Well, Japan’s had it for a month now and our US counterparts got their hands on the thing a few short days ago. Now it’s our turn with the 3DS; the first autostereoscopic (glasses-free) gaming console, and the successor to the biggest-selling handheld console in history. Tomorrow, early Kiwi adopters can finally pick theirs up from the store.
Game Console’s 3DS turned up last Friday, thanks to the kind folk at Nintendo, for the purpose of our on-going software reviews. Two 3DS launch titles accompanied the unit: Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and Nintendogs + Cats. If you’re on the fence – either in deciding whether to join the early adopters or whether you should reconsider your pre-order – Game Console’s here to help with our impressions after a good five days with the device.
After docking the 3DS for the first time (and anxiously checking every few minutes to see if it was done so I could play the thing), the initial charge took approximately two and a half hours. You’ll know it’s done when the orange LED on the front of the device switches off. Once you fire it up, there’s a quick 3D-calibration set-up to determine a level of 3D viewing that’s to your liking (facilitated by the 3D "slider” on the right side of the top display).
An Aqua Blue 3DS not too dissimilar from the one sent to Game Console
So how is the 3D effect? Well, while I’m loath to use Nintendo’s own marketing speak in describing it, it is rather apt: "to believe it, you just have to see it”. The 3D visuals of the 3DS are, in a word, striking. I’ve reviewed other portable, stereoscopic 3D devices (such as the Fujifilm Finepix 3D camera and the JVC Everio 3D camcorder), and while I was impressed at the time with the autostereoscopic 3D effects of these two devices, the 3DS leaves them in the dust. In fact, the effect is at least as good as the best stereoscopic (glasses-required) 3D that I’ve witnessed, albeit on a smaller screen that does lessen the impact a little.
While I won’t use this piece as an outlet to review that game (look here for that instead), Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition is a great example of the visual finesse the 3DS is capable of; the definition and real sense of distance afforded by the 3DS is quite remarkable. The various background layers provide a real sense of depth, and it really does feel like there is a miniature world beyond the flat display of the 3DS. The 3D effect can be adjusted to your liking thanks to the slider on the side, and it can even be set so there’s no 3D effect whatsoever. You will need to keep a consistent viewing angle directly in front of the 3DS' display to maintain the 3D effect, though. Being a handheld, it's easy enough to achieve with the 3DS. However, a game like Super Street Fighter IV, with its fairly involved button input, is a good example of a title that may cause you to move the unit around a little.
As many early adopters have reported, the 3DS’ battery life isn’t great, particularly if you make a lot of use of its full 3D capabilities. Combine this with ‘Sleep Mode’ – a dormant-but-switched-on state that Nintendo encourages you to activate when your 3DS is not in use – and you’ll probably find that a couple of hours’ worth of play (probably between three and four from a single charge) will bring the 3DS’ battery to its knees. This will come as a particular shock to DSi owners owing to that model's exceptional battery life, which was sometimes in the region of 10 hours from a single charge. The DSi was pretty much ideal for long plane trips; as for the 3DS, I’m not so sure.
In particular, the Augmented Reality (AR) games seem to drain the device’s battery rather quickly. Hopefully Nintendo rectifies this either with a revised model or some other kind of battery solution in future; otherwise, your only option to prolong its battery life is to, ironically, limit your use of the device’s core feature.
Speaking of the AR Games, this aspect of the 3DS’ features set turned out to be perhaps the most surprising. It’s perhaps the best practical use of the handheld’s 3D capability, and really hints at what may be possible from the device once publishers begin to utilise the capability. Essentially, AR Games is a series of mini games that makes use of one of six augmented-reality cards supplied with your system. By placing the card on, say, your kitchen table, your 3DS can overlay game assets over a real-time video feed of the table surface. For instance, in ‘Shooting’, a bunch of targets spring from the table at varying angles, and you’re required to shoot at them (and even manoeuvre around the table to get a direct shot). Eventually, the 3DS begins to manipulate the environment, your kitchen table pulsating on-screen before your eyes and subsequently moving the targets. And then there’s the finale, where a dragon emerges from the table and you’re required to target his various sections while avoiding his lunging bites and flaming breath (which you do by quite literally dodging them with your 3DS). In short, the games not only display a 3D image, but they also require you to make use of 3D space.
