Review: Nintendo 3DS

In June of last year at the E3 Expo in Tokyo, Nintendo announced the new branch of its DS handheld game consoles, the 3DS. It was one of the biggest stories at E3 last year. After what has seemed like a very long wait, it's finally here. But is it any good?

Name3D-capable handheld console: Nintendo 3DS
At a glance:Glasses-free 3D gaming,Unexpectedly cool augmented reality,Poor battery life,Few good launch titles
Summary:A great piece of hardware, marred only by poor battery life and boring launch titles.

In June of last year at the E3 Expo in Tokyo, Nintendo announced the new branch of its DS handheld game consoles, the 3DS. It was one of the biggest stories at E3 last year. After what has seemed like a very long wait, it’s finally here. But is it any good?

The third dimension

The obvious difference between the 3DS and older versions of the DS, like the DS Lite and DSi, is the fact that the 3DS’s top screen is capable of tricking your eyes into seeing a 3D image – without the need for annoying 3D glasses. It users a parallax barrier that sends a separate image to each eye, and the effect is actually quite startling. It’s not that everything pops out of the screen at you, but rather that the image pops into the screen, creating the illusion of depth. In most games there seem to be three or four layers of depth, with the frontmost one coming out of the screen at you just slightly. Because of the pop-in effect, the 3D isn’t as dramatic as it can be in a movie theatre with glasses – nothing is going to fly at your face – but it’s also not distracting when you’re in-game, and the effect is still enough to blow your mind a little bit.

Of course, there are downsides to parallax barrier technology. The major one is that there is only one definite “sweet spot” for viewing. You have to hold it fairly steadily in place or the screen gets flickery and the 3D effect is lost. Fortunately, that sweet spot is where you naturally hold the 3DS, but some games do require you to move the DS around a bit, which can ruin the illusion.

Picture imperfect

One of the features I was most excited about before I got my hands on the 3DS was the fact that you can take pictures in 3D. It’s cool, but a novelty that wears off rather quickly. Since you can only view those pictures on your 3DS, it’s ultimately a bit pointless.

But there is so much more that the 3DS’s camera – paired with some exceptionally well-made software – can do. Nintendo’s augmented reality software is awesome – and by that I mean my jaw dropped in awe when I saw what it could do. The 3DS comes with six ‘AR cards’ with pictures of characters on five of them and a question mark on the other. You put the question mark card down with the augmented reality application open, and the 3DS starts to layer insane 3D images over the card and the surfaces around it. You wind up having to slay a dragon which is coming out of your desk snapping its jaws at you. I’d seen video of this online before the launch, but there really is nothing like having it there in front of you. There are a couple of other little mini-games, too. The augmented reality is hands-down the best surprise of the 3DS. Every person I’ve showed it to has been blown away.

But do I need it now?

No, you don’t need it now, despite the fact that the hardware is – aside from the battery life, which I’ll get to – fantastic. Nintendo has the launch title blues with this console, although there are some interesting games in the works.

Along with my review device I was sent Street Fighter IV and Nintendogs & Cats. While Street Fighter in particular is a great game, and really shows off the console’s 3D capabilities, one great game isn’t really enough to make you spend $480 at launch.

Keep in mind, though, that classic RPG Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Nintendo classic Mario Kart, and a new game in the Kingdom Hearts series are all on their way in 3D within the next few months.

Life is a battlefield

StreetPass is a feature of the 3DS that has the potential to be really cool, but winds up being altogether unexciting. Basically when you have your 3DS in sleep mode, it wirelessly transmits information to other 3DS devices when you’re within range. While the console’s asleep in your pocket, you could be unknowingly fighting someone in Street Fighter.

I went and checked out the midnight launch of the 3DS at EB Games on Queen Street – possibly the busiest EB store in the country. A grand total of about 15 people bought their consoles at the midnight launch – far fewer people than turned up a few months ago to buy their copies of Halo: Reach. In other words, not many people are buying the 3DS (yet), so there’s no one around to actually StreetPass with. I managed to get two devices together to test the function, and StreetPass does work. It’s pretty cool when it works, too, as it launches new mini-games, but I don’t expect to meet anyone via StreetPass who isn’t a fellow game reviewer. I even went wandering around Auckland City hoping for hits, stopping at various geeky stores along the way, but got nothing.

Don’t you die on me!

By now it’s been well documented that battery life on the 3DS is not great, especially when compared to previous DS versions. With 3D turned on, you’re only going to get about four hours of game time, and with it turned off, you might get six. I didn’t think this would bother me much, but I discovered that I hate being chained to the wall when I want to keep gaming, and the battery isn’t going to see you through a long-haul flight, or even a drive from Auckland to Gisborne. Hopefully Nintendo will release better batteries later on – the back panel appears to be removable for this purpose.

But can it run Crysis?

The 3DS’s GPU is only slightly more powerful than that of the DSi, but in my many, many hours of game time between receiving the device and writing this, I didn’t once see it slow down. The graphics on it look great, too, despite the top screen’s resolution essentially being cut in half – it’s 800 x 240 pixels, but that’s split half-and-half across each eye – giving you an effective resolution of 400 x 240. When playing old 2D games, the picture is worse than on a DSi, but only because the games just aren’t designed to look good on the 3DS’s larger screen.

Will I regret buying a 3DS?

Unless you can’t afford it, don’t like handheld gaming, or 3D makes you nauseated, it’s unlikely you’re going to regret buying this device. Of course, it’s only going to go down in price, so if you don’t absolutely have to have The Sims 3DS or Street Fighter IV, then you might want to wait a few months until there are better games out. Still, it’s an exceptionally cool piece of hardware, and a definite upgrade from the old DS range.

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Tags gamingNintendogamesHandheldreview3DSportable

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Siobhan Keogh

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