After the closure of the Wii U and 3DS digital storefronts in March this year, Nintendo is preparing to turn out the lights for online gaming on both systems. The platform holder has announced that online services for 3DS and Wii U software will be discontinued in early April 2024.
This means that any form of online connectivity for 3DS and Wii U games is going away in six months’ time. All online multiplayer, leaderboards, and other “data distribution” will cease, Nintendo said. The only exception is Pokémon Bank, a paid cloud backup for your Pokémon collections (which has since been superseded by Pokémon Home).
3DS and Wii U games will remain playable offline, and it will still be possible to download update data and redownload game purchases. Nintendo said that online support for third-party games will also end, “with some exceptions.”
The 3DS’ much-loved StreetPass feature, which exchanges information with other 3DS consoles nearby, will continue to work. But the SpotPass variant that uses internet connectivity will not. “For example, you will be able to use StreetPass in StreetPass Mii Plaza, which is pre-installed on Nintendo 3DS family systems, but you will no longer be able to use features that use online communication (such as receiving new panels in Puzzle Swap),” Nintendo explained.
Although both systems have been eclipsed by the runaway popularity of Nintendo Switch over the last six-and-a-half years, there are still a handful of 3DS and even Wii U games that enjoy the support of small communities online, and that will be greatly diminished by being limited to offline play.
The first Splatoon is one example of a notable release that will be reduced to a shadow of its former self next year. Commenters on Reddit listed a handful of others that still attract online players: Mario Kart 8 on Wii U (despite the availability of the vastly more popular Deluxe version on Switch), Mario Kart 7 and Monster Hunter 4 on 3DS, and the fourth Super Smash Bros., which was released for both systems. The 3DS’ Animal Crossing: New Leaf still has an audience who will no longer be able to visit each others’ towns come April next year.
Nintendo took both Splatoon and Mario Kart 8 on Wii U offline for months earlier this year due to a security vulnerability, but eventually restored the online services for both games.
After the 3DS and Wii U store closure rendered hundreds of digital releases permanently inaccessible, the online switch-off for 3DS and Wii U highlights another difficulty of game preservation in the internet age: Even when games are preserved in physical copies and on consoles’ internal storage, they can be hobbled by the removal of online services — and this can happen on a platform-wide level.
Nintendo’s move to further mothball its last-gen platforms comes as it starts preparing the ground for Switch 2, or whatever its next-gen console will be called, with a late-2024 release looking likely.