As Apple was mounting its assault on the portable gaming space, the Kyoto-based company threw gamers a curve, announcing plans for a new handheld system that would allow users to see images in stereoscopic 3D without the need for special glasses. It was a risky move, but it seems to be one that will pay off.
Preorders for the system are twice those of the Wii, according to Lazard Capital Management. And despite the plethora of less expensive games on the market, it appears the mass audience is eager to get its hands on the 3DS – even before they've seen what it can do.
I've been putting the system through its paces for a little over a week now – and the 3DS is an impressive game machine that has lots of potential. It is not, however, perfect – and if you're on the fence about getting one, you might be well served to wait for the inevitable refresh of the model.
Full details about the reasoning for this can be found after the jump.
First the good: Shaped like the familiar Nintendo DS, the 3DS features dual screens – one of which uses the touch mechanics that made its predecessor so popular. The top screen, where the 3D is shown, is noticeably bigger, though, and the game controls have been updated to include an analog stick that is much more comfortable than the typical D-pad.
The 3D effects are undeniably remarkable – and while they fall a bit short of the Real 3D in theaters, the lack of headgear is refreshing and the effects work well with the launch games. Positioning is important, though, as you need to be centered as you play in order for the 3D to pop – and a slider bar lets you adjust the level of 3D to help with eyestrain.
Beyond 3D, Nintendo finally shows some real improvement in the multiplayer arena, with an easy connect mode to home wireless servers (as well as AT&T hotspots around the country). A new mode called StreetPass, which lets you automatically share info with other 3DS owners when you bypass each other on the street, wasn't something I was able to test pre-release, but in concept could be a fun addition as well.
The battery life of the 3DS, however, is deplorable. With all the bells and whistles turned on, charges last as little as three hours – and even turning off 3D and scaling back everything else will only bring you to 5 hours. If the system won't last for a cross-country flight, that's disappointing.
The 3D itself, while certainly an achievement, isn't for everybody. Some people I had test the device quickly complained of headaches and one felt nauseous. That's not abnormal with 3D – and the slider is a good way to customize the effects – but it doesn’t erase the fact that the first thing most people will want to do with this device is crank the 3D to max and dive in.
The games themselves are a mixed bag. I've played about 10 of the launch titles and they're about what you'd expect with any new system – a few decent ones and some that were rushed out the door, but nothing extraordinary.
The best, ironically, are remakes of older games: "Street Fighter 4 3D Edition" takes a two year old title and updates it for the 3DS. It does so well, though, and will certainly please fighter fans. "Rayman 3D" is a port of an 11 year old game (!) but the joy of that title (originally "Rayman 2: The Great Escape") is timeless and the effects are well done.
Other winners include "Pilotwings Resort" and "Lego Star Wars 3". Steer clear of "The Sims 3" and "Nintendogs + Cats".
Nintendo deserves credit for staying true to its vision and not being distracted by the app movement. The company has made something that is primarily focused on games, rather than trying to be all things to all people. At the same time, it has wisely aligned with Hollywood studios to use the 3DS as a way to promote upcoming 3D films – and has hinted that a more involved relationship is coming.
Later this year, the company will also enable Netflix streaming to the system.
If you're not a person who needs the latest, coolest shiny object, though, there's no need to rush to buy one. Wait for the initial rush to end – and for Nintendo to roll out some of its real heavy hitters, like Mario and The Legend of Zelda – then reconsider. The technology is undeniably cool, but ultimately, the 3DS will live or die by the games.