It was 2004 when Nintendo released the original DS and started its campaign to innovate the gaming industry through the ways we interact with games. A touch screen on a handheld? Two screens? Both these things seemed absurd upon first hearing them, but the past seven years have been kind to Nintendo, and sales of the DS and its subsequent revisions have shown that the features of Nintendo’s ambitious dual-screened handheld aren’t just gimmicks. Last year, Nintendo unveiled their newest successor to their long line of handheld systems, the Nintendo 3DS. Offering up 3D visuals without the need for special glasses, Nintendo hopes to once again innovate gaming with the 3DS in the same way it did with the original DS. Now that I’ve had a few weeks to play with the 3DS since its March 27th launch date, I felt it was time to weigh in on what’s hot, what’s not, and if you should be willing to drop $250 on this hot new piece of tech.
The 3DS is pretty much the same size as a DS Lite and only a half-ounce heavier. Launch colors are Cosmo Black and Aqua Blue – I went with Aqua Blue since it‘s better at hiding fingerprints. The 3DS has a front-facing camera and two cameras on the back, which can be used with games or to take 3D pictures. They’re not the best quality, but they get the job done. Just like all the previous versions, the bottom screen of the 3DS has touch capabilities, but the top screen is a brand new beast – a parallax barrier wide screen display that’s able to provide 3D visuals without the glasses. And as far as processing power goes, the 3DS has a new processor under the hood that’s powerful enough to provide some great graphics – seriously, this thing is more powerful than the Nintendo Wii. Of course, all these features come at a fairly high energy cost, which leads to the 3DS’s biggest downfall – its battery life. Depending on how you tweak some settings, you’re looking at a battery life of 3 to 5 hours, which is remarkably low for a handheld. I wouldn’t call it a deal breaker, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re a big fan of gaming on the go.
So how ‘bout that glasses-free 3D? Well, I can tell you that it definitely works for the most part, but it’s the kind of thing you have to try for yourself. 3D may not be for everyone, though – there’s been reports of people getting headaches and the like from prolonged use of the 3D effect, but this doesn’t occur in everyone – I personally have no problem with it. To combat this, the 3DS has an adjustable slider that lets you modify the 3D effect to your preference, allowing you to even turn it off completely. When it’s on, though, it’s a spectacle – elements pop out from the screen, overlap each other naturally, and sink into the screen to create an incredible illusion of depth. The downside comes in the nature of the technology – the way the display works requires you to hold the 3DS in a very specific way, and moving it from this ‘sweet spot’ breaks the 3D effect and makes you just see double. It’s a big concession, but also a fairly manageable one.
A system is nothing without games, and I wouldn’t be the first to admit that the 3DS’s launch lineup – like most of Nintendo’s launch lineups – isn’t so hot. There’s games like Super Street Fighter 4, Nintendogs & Cats, and Pilotwings Resort, but nothing interested me enough to actually buy a game. That’s not a completely bad thing though as it’s given me time to extensively play with the 3DS’s included games, which are great enough in their own right. Face Raiders is a shooter that has you take a picture of someones face then overlays it onto the game’s enemies, utilizing the 3DS’s cameras to make them fly around your surroundings. Then there’s Augmented Reality (probably my favorite thing about the 3DS), which uses special cards to transform any surface into a game of archery, golf, and much more.
While the 3DS’s current gaming offerings is a tad weak, the future is bright with games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, Kid Icarus: Uprising, a 3D remake of Star Fox 64, and a brand-new Paper Mario game all coming down the pipeline. Third-party support is strong as well, with the 3DS seeing entries from major series like Metal Gear Solid, Assassin’s Creed, and Resident Evil.
So is this thing worth the $250 you need to plop down to get it? While I don’t regret my decision to purchase one at all, I feel like its release was a little premature – its current game lineup could be much better, and the system is missing core features like an internet browser and game shop until Nintendo releases an update in late May. I don’t think the 3DS will hit its stride until June at the earliest, so I’d say holding off on the 3DS for a while is just fine unless you’ve already got $300 or so to throw around. But give it a little time, and I can see the 3DS shaping up to be a must-have.
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