But, by the end of the year - with a new price tag and an armful of essential games in tow - the 3DS had a new lease on life. The next 12 months look promising, too, with a star-studded selection of intriguing games.
We've got new entries in massive franchises, welcome returns for forgotten classics, and even the odd eShop download to look forward to.
Here are ten games we can't wait to try in 2012.
Animal Crossing 3DS
By Nintendo - out 2012
Throughout its various incarnations, wacky village sim Animal Crossing hasn't changed much. You still trade chairs with zoo animals, pay off ever-soaring debts to capitalist scoundrel Tom Nook, and get chastised by a mole if you turn off without saving.
This 3DS version is the most dramatic change yet. Not only is Nook in a new line of work (an estate agent, instead of a retail mogul), but he'll also swap from layabout to town mayor. With a ditzy secretary sidekick and some townsfolk pals, you'll reinvent your idyllic patch of land to make it more livable.
There's also lots more customisation. You can dress your gangly avatar from head to toe, decorate outside your house as well as in, and even tweak furniture design. Best yet, your custom cushions get sent to strangers during StreetPass encounters.
Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracle
By Level-5 - out 2012
This might be the fifth Layton game, but the riddlers at Level-5 still haven't run out of puzzles, light algebra quizzes, and matchstick-based head-scratchers.
Mask of Miracle offers another 150 riddles to solve, and a further year's worth to download - this time they'll come to your device automatically, through SpotPass.
Mask of Miracle's plot - something about a mysterious villain with a wish-granting mask - sandwiches itself somewhere between The Spectre's Call and Curious Village, though the story will also spring back to show the prof in college, on an archaeological dig.
Luigi's Mansion 2
By Nintendo - out 2012
Did you know that Luigi's Mansion was originally designed to test out stereoscopic 3D effects on the Gamecube?
Nintendo scrapped the idea before release, but you can see how it would work. The entire haunted house is like a shoebox diorama or a tiny doll house - peering inside rooms will working wonderfully with a little faux depth.
This sequel has other distinguishing features, too. Mario's gangly, lily-livered sibling will bust ghosts in multiple mansions this time around, while the 3DS's gyroscope lets you hoover up spirits by physically wrestling your console. Like a nutter. Nintendo also promises that this will be a puzzle-oriented adventure.
Kid Icarus: Uprising
By Nintendo - out March
It's been a two-decade wait for a new Kid Icarus game, but was anyone really holding their breath for a franchise reboot? Whatever the case, maybe we shouldn't have discounted Pit as an 8-bit tragedy: he might sport fairy wings, but this guy is all man.
In fact, though this angelic game is doused in puffy clouds and pearly whites, Pit's an action-packed hero more akin to the pilots of space-blaster StarFox than anything you'd see on top of a Christmas tree.
As Pit fends off the armies of Medusa - a snake-haired harpy with world destruction on her mind - he'll do battle both in the air and on foot. Or you can go online for three-on-three team deathmatches.
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
By Square Enix - out 2012
It's a mouthful of a name, but we bet the increasingly confusing plot will be even harder to get your head around. This time, series veterans Sora and Riku have been put up to the Mark of Mastery exam by Mickey Mouse, to train them up for an impending war.
So, as usual, they'll wander through various Disney sets, battling splodges of goo and hiring collectible spirits for backup. Confirmed worlds include Pinocchio, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and 90-minute Daft Punk music video Tron Legacy.
Franchise fanatics: take note - creator Tetsuya Nomura says that this game will tease some details about the elusive conclusion, Kingdom Hearts III.
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright
By Capcom and Level-5 - out 2012
Has there ever been a more fitting crossover than Level-5's puzzle-obsessed gent and Capcom's justice-seeking lawman? Well, not since The Rugrats met The Wild Thornberries, at least.
The two heroes (and sidekicks Luke and Maya) find themselves stuck in a mysterious town, where a lass named Mahone is accused of practising witchcraft. So, it's up to Wright to clear her name in court (by cross-examining witnesses for contradictions) and Layton to clear up the mysteries (by cracking riddles).
The game is being developed in unison by the two Japanese titans, with Ace Attorney lead Shu Takumi taking the helm as director. We can only hope that a western release is considered.
By Renegade Kid - out "Q1" (eShop Only)
Renegade Kid - of Moon and Dementium fame - is heading to the 3DS eShop in the hopes of finding a more captive audience. As such, immersive shooters are out, while retrograde platformers are in.
Max will do battle with the armies of Mutant Mudds with his super soaker and water-filled jetpack. It's that sort of childhood fantasy setup that made Commander Keen and Blaster Master so memorable.
What's the 3D twist? Max can leap from the foreground to hidden pathways in the backdrop, springing between parallel planes in a three-dimensional hop. Some obstacles will hog both depths, like a spiky mace that spins in and out of the screen.
By Zoe Mode - out January 13th
Crush, a criminally ignored puzzler on the PSP, is not just a random hodge-podge of clever logic levels. These stages are, in fact, a vision quest for insomniac Danny as he plunges into his own psyche to untangle his memories. And, hopefully, get some sleep.
To beat each stage, Danny can crush the level at the tap of a button, collapsing a boxy 3D world into a flat slice that our hero can tackle in two dimensions. Press the button again, and the level springs back into shape.
It's wonderfully smart, and wholly unique, and will hopefully find an audience on 3DS. Expect some StreetPass action, too, where orbiting other players will drop collectible gifts into random levels.
Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D
By Konami - out March 2012 (in Japan)
This 3D version of PS2 classic Snake Eater hasn't changed much, aside from the obvious bonus dimension.
So, as ever, it's a Cold War-era sneak-'em-up, with Naked Snake (who wears more clothes than his name implies, thankfully) crawling around a jungle in search of superweapons.
But, if you're looking for reasons to play through again, the 3D remake lets you custom camouflage Snake by snapping textures with the camera; employ an optional first-person camera; and walk while crouching. Handy, that last one.
Resident Evil: Revelations
By Capcom - out January 27th
If point-scoring zombie basher Resident Evil: Mercenaries 3D didn't do it for you, this full-on survival-horror shooter should do the trick. Revelations is a canonical entry that takes place slap bang in the middle of Resident Evil 4 and 5.
You'll play as series veteran Jill Valentine (and her BSAA partner Parker) as she tracks down Muscles McGee Chris Redfield on a zombie-infested cruise ship.
You'll get a nifty handheld scanning device that will help you find more ammo, and, for the first time, you can actually wander about while aiming down your gun. You might want to invest in the supported Circle Pad Pro accessory, too.