First revealed last summer at E3 2010, the Nintendo 3DS and its glassesless 3D visuals truly had to be seen to be believed. Throngs of people lined up to get their hands on the device, each of which was chained to the waist of a pretty woman in a black suit who didn’t really know what to say to the horde of geeks filing past (at least other than "touch the game, not me"). It was an amazing yet incredibly awkward experience. Now, finally, this Sunday, North America can get their hands on the next great video game console (pretty woman not included). We'll be dealing with the launch titles next week, but for now we'll focus on what you'll be getting out of the box.
By Stu Horvath
First off: the 3D. It really works. Even after having played with the 3DS for countless hours, it still has the ability to wow you with the realization that, yes, it's in 3D and yes, you're not wearing glasses. This may sound like a silly thing to be surprised by, but it's a large part of the charm of the system: The 3DS feels like it is a little piece of the promise of the future made by countless science fiction movies.
The 3D—the technical term for it is autostereoscopy, which uses a "parallax barrier" in front of the screen to force your eyes to process two different images—is a bit different from what you see in the movies, where the tendency is to force the action out of the screen towards the audience. The 3DS, rather, pulls the viewer in, creating a sense of depth within its space, not unlike actors on a stage.
The experience is similar to the effect achieved by looking through a View-Master or crossing your eyes at a Magic Eye print. Thankfully for those who get 3D-induced headaches, there's also a slider that controls the intensity of the effect, all the way down to plain old 2D. To its credit, Nintendo seems concerned about creating a generation of cross-eyed freaks, suggesting players only play in half-hour bursts and for children under six to not play in 3D at all. It's a warning worth heeding, as more than about 45 minutes of play can leave your eyes feeling a bit...odd.
The system itself is a teensy bit bigger than the DS Lite and has a bit more heft to it, which along with the beveled edges gives the system a nice substantial feeling in the hand. It comes in two colors, a cotton candy blue and smoky black. The black one, unsurprisingly, is substantially sexier.
There are two cameras, a plain old 2D one on the inside and a two-lens 3D one on the outside, so you can take 3D photos…and leave them on your 3DS because nothing else can display them properly (though that won’t stop some dudes from using it to take pictures of their dongs within hours minutes of getting it home).
The touch screen is much improved, feeling much more responsive than earlier iterations. It's also slightly softer feeling, making it a little more appealing to forego the stylus and just use your fingertip. The control scheme is the same, save for the addition of an analogue stick which is weirdly flat but very responsive—we wouldn’t mind seeing it show up on our Xbox 360 controller.
The 3DS comes loaded with a surprising amount of features: some useful, some fun, and some downright disturbing.
The 3DS has overhauled the way you can connect with friends (and strangers) via the Internet. You still need to share a 12-digit friend code—it's still Nintendo, after all—but now your friends have profile cards (complete with Miis) as well as stats that can be shared via the StreetPass functionality if they're are nearby. Players will also be able to share and play games with nearby 3DS owners via Download and Play, much like previous iterations of the handheld. Finally, in an announced May update, the 3DS will have a DS Ware store stocked with titles new and old, and will allow you to import games previously purchased on other DS units. It may not be Xbox Live, but it's a big step in the right direction.
THE (INCLUDED) GAMES
There are two games included in the 3DS, which should be enough to keep you amused (or creeped out) until Kid Icarus finally comes out. [Ed.—We keed. There's plenty of quality in the launch day titles, and we'll be posting capsule reviews next week.] Both are "alternate reality"-based, but only one will make your skin crawl—that’d be Face Raiders.
It's hard to imagine the thought process that went into developing this game. Upon loading the title, the player is asked to take a photo of themselves, which is then mapped to a hideous floating head creature that flies around your real-world surroundings while you attempt to shoot it. The more you shoot, the more come to attack, until you are surrounded by a swarm of monstrous parodies of yourself making kissy faces at you. It is truly the stuff of nightmares. [Ed.—And the fact that its title sounds like a niche porn site ain't helping.]
AR Games, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as traumatizing. The exterior cameras read special cards (included in the box) which create a series of shoot-the-target challenges within your real-world space.
For instance, put a card on your dining room table and a dragon may climb out and attack you, forcing you to move around the table shooting it until it dies (thankfully it won’t leave around dragon corpse to clean up). This sort of alternate reality game isn’t particularly new, but it's given new depth (pun intended, unfortunately) with the 3D display, which is implemented cleverly and intuitively throughout.
The 3DS was a compelling piece of hardware when it was first announced, and the version that's landing in stores on Sunday is no less exciting. It's well designed inside and out, has the horsepower to broaden the typical DS experience, and has a novel and dazzling attention grabber with the 3D display. Of course, hardware lives and dies by the quality of its software—but judging by the unit alone, Nintendo may just have found a way to extend the lifespan of the dedicated handheld gaming console.