AR Games is a great way to show off your new 3DS to friends
Other games include ‘AR Shot’, an interesting combination of mini golf and, er, snooker, where the 3DS manipulates the environment to form a variety of obstacle-laden mini-golf courses. You then attempt to hit the ball at the right angle with your, er, pool cue (again achieved by physically manoeuvring around the play space) so that it sinks into the hole. And there’s a fishing game, where you dip a fishing rod into water and attempt to reel in a variety of fish (worth different points) by gently lifting the 3DS once you’ve got a bite. Other uses of the AR Cards include a feature where you can place 3D versions of Nintendo characters (in a variety of poses) anywhere in your household, on your shoulder, next to the dog – wherever – and take photographs of them. You can also do the same with your Mii character. Unfortunately, there appears to be no way to upload them to the net directly from your 3DS (using wi-fi) to, say, Facebook or Twitter to share your photos with the world. Instead, you’ll have to go the route of removing your device’s SD card, transferring the images to your computer and then uploading them manually. Seems like a missed opportunity for users to flood social-media streams with images showing off how cool their 3DS is to me. Obviously, the 3D effect will be lost on most viewers, but it’s still a chance to show off a picture with Mario on your shoulder!
Eventually, you’ll unlock new AR features (such as an MS Paint-like 3D ‘Graffiti’ feature, a 3D clock, a 3D globe and more) along with variants of the existing games. You unlock these extras with a combination of game progression (by, say, completing ‘Shooting’) and spending Play Coins.
Take 3D pictures of Nintendo characters posing on your coffee table
The Play Coin system is a rather clever inclusion for Nintendo. The coins are earned by simply carrying your 3DS around with you, with the device’s in-built pedometer awarding you one coin for every 100 steps you take (with a daily maximum of 10). While it may seem like an initiative intended to promote a healthy lifestyle, the truth is that it’s more of a way to encourage 3DS users to haul their devices around in Sleep Mode. This way, Nintendo is increasing the odds that the user will make use of the 3DS’ SpotPass and StreetPass features. SpotPass effectively makes use of a number of pre-determined wireless hotspots with which 3DS units, switched on or in Sleep Mode, will automatically download demos, system updates, or receive promotions and the like. Unfortunately, StreetPass support is not immediately supported in Australasia and, in fact, nothing has been announced for New Zealand whatsoever at the time of writing. StreetPass is a similar feature, although this one relies on other 3DS units; it facilitates communication between any 3DS consoles in your vicinity and trades game information, Mii characters and more.
Some software titles even make use of the StreetPass feature, such as Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, where dormant 3DSs can do battle with one another without the user’s interaction. As I write this before launch, there must only be a very small number of 3DS units currently doing the rounds in New Zealand, so there was no real way for me to test this out. Even still, I imagine that in somewhere like the bustling, densely populated streets of Tokyo, StreetPass will shine. But come launch here in New Zealand, I imagine instances of passing another 3DS owner with their unit in tow are far less likely. It’ll be interesting to see how frequently this feature is used here without prior organisation.
I have a couple of minor gripes with the hardware itself. The device’s stylus is located at the system’s rear, and I’m not a big fan of the positioning. Instead, I prefer that of the DSi, where it can be easily located and accessed from the device’s right side while it’s in use. It may seem like a trivial detail, but it began to bug me, especially when you don’t require the stylus to drive much of the interface initially but may be required to use it later. Secondly, the touchscreen area really does pick up your fingerprints like nothing else (especially after playing something like Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, where the stylus is just not practical). Subsequently, the marks are then transferred to the top display upon closing the 3DS.
So there’s a fair bit to keep you occupied if you pick up your 3DS at launch but, unfortunately, a lot of the 3DS’ appeal lies in the promise of what’s still to come: The New Zealand launch line-up is decidedly lacklustre (personally, Super Street Fighter IV was the only launch title of any vague interest, and I already own it on another console); many of the features are yet to be installed (such as the Web browser and the 3DSWare storefront), and we still don’t know if SpotPass hotspots will be implemented here in New Zealand.
PROS: A considerable revision of the DS platform. Absolutely stunning, sharp 3D visuals. The long-overdue addition of the analogue nub. Some cool new features, particularly the augmented-reality aspect.
CONS: Short battery life. Awkward stylus positioning. Missing or unimplemented features at launch. No system-selling, must-have launch titles.
VERDICT: The 3DS is an absolutely impressive device, but I see no real reason to join the launch-day massive just yet. That said, there’s a lot of untapped potential here; the Augmented Reality aspect presents an unprecedented level of depth, and I can’t wait to see how publishers incorporate it into future titles. And you just know that the eventual arrival of the first-party hero franchises – specifically, Super Mario 3DS, Super Mario Kart, Star Fox, The Legend of Zelda et al – will present all the reason you need to own one. But you probably won’t kick yourself if you wait until then.