The 3DS from Nintendo is a worthy upgrade and sets the tone for the next generation of portable gaming. It features a solid build quality, the ability to take 3D photos, real-time online functionality and built-in augmented reality software.
Of course, the 3DS can also display content—from the system menu to games and videos—in 3D on its upper screen without the need for glasses, which is arguably the biggest appeal of the hardware. However, there are some quirks and limitations to the 3D technology.
To view the 3D effect, the 3DS should be between nine and 14 inches from your face, directly in front of you. The “sweet spot” for optimal viewing can vary widely from person to person, so luckily the hardware includes a slider to control the intensity of the effect, meaning users can optimize their viewing experience.
The 3D effect can be turned off completely, which leaves you with a crisper, brighter 2D image and often results in game software running at a higher frame rate. 3DS software is typically limited to 30 fps in 3D mode.
It is recommended that those with children under seven years of age disable 3D using parental controls, to prevent their children from potentially damaging their vision.
3D is not mandatory and Nintendo is actively discouraging developers from creating software that is 3D dependent. While this means more people, including young children and those incapable of seeing stereoscopic 3D (stereo blind) can enjoy playing games on the 3DS, it also means that 3D will be relegated to a display enhancement and not a gameplay revolution like the Wii or DS were upon release.
From a personal standpoint, the 3D works and I usually have it set to 80-100% strength. However in the case of playing Pilotwings Resort, I need to turn it down to about 30% or the image will become blurry and defocused.
I also have difficulty seeing the 3D effect without my glasses as one of my eyes is substantially weaker than the other. I suspect that if I was equally blind in both eyes the effect would work again. Also, I have never been able to see “magic eye” posters, but can see the 3D effect of the 3DS.
The 3D, widescreen upper display looks very nice It’s crisp and bright and is a great showcase for the increased horsepower of the 3DS compared to its predecessor or the PSP. Graphically speaking it looks in line with Wii software and the 3DS undoubtedly has the best graphics of currently available handheld devices.
The audio fidelity also seems better than previous DS consoles, though it could just be perceived because of better speaker hardware. The 3DS has a fully-featured music player that includes eight visualizations, the ability to adjust tempo and pitch, add effects or even play along with a kick and snare drum.
The Nintendo 3DS Sound application also allows users to record and edit almost 200 samples of ten seconds or less.
Also built into the 3DS operating system is the AR (augmented reality) Games application. Each 3DS system comes with six cards featuring familiar Nintendo characters. When these cards are placed on a flat surface and scanned using the AR Games application, they transform the world around you into a gameplay environment.
I won’t ruin the surprise for you, but using the AR Games cards for the first time gave me a sense of childlike joy I haven’t felt from a gaming device in some time. It’s a really cool feature that could be implemented into retail games. Hopefully we see Nintendo release new sets of cards or package them with retail games as an enhancement.
Face Raiders is a built-in AR game that uses projects photos you take onto floating heads that you must shoot with the A button. You must literally look around your environment, utilizing the built-in accelerometer and gyroscope of the 3DS to aim. Its a fun little novelty that showcases the features of the 3DS, but its quite shallow and didn’t hold my attention for even an hour.
The Mii characters that became ubiquitous on Wii are integrated into the 3DS experience in a major way. When you open the Mii Maker for the first time, you will create your personal Mii that essentially serves as the main identity of your system. You can make a Mii from scratch, use the inner camera to snap a photo, or even import from your Wii.
The StreetPass Mii Plaza acts as an online hub of sorts. When in sleep mode (on but closed), or while playing a game, the wireless StreetPass technology actively looks for other 3DS signals in the area and can transfer game information and Mii data. Using this feature allows you to populate your StreetPass Mii Plaza.
There are some games built into the StreetPass Mii Plaza also. Find Mii is a dungeon-crawling adventure of sorts that requires you to hire heroes. This can be accomplished using StreetPass, or by spending Play Coins. Play Coins are earned by simply walking around with your 3DS in sleep mode and utilizing a built in
pedometer system. You can earn up to ten Play Coins a day, which only takes 1000 steps to get.
Once you hire heroes, they set off on a journey to find your Mii and will encounter enemies along the way. Defeating enemies will earn you special hats to place on your Mii. Your heroes can perform one action before they are exhausted, so getting through Find Mii could take a while.
You can also use Play Coins and StreetPass encounters to play Puzzle Swap. This simply entails collecting a number of pieces to view a 3D picture.
There are some more practical features built into the 3DS as well. Game Notes allows you to jot down notes for suspended game software, which can be very useful if you need to stop playing suddenly and don’t want to forget what you’re doing.
A detailed Activity Log tracks your play time for software and system functions, as well as your pedometer data. It can be sorted in a number of ways and even keeps a cumulative monthly total.
There are a ton of bells and whistles included in the 3DS operating system, but Nintendo still can’t seem to get the basic user interface experience right. Menus are needlessly cumbersome and obtuse and managing your friends list or data can be a real chore. It’s familiar and somewhat expected, but if there was one thing I’d improve about the 3DS, it’s the UI.
The actual 3DS hardware is a bit thicker and shorter in length, but isn’t that much different from a DSi outside of its technological upgrades. The d-pad, face button and trigger hardware haven’t changed, though there are some layout changes.
The d-pad has been moved down to accommodate the new analog-style circle pad. The circle pad is tight and responsive, however I found that the d-pad is set a little low to operate comfortably during long play sessions.
Start and select have been moved to under the touch screen, along with a new home button that allows you to access the UI while using software. The camera has been moved to above the top screen and an Infrared port has been added.
A change I did not care for at all was going from a digital volume control back to a tiny slider like on older DS hardware. A wireless switch that can be toggled at any time is on the other side of the unit. The SD card slot has switched sides and the telescoping stylus housing has been moved to the top.
The hardware feels solid for the most part, but can clearly be improved from both a functionality and an aesthetic standpoint. Battery life could also be improved, as you can expect the unit to last about 3 hours on a full charge when using 3D and wireless functionality. The included charging cradle is really more of a necessity than a luxury.
I’ve spent a solid week with the 3DS and a number of games and for me, it was a very worthwhile upgrade from the DSi. It’s not a huge generational leap in terms of gameplay or even graphics just yet and the 3D effect is primarily cosmetic, but it’s just enough of an advancement to be relevant and feel fresh.
I would highly suggest researching the available titles and even trying an in-store display to be sure the 3DS is for you. The launch lineup is rather thin, with the next wave of major titles not expected until Fall of 2011. Of course, the 3DS is backwards compatible with your DS and DSi cartridges as well.
It should be noted that an update will be made available in May of 2011 that will allow you to transfer your DSiWare purchases to the 3DS and access the 3DSWare store and utilize the built-in Internet browser.
+ Glasses-Free 3D Display Works as Advertised
+ 3D Photo Application and AR Games
+ Solid Hardware Build
– Relatively Short Battery Life
– Can be Tough to Find the “Sweet Spot” for 3D Viewing
– User Interface is Cumbersome