There’s no denying that Nintendo’s new portable console, the 3DS, is a remarkable piece of hardware. Once again Nintendo is attempting to take that leap forward into the next generation of gaming before its competitors. We’ve seen it before with the Wii’s motion controls (which is hard to believe that system was launched five-and-a-half years ago!) and now we’re seeing glasses-free 3D for the masses.
Around the world, spectacle-wearers should celebrate this new innovation. No longer shall they have to wear a set of ridiculous glasses over their own just to experience the same as folks with perfect vision. The three-dimensional effect is quite amazing to behold. It’s very easy to be skeptical until you get your hands on this hot little device; the 3D works best when you’re holding it, aiming the screen directly at your eyes. At first it’s a little odd, but after a couple of minutes your eyes relax and you let the 3DS do the work. The effect is controlled with a handy slider to change the depth of field in the screen, and can be switched all the way off display in traditional 2D. Personally, I have found that about “75% 3D” works most comfortably for my eyes.
I’ve subjected many of my friends and coworkers to the new screen to gauge how it appears to them. The majority have no problems with it, a few found it disconcerting and uncomfortable to look at for more than a couple of minutes, and only a couple found that it didn’t work for them. Anecdotal evidence, sure, but it would seem that this form of 3D is much less discriminating than the industry-dominating form we have now in cinemas. The good thing is, the 3DS has a depth slider for the 3D effect from deep to shallow to 2D and is completely usable in 2D mode at the moment as we’re yet to see any games that really, really need that extra dimension for gameplay. At the moment, it’s just a pretty gimmick.
The niftiest thing contained within (the oversized box) is the charging cradle. No more messing around with finding and plugging in the cable, just leave the cradle sitting somewhere convenient and whack the 3DS in whenever it needs a charge-up…which is often. There are many people disappointed in the battery life, which is about 3-4 hours of using the system with 3D and Wi-Fi enabled, and much longer without. It suits my needs — when you think about it, how often would you play for longer than three hours in one sitting anyway? The standby time is decent, at least — I had the 3DS on standby with StreetPass (wireless communication) running for over two days without charging and there was still well over 50% battery remaining.
Control-wise, the 3DS now sports a handy-dandy thumbstick for analog movement. Although quite compact, it is surprisingly springy and responsive. The stylus has been revamped to be telescopic with a metallic finish, and with just a minor increase in weight. Most of the other buttons are in the same locations, apart from ‘select’, ‘home’ and ‘start’ which have moved to just underneath the touch-screen — perfect for hitting with your thumb when you need to. WPA encryption is now supported, which makes me extremely happy! Wireless access is now controlled through the flick of a switch on the side which is a breeze compared to the old menu-based system of activating and deactivating.
The interface has been distinctly Wii-ified. It’s a definite step towards this being a true multipurpose device, instead of just a gaming platform. The customisable (if only in layout and which applications are displayed) home screen gives you quick access to all the 3DS’ main features and is accessible though the ‘home’ button – this will suspend what you are currently doing and allow you to switch between tasks. You can’t run more than one concurrently, though.
- 3D camera – Activated simply by pressing the L or R bumper (or application icon), the twin cameras can be used to take neat 3D photos which can be saved to the included 2GB SD card. This is lots of fun, although you can only really show them off on your 3DS until other hardware devices become more common. There’s also a front facing camera, similar to the DSi.
- Game notes – With a game suspended, you can go here to write notes about it using the stylus or save a screenshot of the moment you suspended the software and annotate it.
- Friend list – Nintendo has finally got around to implementing this kind of feature in a semi-useful way. You still have to go through the patented rigmarole of adding a friend and waiting for them to add you back of their own volition (no friend-invites here!), but you can see what your friends are playing and their (very short) status message: Nintendo’s idea of being able to communicate with your friends. I assume that you don’t need to have a different Friend code for every game anymore, just the one for your friend’s console. It would be nice to see some sort of messaging service added, and the ability to send/save your friend’s Miis, a la the Wii.
- Mii Maker – A very similar avatar creator to what’s currently available on the Wii, with a few extra options to choose from to customise your appearance. I do like the ability to take a photo of yourself and get it to work out the facial features for you. It doesn’t always hit the mark though. You can edit the 3DS’ suggestions and it keeps your photo up on screen when you are editing which makes for a good comparison model. It’s also very easy to connect to a Wii on the same wireless network and send over your favourites from your Wii console. Miis can also be saved in QR code form for easy sharing.
- StreetPass/Mii Plaza – StreetPass is probably my favourite thing about the 3DS. Nothing makes me happier than getting home from a trip around town to find that little green light which means I passed another 3DS user. Miis are swapped between the systems and you can use the ones you’ve acquired from friends/strangers to play a very basic RPG adventure quest to rescue your own Mii; and trade puzzle pieces to complete 3D pictures. You can set StreetPass communication to be always on, even when in standby mode. Just by carrying it around in your bag/pocket wherever you go, you chance an encounter with other exciting Miis.
- Activity Log – The 3DS also keeps track of the amount of steps that you take each day, with it’s pedometer (not used to rate your creepy love for small children). The system rewards you with Play Coins for the steps you take, which you can trade in Mii Plaza to help you with the Puzzle and Adventure Quest games. Activity log keeps a track of how long you play your games for and the steps you take. If you’re stats-minded, I’m sure you’ll find this a neat feature.
- AR Games – Standing for Augmented Reality and more of a tech-demo than anything, this game really shows what this new technology can do. Utilising the 3D camera, the game gets you to use a bunch of included cards to turn ordinary surfaces into playing fields for shooting targets, killing dragons, a weird mini-golf/pool game. You can also take 3D pictures of iconic Nintendo characters or your very own Miis.
- Face Raiders – Basically, take a picture of someone’s face and shoot balls at it. Seriously. This is great fun though! Try playing this in a public place or a (less embarrassing) private place with friends present and watch the game “rescue” faces that it glimpses as you play. The controls are simply move the system around the let the camera/gyroscope do the rest, shoot with A if you see things coming at you.
- 3D Movie – Nintendo have included a small 3D video (available with a system update) to showcase what the platform can do. Although it’s nothing special, I’m keen to see the release of titles for watching on 3DS. Downloadable content would probably be the way to go with this; I’m not sure how viable cartridge sales would be for 3D movies.
- Nintendo 3DS Sound – You can record sounds and do some basic editing. I don’t know if anyone actually uses this software. I surely don’t.
- Upcoming features – Nintendo have indicated that they will release an update to include a functioning Internet browser, the Nintendo eShop and system transfer – enabling game saves/settings to be transferred over from a DSi.
I didn’t end up getting a game with my 3DS. To be honest, I found the initial Australian lineup pretty lacklustre [edit: I have since picked up a copy of Pilotwings now that it’s been released and it’s pretty cool]. I mean, where’s our Professor Layton title?! The system itself though is enough to keep me entertained until some decent games are released over here – personally looking forward to Kid Icarus, Ocarina of Time 3D and a new Animal Crossing title. Overall, I think this is a great little system (aside from my issues with the Friends list) and, like the Wii, I think we will have to wait a little while for developers to get on board with the technology to really see what it can really do.