Nintendo has dubbed its new portable device the Nintendo 3DS, which is a nod to its 3-D capabilities. Unlike 3-D offerings from rival Sony, Nintendo’s hand-held does not require 3-D glasses, as the screen itself can reproduce the 3-D effect for users. It’s a marvel of sorts — and so is the price tag Nintendo has slapped on it.

While the 3DS had been rumored for a fall release in Japan, last week Nintendo announced that it will hit Japanese retail outlets in February 2011. That news triggered a slight fall in Nintendo’s stocks. According to Bloomberg, on the afternoon of Nintendo’s press conference, some investors had mistakenly mentioned that the Kyoto-based company had scheduled the 3DS for an October release, causing the stock to surge. In the end, Nintendo ended up down 9.4 percent due to the release date gaffe and a slashed financial forecast. Big hardware releases tend to coincide with the holiday season, but Nintendo will not be able to get the 3DS out to stores in time.

While investors might feel bummed, fans have a reason to be happy.

To date, The Nintendo 3DS features the most realistic graphics the company has ever supported. Technologically, it moves the firm closer to the HD era. When the Wii home console was released in 2006, the company shrugged off the importance of high-definition graphics as Microsoft and Sony consoles battled it out.

So why is Nintendo suddenly getting into the HD game? At an investors’ Q&A last week, President Satoru Iwata revealed that one reason Nintendo has given high specs to the 3DS is so that more developers can bring their titles to it. The Wii and the current generation DS have lower specs than their rivals, which makes it difficult for some developers to port their HD games over from other platforms.

Even before the portable has hit stores, a whole slew of big name game developers, such as Yoshinori Ono (“Street Fighter”) and Hideo Kojima (“Metal Gear Solid”), are praising the machine and promising a lineup of diverse titles to support it. Naturally, Nintendo’s lurch toward HD has caused speculation that the Wii’s successor will also be an HD console.

But high-spec machines have high-spec prices. Traditionally, Nintendo has been able to offer successive portables at either a lower price than its predecessor or a slightly higher price. So, the original Game Boy was priced at ¥12,800 in 1989. But when Nintendo finally released the Game Boy Advance in 2001, it cost less than the original Game Boy did!

Since the DS was released in 2004, the prices of Nintendo’s hand-held consoles have continued to escalate. The DS launched in 2004 and was originally priced at ¥15,000. This was followed by the ¥16,800 DS Lite in 2006 and the ¥18,900 DSi in 2008. Last year’s larger DSi LL cost ¥20,000 at launch. The upcoming Nintendo 3DS will cost ¥25,000 — the same price the Wii launched at — when it goes on sale. However, this is slightly less than the ¥26,800 Sony charged for its UMD-disc-free PSPgo — a price that Sony has called a “premium.” Still, the 3DS edges Nintendo closer to the high-end of the electronics spectrum and the pricing that comes with it, something the Wii seemed to eschew.

Of course, it can be argued that Nintendo has continued to offer new features with each iteration of the DS and this, combined with a sour economic climate, has caused the company to charge more for its portables. However, Nintendo’s Iwata says that one of the reasons the 3DS is so expensive is due to the positive response the portable got when it was shown at the E3 gaming expo in Los Angeles this past summer. If Nintendo thinks it can charge ¥25,000 for the 3DS, it will. And it is.

Brian Ashcraft is a senior contributing editor at Kotaku.com

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