Nintendo 3DS Review
When I was a wee lad, Nintendo was the gaming company. The Nintendo and the Super Nintendo had been smash hits, and even though the Game Boy was old and grayscale, it still outsold all pretenders to the throne. It seemed like they could do no wrong. Of course, as a young child, I was completely stuck on video games, even though my parents wouldn’t let me own any. But my best friend did. He didn’t just own a few; it seemed like he owned every game that came out on every system possible. He was generous enough to bring them all to my house one year for a birthday party, a gaming party, and the centerpiece was Nintendo’s newest innovation: The Virtual Boy!
I remember the giddy excitement when my friend brought in the system. I was especially curious to try it out because I had just seen The Lawnmower Man on cable and my conception of virtual reality was…overblown to say the least. Even had my expectations been more in line with the real thing, the Virtual Boy was nothing but a disappointment. The system offered monochrome, poorly defined images on vastly separated planes that did nothing but give the player a headache. It was a heartbreaking experience, and the beginning of a series of terrible decisions that knocked Nintendo far off the top spot.
Of course, as we know, Nintendo clawed its way back to the top, thanks to the Wii. But before the Wii came their real first big success of the modern gaming era: The DS. The dual screen system that featured touch capabilities was a remarkable success. The best games on the system offered a whole new experience that nothing else could replicate. Since the release of the original system, Nintendo has continued to refine it, first making it smaller, than adding cameras, and finally releasing a larger deluxe version. But all of these were ultimately design changes. Although the DSi did add some new functionality, it still played the same games in the same way. Now comes the true successor to the DS, the Nintendo 3DS. As the name implies, the 3DS offers a 3D gaming experience. Will this prove to be as much of a hit as its predecessor, or will this be a very real disaster on par with the Virtual Boy?
At first glance, the 3DS hearkens back to the bigger, blocky design of the original iteration of the DS. A few sharp angles and an eye-catching chrome front highlights the first clue to the new abilities of the system: Two cameras for shooting 3D images. Opening it up, the larger stereoscopic screen immediately catches the eye. On its right side lies a 3D slider to let you adjust the depth of the image. The bottom portion of the system looks similar, except now the directional pad has been lowered, and an wide analog nub sits above it.
Turning the system on, one is immediately impressed by the 3D image on the top screen, which requires no glasses to see. Even without a cartridge, the 3DS offers some formidable entertainment that falls right in line with Nintendo’s love affair with casual gaming. The Mii’s return with a new twist. Now, instead of laboriously choosing through individual features to create familiar faces, you can instead take a photo using either the front-facing or back-facing cameras, and the system will convert that photo into a Mii. Then, if you are not satisfied with the results, you can change features as you please. Some of the conversions are eerily effective, and those that aren’t can be easily adjusted. That’s not the only use for the cameras. Another game, called “Face Raiders,” allows you to take photos of faces (even photos of other faces), which are then animated and used in an augmented reality shooter, where the faces destroy the room you’re in while you fire at them. It’s simple, but effective, and a lot of fun for a little time waster of a game.
But wait, there’s more! The 3DS comes with a series of augmented reality cards (referred to as AR Cards). The basic one is a question mark, and the other five are famous Nintendo characters (Mario, Samus, Link, Kirby, and the Pikmen). When you point the 3D cameras at the AR cards, different things happen depending on the context. The question mark opens up a series of mini games, and even more can be unlocked thereafter. Certain games can also use the AR cards, such as Nintendogs, which will have your particular dog pop up in front of you, and when combined with the character cards, your dog even takes on aspects of them, such as wearing Mario’s hat.
You can, of course, use the cameras to take 3D photos, which look quite impressive on the screen. All of the pre-rendered effects the DSi offered for photos (such as various stickers or face-merging), are still available here, but the main draw is the 3D effect. Of course, this begs the question, just how good is it? Considering no glasses are necessary, it’s often excellent. The sense of depth is palpable, and the slider allows each player to adjust the effect until it’s most comfortable. But with the lack of glasses comes a price. In this case, it’s the strict viewing angles at which the 3D looks good. You have to look at the screen pretty much dead on to get the intended effect, and even slight deviations will break the image up into its constituent eye images. In general it’s pretty obvious how you need to view the screen, but sometimes it seems like no matter what you do, the eyes don’t converge. Still, it works more often than not, and when it’s working, it’s great.
The other price comes in the form of battery life. Nintendo rates the battery of the 3DS at three to five hours, but good luck getting to that five hour mark. If you turn off the 3D, the sound, and lower the brightness as much as you can bear, you might just get close to five hours, but why even get the system if that’s how you’re going to use it? No, in truth, using 3D and sound and brightness, you’ll probably get closer to the three hour end of the range, and it smarts. The DS has at least double the amount of battery as the 3DS, and while portable systems are great for pick up and go games, you’ll be surprised at just how fast the battery will run out on you.
As far as I can tell, putting the system into sleep mode is as effective as it was on previous DS systems, meaning that battery drain will be minimal. This is good, because Nintendo has found ways for the system to remain active even while asleep. If you encounter someone else with a sleeping 3DS system, the two can exchange information, sending Mii avatars back and forth, giving points to both users that can be exchanged for new AR mini games, and more. Some 3DS games also offer bonuses for interacting with other copies of the game in this way. Nintendogs allows you to give and receive presents, Street Fighter IV lets you trade collectible figures, and I’m sure other games will take further advantage of this new technology.
The question is, what kind of value proposition does the 3DS offer? The first DS was so new, so bold, and so original that buying one seemed like a foregone conclusion. That is not the case with the 3DS. For all of its leaps forward, the system is ultimately a 3D version of the DS. Whether or not game developers truly take advantage of that remains to be seen. The possibilities are there, to be sure. Imagine a game where the playing field changes based on the level of 3D you apply, for example. But those games don’t exist at launch, and Nintendo wants $250 for the privilege of owning their newest creation. I don’t feel any buyer’s remorse, but given the system’s limitations, each person will have to make that decision for themselves. I will say this, though. Every one I know who has handled the 3DS has wanted one. In that way, perhaps, the 3DS is the true successor to the DS, a system that feels like unexplored territory.