beloved games with a beautiful visual overhaul. Was it really that bad?

And then things just got better.

One can’t dismiss the potency of Super Mario 3D Land or Mario Kart 7, as both were excellent examples of what the system could do (and Mario is always a crowd pleaser on a Nintendo system). But third parties were actually putting out decent games. None of this sad sack “mini game” and “clone” regurgitation that the Wii suffered under for years. Actual franchise titles and games that don’t usually appear that often on a Nintendo system are getting closer to release. Resident Evil? Metal Gear? Even Nintendo has a strong lineup for the beginning of next year, along with a continual line-up of quality games.

And then the eShop flourished. Actual 3D versions of classic NES titles (okay, and Urban Champion as well), but new IPs and characters such as Freakyforms and Pushmo, and other new potential franchise concepts down the line. Nintendo never seemed particularly motivated with WiiWare. They didn’t really have character driven games, and not every game has to have Link and Mario in it. New twists on old concepts, and new characters prime for Smash Bros. sequels have genuine appeal.

Not to mention all the free content. It would have been easy to stiff early adopters for eating that initial high price, but they instead chose to give 10 free NES games, and 10 free Game Boy Advance games, not to mention a free Zelda game to celebrate the series 25th anniversary. Nintendo doesn’t drop prices, and it definitely doesn’t do free, yet here they are, throwing digital games out like candy, and they are generally all classic fan favorites (NES Tournament Golf is nigh unplayable, however).

Other additions added were easier, universal Friend Codes (finally), free channel applications, and two successive system updates that gave users 3D video, a free sequel to the RPG lite Find Mii, a unique chat system(!!) found via SwapNote…. What started as a barren, incomplete system now feels robust and lively.

To be honest, the 3DS represents the Nintendo I love. I struggled to find that feeling on the Wii on a regular basis, and while that system had some truly remarkable titles, the online was awful, Friend Codes were cumbersome, the digital shopping was awkward, then almost non-existant, and the Channel features were by and large useless and forgettable options.

In its first year, the 3DS has flooded me with beloved titles, a better feeling of community previously unheard of on a Nintendo system, the resurrection of classic titles and franchises with a new coat of paint and ideas, and so much to play with that I’ve had trouble keeping up these days. I can take walks to earn new features and extras to play my games. I can send pictures and drawings to friends. I can watch TV shows and movies on the go, and I can open Nintendo Video for a stream of random, sometimes cool content. I can look forward to new ideas, as developers seem to “get” this system a lot easier that the Wii, and the graphics are well presented and easy on the eyes despite its novel approach.

So that’s why I’m choosing the 3DS as my “Console Choice For 2011”. The initial failing of the system seems to have benefited the gamers the most, as it seems to have snapped Nintendo out of that lazy reverie they coasted through with the Wii’s success, and put them back into focusing on making great gaming experiences for people who love to play video games. All my issues with the Wii have been largely addressed and corrected with the 3DS.

Perhaps a Nintendo not on an unchallenged cruise control winning streak is the best sort of Nintendo to have around.

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