Posted 13 Dec 2016 at 15:29 by RedShell
Nikki is back in business!
So we're going to assume that most people reading this will remember Nintendo Letter Box, a great little messaging application which arrived on the 3DS eShop back in December of 2011. Yeah, the same one that suddenly ceased to function just a couple of years later, after an incident in Japan allegedly involving the distribution of unsavoury images via the software. Well, fast forward to November 2016 and Nintendo have rather surprisingly decided to have another go at offering a messaging service on their handheld, this time in the form of a new application called Swapdoodle.
Although it's a brand new app and a fresh start, there are many similarities to Letter Box, from the return of popular mascot Nikki, to the fantastic note playback feature which shows a replay of the entire creation process for each note. And while the music and user interface also feel quite familiar (although more organised now thanks to the implementation of Mii folders) there are several changes and additions in Swapdoodle, including the ability to purchase add-on content from a built-in store, but more on that in a bit.
You have a new note! Expect to see this a lot.
Nintendo clearly wanted to avoid a repeat of the Letter Box incident with Swapdoodle, so one big change is the removal of camera and mic functionality, this obviously means it's no longer possible to attach your own photos or recorded sound clips to notes (although screenshots from select games can eventually be added). Furthermore, as what appears to be yet another security measure, it is now a requirement to add other users as a “Doodle Viewer”, despite the fact you'll already have them registered as a friend on your 3DS system. Until this process is completed by both individuals, resulting in them becoming “Doodle Pals”, any notes exchanged will remain locked.
Upon starting the app for the first time, users will only have access to the most basic of features, a single black pen and eraser tool, plus an overall note storage capacity of 200. This can be increased to 300 by downloading the free Starter Pack from the Lesson Store, which also increases the amount of usable ink, adds a red coloured pen to the tool selection, some extra stationery and a few Doodle Lessons, which are essentially very simple drawing tutorials presented in a step by step manner.
Paid for lessons help your drawing abilities to "Staaay Fresh!"
Swapdoodle's Lesson Store also features a variety of purchasable download packs, offering an assortment of different coloured pens, stationery, ink/note storage expansions and lessons. The main problem here is that the additional content seems ludicrously overpriced, and the fact that it's also split across multiple packs makes matters worse, with individual coloured pens being part of specific lesson packs (costing €2.99 each) and even something as fundamental as the option to use a thick pen being locked behind the purchase of a pack. While it is of course possible to use the app without making any purchases at all, if for some reason you did want to have all of the pens, stationery, expansions, lessons etc. at your disposal in Swapdoodle, you would need to spend (at the time of writing) a grand total of €53.84!
How to make a meal of creating a note, when's dinner?
It's also worth noting for anyone that hasn't upgraded to a New 3DS, that Swapdoodle is rather sluggish on the original 3DS systems, where it can take an incredibly long time to manually check for and download notes, displaying a progress bar that never seems to move during the process, until the very last moment when it will suddenly jump to the end. Worst of all, even if there are no new notes to download, the amount of time required to wait seems unaffected. It's not far off the ridiculous loading seen at the start-up of Nintendo Badge Arcade. On the subject of Badge Arcade, if you happen to have save data from that title it's possible to use some of the badges you've collected as stickers in your Swapdoodle notes, which is a nice touch. You can also add stickers of your Mii and the icons of any 3DS software from your activity log. However, all of these sticker types are limited to 4 per note, and that appears to be an ongoing theme in Swapdoodle, as it's also the maximum number of pages per note and the amount of colours which can be displayed simultaneously. That colour limitation is particularly disappointing if you've invested in the AOC and therefore have access to many more colours.
You too can learn how to draw Mario... in at least five easy steps!
When it comes to writing simple notes, Swapdoodle works just fine, in fact it's basically perfect for that purpose, other than the frustrating inability to respond to replies on your own notes. But when you start trying to draw or do the Doodle Lessons it becomes clear that there are a few extra problems. Firstly, the lack of a fill tool makes colouring in a much more laborious and time consuming task than it really needed to be, and this is because any of the other colours will overwrite the black pen and each other. So trying to keep within outlines can be very tricky indeed, often resulting in many uses of the undo button and repeat attempts. The eraser tool isn't much help either, as it lacks accuracy and leaves rough edges on whatever you erase.
N-Europe Final Verdict
No doubt this review appears really down on Swapdoodle, but the truth is it's actually a nice little application, one that's full of Nintendo's unique charm and attention to detail. Plus of course it's completely free to download and use, albeit in a somewhat limited manner. Nevertheless, it's impossible to overlook the issues detailed above, not to mention the fact that we're so far into the 3DS lifespan at this point, which is likely to put a considerable limitation on Swapdoodle's longevity, something that is particularly important to consider before purchasing any of its rather expensive AOC.
Free to download and use
Limited without the purchase of expensive AOC
Very slow performance on original 3DS systems
Likely to be obsolete in a few months