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First look at the Nintendo 3DS

Nintendo 3DS Aqua Blue

Rating: ★★★★☆

When Nintendo announced that the latest in its line of DS handheld consoles would feature a glasses-free 3D screen, many people wondered if it would be more than just a gimmick. Discussion since has continued to focus on this screen, but my time with the new 3DS has shown me that it’s packed with many other innovative features.

3DS Screen and camera

Let’s get that screen out of the way first – yes it works, no it didn’t give me a headache (although apparently some people have found it uncomfortable), and yes in most cases it adds to the gaming experience. The first game I played was submarine combat game called Steel Diver, and even on the cartoony DS-style side scrolling levels, the added depth really engaged me in the game.

I tried out the 3D camera and the depth effect was remarkable. I particularly enjoyed being able to adjust the 3D effect after taking a photo, which enables you to alter the apparent distance of objects. There are also lots of effects you can apply either before or after taking the photo, similar to those on the previous DS.

There are a couple of problems with the cameras though. Firstly, your options for sharing your masterpieces are quite limited. You can share the photos with other DS users but, with more and more 3D TVs and computers coming on to market, it would be good if Nintendo made more of photo sharing. Secondly, it’s such a shame that the cameras in the 3DS are quite low resolution. Perhaps this was done to keep the cost of the console down, but it’s such a shame to see the great 3D effect on such grainy pictures.

Wireless tech

Nintendo have made interesting use of the “always on” wireless capability of the 3DS in a couple of interesting ways, which they’ve named SpotPass and StreetPass. SpotPass means that the 3DS is constantly looking out for available wireless connections to download updates, free software and other information, even when it’s in sleep mode.

StreetPass, on the other hand means that the 3DS will constantly look our for other 3DS owners around you to play games and share data with. The 3DS will feature privacy controls to control how open your 3DS is to making new friends!

Games

I was able to try out many of the games available at launch and generally the graphics seemed of a similar quality to the Wii, with the 3D effect never seeming to overpower the game. For the few games, like Super Monkey Ball 3D, where you might want to reduce or turn off the 3D effect there’s a handy slider to the right of the screen.

The reason you would switch 3D off completely in Super Monkey Ball “3D” is that you can use the inbuilt gyroscope to control the game but, as soon as you do, the 3D screen becomes rather annoying. The 3DS uses a technique called auto-stereoscopy to create the 3D effect. This means you don’t need to wear special 3D glasses, but the trade off is that the effect is only visible within a fairly narrow cone directly in front of the screen. As you tilt the 3DS, your eyes move in and out of this cone, and the 3D effect is broken.

Speaking of that gyroscope, my favourite feature of the 3DS is one that has hardly been discussed, perhaps lost behind all the 3D hype. Many of the games use a technique called Augmented Reality (AR), which combines the built-in camera, motion sensor and gyroscope to mix digital elements with the real world in entertaining ways.

Nintendo showed off a real-life card collecting game where you put a card on a flat surface, and when you point the 3DS cameras at it, a cartoon monster will appear to erupt out of the card in 3D, which you then defeat by shooting at it. There are games which require you to turn around as you’re playing to shoot at baddies behind you, and others that look like targets are floating in the same room as you. We’ve seen AR games on smartphones already, but the 3D camera really adds something extra here.

Pros

  • Nice 3D effect, with no need for special glasses
  • Great use of built-in compass anf gyroscope for augmented reality games
  • Impressive line-up of launch titles in different genres
  • StreetPass is an interesting take on social gaming

Cons

  • thr
  • Low resolution cameras are a bit of a let-down
  • 3D effect only works properly directly in front of the screen, so others can't really watch
  • Limited options for sharing your 3D photos

Verdict

It’s not without flaws, but I was rather impressed by the 3DS and I’d like to see what else game developers can do with all of the sensors Nintendo has built in. Overall Nintendo have made yet another interesting addition to the console market.

For the latest information, both before and after the launch in March, keep an eye on our Nintendo 3DS news coverage.


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