Mar 2 2011

Nintendo 3DS – hands-on impressions

Launching a piece of hardware with a unique selling point – 3D without the glasses – that can’t be conveyed by traditional advertising means is a tricky proposition. However, Nintendo have been in the business of promoting unconventional approaches to gaming before, and they know a thing or two about creating the sort of buzz that can make or break a fledgling games system (just don’t mention the Virtual Boy). To this end, the Big N has embarked on a series of preview events to provide would-be 3D gamers with the opportunity to get their hands – and eyes – on the new hardware.

It was at one such event that this long-time Nintendo gamer experienced a selection of the 3DS launch software line-up, plus a handful of titles poised for release in the months following the hardware’s March release.

First up, the device itself. While perhaps not as aesthetically pleasing as the sleek, satisfyingly-chiselled DS Lite, the new 3DS unit feels rather sturdier in the hands than the shiny plastic exterior suggests. The analogue nub slides unconventionally under the thumb but ultimately delivers the precision expected of a device that relies on 3D movement, while the traditional Nintendo D-pad and ABXY buttons are satisfyingly ‘clicky’, feeling more akin to an NES pad than the more recent DS incarnations.

The slider control used to adjust the degree to which the 3D is projected does work, but I found myself either wanting to max out the 3D effect, or simply turn it off completely. It’s likely, though, that prolonged play will require the user to find a more subtle balance. The effectiveness of the 3D effect itself varies from game-to-game – and I’ll offer some more specific observations shortly – but needless to say, any game that makes use of the 3DS’s gyroscope (or Wii-like ‘waggle’) to control the action immediately runs into problems: tilting the screen to navigate Super Monkey Ball almost immediately moves the 3D screen out of its ‘sweet spot’. The unit must be held at a certain distance from the eyes, and at a particular inclination, for the 3D effect to work – even minor variations can result in the appearance of flicker, or the loss of a clear 3D image altogether.

The software installed on the 3DS is actually rather impressive (aside from the suspiciously absent eShop and web browser) . The bizarre Face Raiders, where a 3D(ish) image of your head, or that of your friends, becomes a target to shoot in a variety of colourful settings is an unexpected blast. The included Augmented Reality (AR) cards also show huge promise. The AR-based mini-game on show at this event,  in which you shoot a small creature on the table top in front of you, proved to be a particular highlight (in no way influenced by the charms of the attendant booth babe).

Overall, whether or not you’ll actually enjoy the 3D is likely to come down to personal preference. There is undoubtedly a certain novelty associated with glasses-free 3D and some of the software on show at these preview events really capitalises on the effect. Resident Evil looks particularly stunning on the handheld, as does its Capcom stablemate, Super Street Fighter IV, although all of the best-looking games on show were pretty impressive with the 3D turn off. Forthcoming titles such as Paper Mario and Metal Gear Solid may even surpass these ‘launch window’ titles in their use of 3D to create stunning, detailed, immersive game worlds. However, as someone for whom James Cameron’s Avatar effectively signalled the end their visits to the multiplex, 3D – with or without glasses – is simply not a game changer.