So, it’s here.
The Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo’s new handheld that’s said to change the way we look at portable gaming forever, launched on Sunday to mixed reactions. For myself, a Nintendo handheld devout, I was dazzled by the E3 announcement detailing just what kind of games were going to come to it, I just had to buy it. Literally being the first person in the Vancouver area to get it, (i.e. first in line at the only known midnight launch in the city on Saturday night) I quickly found myself staring at the shiny blue box my brand new toy was housed in, just waiting to tear right in.
But the real question is: Was it worth it?
The 3DS, unlike any of the versions of its predecessor, has a shiny, metallic finish. Most of lights (power, wireless, etc.) have been moved to the bottom or sides of the system’s casing with the exception of the “notification light”, which lights up when you receive new StreetPass/SpotPass notifications, when your friends come online, or when it’s time to charge your battery. This light sits on the top of the hinge where the power lights on the DS Lite used to be located. A switch on the right side of the unit allows you to turn wireless communication on and off at the hardware level, and the volume slider is located to the left, just above the SD card slot. The retractable stylus is kept in its compartment at the back of the console, much like it was with the original DS.
Opening the 3DS reveals some of the more apparent additions; The first that’s likely to be noticed is the new widescreen top screen, which if you couldn’t guess by the name of the system itself can display images in stereoscopic 3D. Also noticeable at first glance is the addition of a “circle pad,” which is an analog slidepad similar to what you would find on the PSP. The start and select buttons are now placed along the bottom edge of the touch screen with the new home button sandwiched between them. Overall the button layout remains largely the same with the exception of the D-pad being moved down to accommodate the circle pad, but most people who have played a DS will likely not have any problems adjusting to it.
At E3 2010, when Reggie Fils-Aime said that you “had to see to believe” the 3D effects that the 3DS was capable of, he was spot on. I’m honestly at a loss of words of how to describe it. When I finally found that sweet spot while I was testing the system out, it was a feeling of exhilaration. I knew that Nintendo had done something amazing; They had put three dimensions in the palm of my hand without the need for glasses. The technology isn’t new at all but it’s a whole new experience in this form. Still, with all the warnings about the effects that 3D can have on your eyes and head, the real test came when I brought it home and was able to give it a shot for a longer period of time.
The primary issue for me and 3D was the fact that, as a kid, I had an eye condition known as Strabismus which I required surgery to fix. Even still, this meant one of my eyes could wander off and ruin the 3D effect or that I could get a headache from eye strain faster than the average person. I’ve been playing with my 3D slider at maximum for hours at a time, and never had a problem with being able to properly see the 3D image. However, the fact that the effects are given as is, the 3DS’ sweet spot is fairly small, and even a simple twist can move the screen enough that you end up only seeing one eye’s image or the other. The system’s 3D capabilities, as Nintendo is quick to point out, is not for everyone. Warning labels on the system and game boxes are quick to say that children under 7 should only be playing in 2D mode, though optometrists claim that the effects can help them in diagnosing eye disorders.
The 3DS also comes with the introduction of Miis to the portable scene. Introduced with the launch of the Wii, these avatars come with a few new tricks, including the ability to generate your Mii’s facial features using a photo of yourself. New ways of sharing your Miis are now introduced as well, with the ability to generate and scan QR codes (look at the bottom of this post for mine) as well as walking around and picking up the Miis of other people through StreetPass Mii Plaza.
Nintendo has also made improvements with network and online connectivity. Friend codes still exist, but this time they are assigned per-system and not per-game. Though it’s not exactly up to par with Xbox Live and PSN, it’s a welcome improvement and removes the frustration of having to add your friends for every single online game that both you and them have. This also means that you now have a friends list capable of holding up to 100 people who prominently displays their Mii and their favorite title. Further improvements made to communication include StreetPass, which functions as a “universal tag mode” for 3DS titles. Data is exchanged between systems as they pass by depending on what games the user has registered. (Up to twelve can be registered at any time) What exactly gets exchanged depends on the game. For example, Ridge Racer 3D exchanges ghost data between players while Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition users will start a battle with their collected figurines as they walk by each other.
Even still, the system is not without its caveats. It’s been mentioned many times that the 3DS suffers from an unusually short battery life for a Nintendo handheld, barely edging out the PSP at 3-5 hours while playing 3DS game. It only lasts a couple of hours more when playing (non three dimensional) DS games. Another factor that at least is having people hold off on buying the system is the system’s launch lineup. While not the worst, people have described the games available at launch, which includes titles such as Pilotwings Resort, Steel Diver, and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, as lackluster. With the absence of the AAA titles announced at E3 last year, many are holding out until later this year. Although there are no known defects with the actual hardware just yet, some people with US and UK systems are reporting that their systems are crashing when playing certain titles, though this only seems to affect a small portion of units. Finally, the browser and eShop are currently locked out as they won’t be finalized and released until sometime in May, something that when coupled with the lack of Pokémon Global Link at the US release of Pokémon Black Version and Pokémon White Version, is starting to personally give me the impression that Nintendo would rather release a product without its full feature set rather than get it all up and running by launch.
In the end, though, the 3DS is a well-rounded system. I couldn’t really care less about the 3D effects but it ended up being an added bonus for me. This is coming from someone who firmly goes by “Gameplay over graphics. This system has impressed me so far in just about every way that it could and easily earns my seal of approval. Definitely pick this one up if you’re okay with the current software lineup and can afford the $250 price tag, but don’t feel the need to rush. Two days following the US release I’m still seeing units on store shelves, so the shortage issue that usually accompanies a Nintendo console launch isn’t apparent here.
Still, this is the first system that I picked up on launch day (three minutes into the day according to my receipt) and I can’t wait to see how the 3DS will entertain me over the next few years.