3D – Sensationalist reporting is a bit of a fad now, and the 3DS hasn’t been exempt from the media scourge of reactionary logic. I’ll admit that at this point in time, very few products exist outside of the built-in software that makes keeping the 3D slider turned up a realistic prospect. As of now, most games merely pop a tiny bit off of the screen and give a nice touch of depth. It would be easy to write off the feature all together based on this small sample size, but if one were to look back at the original DS launch then they’d see an incredibly similar scenario. With the launch of the first dual-screened handheld, very few games made good use of the touch screen. The best use of it was gimmick laden Feel the Magic, a fun game but it made the touch screen look like no more than a trivial addition to the interactive medium of video games. Years later the very same system is filled with an expansive library of titles that could only have been done with the use of a stylus and a touch screen.
To sum up the feature so far: it works, and at the very least, it is a neat tool that has plenty of promise. Finding the sweet spot is a fairly easy procedure that can be accomplished in a handful of seconds, and once you reach that point the new level of depth gives a completely unique visual experience to anything I’ve played before.
Design – Holding a DS or even a DS Lite feels similar to holding a plastic child’s toy. Now, in an age where just about everyone has a million sleek devices bearing a lowercase ‘I’ as a prefix, Nintendo has aimed to end this feeling with a more substantial piece of hardware. I’m not exceptional with my device lingo, so allow me to just say that the device feels solid, well put-together. As for the aesthetic nature of the 3DS, I get the same feeling I would when I look at an iPod Touch or an iPhone. Every surface has that glossy feel and appearance that I would expect to see Steve Jobs holding up at his annual event of slightly upgrading old devices.
Pack-In Games – While Nintendo consoles almost universally launch bundled with at least one piece of exceptional software, their portables have been left out of that realm of pack-in delight in recent history. The Gameboy Advance came with an empty cartridge slot, the Nintendo DS came with a demo for Metroid Prime Hunters (in other words, it might as well have been an empty cartridge slot), but the 3DS is a little different. Though no physical games are gifted with a launch system, a bundle of free games are pre-built into every Nintendo 3DS. Upon first turning on the handheld, a dashboard menu will appear with a plethora of options free for you to tackle: Augmented Reality games, Faceraiders, and even an “RPG” featuring your custom-made Mii characters.
Star among these is Augmented Reality. One of the first items found in the 3DS box is a tiny packet filled with six cards, the purpose of which is unclear at the time. Each card displays a picture of an iconic piece of Nintendo past, including snapshots of the beloved Mario and even a few of the Pikmin just prattling about. The key to getting a game started is a card showing a simple “?” box, which you slide in front of the 3DS cameras on a flat surface in order to begin the festivities. The second you put it under the eyes of the camera, a tiny box with feet pops out of the card and begins to mosey about until it suddenly morphs your desktop into a variety of different landscapes and environments. It sounds amazing because it is, even the most jaded gamer can find joy watching their environment they are so familiar with be transformed into an interactive game world.
The rest of the built-in features are much lesser in shock value, but still impressive nonetheless. Faceraiders takes a picture of you, accurately identifies your age and gender, and then lets you shift your 3DS around in space as you shoot down flying versions of your head. It’s like Sinnistar, but different in that it’s your face that now torments the world. Unless you look like Sinnistar, in which case it is exactly the same.
Thumb Slider – The original DS got a lot of flak for not having an apt joystick solution, and the concurrent PSP release received its own share of flak for even having one at all. D-Pads are great, but with the new direction gaming has taken there is little room for hardware without a more multi-directional control scheme: the problem was how to do it without drifting off into the same awful territory that the PSP’s nub resides in. Luckily Nintendo achieve this on the first try, creating a fully functioning joystick without the cumbersome tendency to cause your fingers to careen away from the control mechanism. Who knew that fixing this age-old problem was as simple as a concave design?
Top Screen – I spent a lot of time perplexing over how much bigger the 3DS’s top screen is when compared to the bottom screen. And then, I turned the system on and was taken aback. It’s hard for me to spend much time talking about anything too much on the tech side of matters, so I’ll keep it short and sweet: it’s wonderful.
D-Pad – I’ve had a love hate relationship with the d-pad of the 3DS, but in the end negative emotion triumphed when my pad began to eek out an unpleasant noise every time I changed directions with it. The only way to describe it is stiff, a very stubborn mechanism that it seems wants to punish you for using anything but the thumb slider. If Nintendo is trying to phase out the d-pad, this is how they are going to go about doing it. By making clacking noises until our ears bleed.
Touch Screen – A Kotaku writer put it best when he described the current world as one in which a touch screen should be completely functional with mere taps of the finger instead of the unnecessary device of a stylus. You can use your finger, but the screen clearly isn’t designed for it and is much quicker to recognize the precise point of a pen. Worst of all, the stylus is so jammed into the back of the device that removing it from its holster is its own adventure in frustration.
Face Recognition – It actually works pretty well, this is entirely meant as revenge for making me look like a fish. Take that, Mii Channel.
Online, Again – Before I go off on the more-than typical rant about Nintendo’s incompetency with online functionality, let us first give them a round of applause for condensing the old Friend Code system into one, universal friend code that gives your friends access to you in each and every piece of software on the system. Also, the ability to see that your friends are online and playing a certain game, what a concept!
No messaging though, it legitimately doesn’t get any more basic than that. I have shoes with instant messaging in them, would it really be that preposterous to be able to send a good friend a quick little note via the Nintendo WiFi connection? The usual protection of children idea is outlandish; they aren’t going to go around scoping out stranger’s friends codes, so anyone and everyone they could message would be a friend with whom they mutually agreed to share codes.
Its 2011, Nintendo, you’ve had a whole generation of online failure with the Wii to put together a capable component that at least attempts to mimic an Xbox Live or PSN. And yet, you are still barely inched past the days of modem cards in the Gamecube.
Launch Line-Up – This is by all accounts a minor complaint, because we all know that top-notch software will be here in a matter of time. Decrying the launch line-up here is mostly just serving as a fair warning that if you chip in now, you had better become familiar with some of your old DS favorites while we wait out the dry spell so commonly associated with platform launches.
Wait, And Then Buy It – Yes, I’m aware that up to this point the review has painted a predominately positive picture of the 3DS as a piece of hardware. This praise reflects the quality I found apparent within, however, there is no reason to rush out to stores now and buy one. If you still are clinging to an old DS Lite or DSi, those should get you by until an actual must-have game hits the 3DS. Unless you are a fighting game fan, in which case, Super Street Fighter IV 3D needs to be rocking your world. Now!