The Good: 3D gaming without special (and expensive!) glasses • 3D effect slider to adjust 3D for max comfort • Shoots and displays 3D photographs • Comes preinstalled with a bevy of software and a drop and charge dock • Smaller screen means fewer 3D headaches.
The Bad: Launch lineup is lacklustre • Low-resolution lenses provide grainy photos • The 3D effect can "snap out" due to sensitive viewing angles and games that encourage movement • Very short battery life • Expensive
The Nintendo 3DS packs in a hefty number of features in addition to its ability to play 3D games. It's Wi-Fi-capable and compatible with 802.11 b/g interfaces, backward-compatible with Nintendo DS games and has dual back-facing and single front-facing cameras in addition to a microphone. It can take and view 3D photos as well as play 3D video. We should note, though, that older DS games don't play in 3D when used with the 3DS.
It's also the first Nintendo portable to sport an analog stick and feature both a gyroscope and a motion sensor.
The Nintendo 3DS resembles the DS Lite in almost every way, except for a few details. It measures 21mm high by 134mm wide by 74mm deep, and weighs in at about 230g; nearly identical to the DS Lite's specs. Even the lower screens appear the same size, with both coming in at about 3 inches. The 3DS' top screen is wider than the DS Lite's and sports a 3.53-inch diagonal display with a resolution of 800x240 pixels (where 400 pixels are allocated to each eye for the 3D effect).
It's available at launch in either Cosmo Black or Aqua Blue, but we'll be surprised if more colours didn't pop up by year's end. The 3DS' case seems to shimmer in direct light, and the plastic coating is quite shiny. The front lid sits two 0.3-megapixel cameras that allow for 3D photography. We'd be lying if we said the cameras are acceptable in size. At this price point, we really think anything less than 2 megapixels is a letdown - especially considering these cameras are the same size as what the DSi and DSi XL offered.
When closed, the 3DS has, on the right side, a Wi-Fi switch. The left has a volume slider and an SD card slot (which already houses an included 2GB SD card).
Along the right hinge is an LED notification light that acts as a messaging centre. It'll blink when there's a new message or if any StreetPass or SpotPass activity has occurred. We'll have more on both of these features a bit later.
Around back are the left and right shoulder buttons, an infrared port, the game card slot, housing for the collapsible stylus and the AC charging and docking port.
When opened up, the 3DS still resembles the DS Lite in many ways, so we'll just cover what's new. To the left of the lower touchscreen is an analog nub that Nintendo dubs the circle pad. Below it is the conventional D-pad (directional pad). Underneath the touch screen is the new location for the Select, Home and Start buttons. To their right is the power button, which, when pushed, allows you to put the 3DS to sleep or shut it down completely. The headphone jack, power and charging LED indicators all lie along the bottom of the unit.
Up top is the wide 5:3 3D screen and to its right is the 3D slider. Here you have the option of adjusting the overall 3D effect or removing it altogether. Above the 3D top screen is the third 0.3-megapixel camera that faces the user; it cannot shoot in 3D.
We couldn't help but notice that when opened, the 3DS' top screen does wiggle a little bit, unlike the rock-solid design of the previous DS line. It doesn't really compromise gameplay or 3D at all, but we felt it was worth mentioning.
The 3DS has internal storage, but it appears that space is reserved for system applications. We were able to save photos internally, but games were always saved onto the SD card. We're not too sure of exactly how much storage is in there, either, but Nintendo says that information will be made available soon.
The 3D technology
The 3DS uses autostereoscopic 3D technology, which means two separate images are being displayed on the top screen when the device is in 3D mode. There is a certain "handshaking" that our eyes need to do to lock in the 3D effect, and when it does the result is truly eye-popping.
Instead of popping out, the 3D image feels like it goes deeper into the screen. The best way we've been able to convey the effect is by referring to those old Magic Eye images that required some eye-crossing to get 3D objects to appear. Not to worry, there's no eye-crossing going on here, though some titles we played definitely took a few seconds of getting used to, especially with the 3D slider maxed out. On rare occasions the effect was actually overwhelming and had us jumping for the slider.
Judging from the six games Nintendo included with our review unit, our hands-on time at various events and the AR Games preloaded on the 3DS, we think each title will have varying "sweet spots" for 3D intensity and playing distance. Of course the choice is ultimately up to the user, but don't be surprised if each game requires its own 3D adjustment. Furthermore, we wouldn't be surprised to find gamers turning 3D off altogether when playing titles that don't seem to benefit from the effect. Out of the games we played, Madden Football seemed to have no business being in 3D, so we switched it off. The 3D won't give the player any real advantage in-game, it just enhances the gaming experience.
The biggest question on everyone's mind has got to be whether the 3D mode makes the user dizzy or sick. In our experience we never felt nauseated, but that's not to say we didn't suffer an occasional headache from maxing out the 3D. Of course each player will have his or her own reaction to the system - so while an 8-year-old might have absolutely no negative side effects from playing, a 75-year-old might suffer a different fate (or vice versa). Regardless, any undesirable consequences can be eliminated by turning the 3D mode off.
On the box
The 3DS comes preinstalled with the following:
• AR Games: Six cards come packed inside the 3DS box for use with "AR Games", the 3DS' augmented reality app. Using the outward-facing cameras, the 3DS can recognise these cards lying on a flat surface and then superimpose a mini-game on screen. This is definitely one of the first games to show-off to friends, as the wow factor is really high. There's a decent amount of processing going on, so the frame rates aren't stellar, but nevertheless it's a truly impressive use of the hardware.
