Despite having a fairly blegh launch, the 3DS has sprung back quite a bit. We now have some quality retail releases on the market, like Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 as well as some downloadable titles like Pushmo and Mighty Switch Force!. But even outside of simply actual game releases, there have been a lot of improvements to the system itself through a couple of pretty significant updates. While a lot of this content is definitely appreciated, nothing has come quite as close to transforming the system as Swapnote has. While easily mistaken for deviantArt if you have NicoCW on your friends list, this seemingly minor application has changed what it means to own a 3DS.
If you never read my incredibly too long 3DS review, one of my biggest complaints was the fact that Nintendo took one step forward and then two steps back with the online functionality. You had a system wide friends list where you could see when others were online, what they were playing and… Well, that was about it. Any advancements they had made on the Wii – like messaging – was simply absent. Thankfully, the most recent updates have kicked the 3DS’ online functionality a few steps forward. While far from an Xbox Live or PlayStation Network-type experience, 3DS now has a key component not found on any other Nintendo platform, and that’s a sense of community.
Thanks to Swapnote, turning on your 3DS no longer feels like a solitary experience where you can just happen to see what everyone is playing. Swapnote lets you draw, write or record a message and send it to anyone on your friends-list without too much trouble. The SpotPass notification is quick to light-up, letting you know there’s a message so you aren’t fruitlessly checking it over and over again. It also effectively feeds your Swapnote addiction as the SpotPass light can be seen from across the room. Despite not really being built into the system menu itself, it’s for the most part fairly easy to access and send something without much trouble. The exception is when you’re logging on to check your notes only to get harassed by your Swapnote stalker, Nikki.
“But it’s just a messaging service, Benjamin… Oculin… whatever your name is!” Oh ho ho. You’re so wrong. As with all the built-in software on Nintendo 3DS, it has that very special Nintendo touch that very few developers seem to be able to replicate. Some more playful features like being able to choose different types of stationary are well appreciated, and there are also tons of little Nintendo touches all around, like having the Miis draw the notes in the corner of the screen while making a bunch of random facial expressions. Just the fact that you’re handwriting and drawing your notes definitely gives Swapnote a different feel than just messaging someone through plain text. Although the service is clearly far from perfect with quite a few annoying nuances involving some basic things, like replying and attaching media.
As much as I like all the random encounters via StreetPass, the fact that there’s a messaging service does wonders for making it feel like there’s actually a 3DS community now. Obviously things are starting to slowdown now with the application having been out for awhile now, but that’s to be expected. What’s important is that there’s now an actual means of communications on the 3DS, and a fun one at that.