• Nintendo 3DS Sound: Similar to the DS-branded sound app, this allows the user to create and record audio. It'll also play music (MP3, M4A, 3GP) that can be loaded onto an SD card.
• Camera: Photos can be taken via the front- or back-facing cameras, though 3D photography can only be done with the dual back-facing cameras. Gone are the camera effects from the DSi, but new 3D ones are available. The 3D photo taking is a lot of fun and works well, though the low-resolution lenses have trouble in low-light situations (even with the low-light filter on). Photos are almost always too grainy and really feel behind the times.
• MiiMaker: Similar to the Wii's Mii interface, MiiMaker allows you to create avatars for use with various software and games. Miis can be made from scratch or with the help of a photograph. In our testing, the photo-to-Mii creation was surprisingly accurate. A Mii can also be given a QR icon for other 3DS consoles to snap a photo and import the Mii directly onto the system.
• Mii Plaza: Using the StreetPass feature, users have the option to "invite" other Miis residing on 3DS consoles that are in close physical range. Miis will automatically transfer over and live in the Mii Plaza.
• Download Play: Featured in the last few generations of the DS, Download Play allows for game sharing with other local consoles. This feature is also backward-compatible with older Nintendo DS consoles. Each game has its own varying level of Download Play compatibility.
• Face Raiders: Another preinstalled game, Face Raiders is a mini-game that superimposes a photograph taken at the start of a session and has the user shoot enemies that sport his or her own face. This also has augmented reality elements and requires the player to physically turn 360 degrees to look for flying enemies and objects.
• Activity Log: Essentially the 3DS' diary, the Activity Log records various statistics such as how many games have been played, how long they've been played and even the number of steps a user has taken in a given day using a pedometer feature. Play Coins are rewarded for every 100 steps taken, which can then be cashed in for in-game items, Mii Plaza perks, AR Games and more.
Most of the time, the 3DS is a zippy machine, easily suspending games and apps and allowing multitasking. Some games take a few seconds to load, but we've yet to experience any gratuitous lagging. That said, original DS games happen to load slower on the 3DS than they do on their native systems. We're not totally sure why, but CNET sister site GameSpot thinks it's because of software emulation hiccups.
Battery life is something the 3DS has already taken a hit for simply because its predecessors have such impressive performance. In our testing, we found Nintendo's claims of three to five hours (depending on screen brightness) to be spot-on. It'll take the 3DS roughly 3.5 hours to fully charge.
The included charging dock reinforces Nintendo's push to have the 3DS on at all times. We really like the dock and its ease of use, especially since we'll need to charge the 3DS more often than any of its predecessors.
With the introduction of augmented reality and various motion-sensing technologies, some games require the user to physically move around with the 3DS. Historically, mobile gaming consoles never offered such range, so it'll be interesting to see how gamers respond when being asked to circle 360 degrees the next time they're playing a game on, say, a subway train.
The Nintendo 3DS launches March 31 with a launch lineup of just nine games (not including those preloaded onto the system) priced at AU$69.95 each. Interestingly enough, neither of these games is a first-party player like Mario or Zelda, though a 3D remake of Ocarina of Time is due out "soon" (release date to be confirmed). Nintendo has also confirmed a new Mario game is in the works, but gave no details as to when we can expect it. Overall, the launch titles leave a bit to be desired, but here they are for your viewing pleasure:
• Nintendogs + Cats (Nintendo)
• Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition (Capcom)
• Ridge Racer 3D (Namco Bandai)
• Rabbids 3D (Ubisoft)
• Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell 3D (Ubisoft)
• Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Shadow Wars (Ubisoft)
• Combat Of Giants: Dinosaurs 3D (Ubisoft)
• Rayman 3D (Ubisoft)
• Asphalt 3D (Ubisoft)
The most highly anticipated titles, such as Kid Icarus: Uprising, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Star Fox 64 3D, Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, and LEGO Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean, have a tantalising "coming soon" or "TBC" listed as a release date.
Priced at $349.95, the 3DS is the most expensive portable system Nintendo has ever debuted. That said, it's also the most technically capable. Though a weaker than usual launch lineup and inactivated online functionality dampen the 3DS' start, the future certainly looks bright.
Who should buy the 3DS? Anyone who wants to have the absolute latest and greatest the world of portable gaming has to offer. The 3D effect is absolutely eye-popping the instant it hits; it opens the door for developers to innovate and impress. While the list of launch titles could use some help, there's plenty of fun to be had with the preinstalled software and the incoming access to the eShop in May.
Who shouldn't buy it? Gamers who are on the fence about the 3DS need to decide if the novelty of 3D gaming is worth the plunge. For those who are content gaming on the DS with its extensive list of great games, it may be worth holding off on a 3DS purchase, especially since not all of its features are unlocked. This aside, we can't promise those who wait will see a price drop anytime soon. Those who are easily disturbed by 3D should also try a 3DS in the store before purchasing.
Overall, we think the 3DS is a worthy successor to the original DS family. Though 3D portable gaming certainly takes a bit of getting used to, Nintendo has once again set a precedent and paved the way for innovation. With a totally different and constantly evolving mobile gaming landscape in place, it'll be interesting to see if this will be enough to keep Nintendo on top.