The Nintendo 3DS sure has a tough act to follow. Its predecessor – the Nintendo DS – is one of the best-selling games consoles of all time, with well over 100 million units shifted. Topping that staggering figure isn’t going to be easy, but Nintendo’s new machine as a few tricks up its sleeve – as we’re about to discover in our official 3DS hardware review.
Better in Three Dimensions
We might as well cut to the chase – the 3D effect showcased by the 3DS is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Nintendo has gone to great lengths to stress that static screens cannot do justice to the brilliant of the console’s innovative auto-stereoscopic display, and with good reason. Your jaw will quite literally hit the floor when you first witness this baby in motion.
As amazing as the screen is, it isn’t without its caveats. For starters, the effect is only achievable when you’re viewing the screen dead-on. Even a little deviation to the left or right is enough to break the illusion of depth, so you need to hold the 3DS perfectly still during play. It’s hardly the perfect situation for a portable games console, but before long you’ll learn to keep your movements to a bare minimum.
In terms of physical design, the 3DS clearly shares the same DNA as its ancestor, the DS. Much of what you will find here is carried over from the best-selling console, although the addition of an analogue ‘Circle pad’ grants more precise control. Rather less welcome is the way in which the D-pad has been pushed down to the bottom of the unit, making it painful to use for prolonged periods of time.
Nintendo has managed to cram a surprisingly large amount of functionality into the 3DS’ slight frame. WiFi comes as standard, offering up seamless online play in games like Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition. You’re also able to add friends using a code system similar to that seen on the Wii console, but instead of tiresomely having to input a new code for each game you only need to exchange your 3DS console code.
Taking it to the Streets
All of this will be reassuringly familiar to dedicated Nintendo fans, but the new StreetPass feature offers something new and exciting. The concept is disarmingly straightforward: why should your game end when you’re out and about in public? Even when it’s stowed away in your bag, your sleeping 3DS keeps a wireless connection open to pick up nearby machines, and should you pass someone with the same save game data on their 3DS, you’ll automatically exchange information. No action is required on the part of either player, and you don’t even have to have your 3DS on full display.
The inclusion of twin cameras on the front of the 3DS (as well as a single camera above the top screen) opens up all sorts of tantalising possibilities – you can snap 3D photographs, for instance. However, from a gaming perspective the concept of Augmented Reality is far more enticing, and judging from the pre-installed games that come with the 3DS, Nintendo clearly has solid plans on where this should lead.
Changing your Reality
Face Raiders allows you to superimpose a face onto a series of floating monsters, which then have to be dispatched by shooting them as they fly around the room. This is possibly more entertaining than it has any right to be, but merely serves as an appetiser for the main course: AR Games.
Used in conjunction with a set of cards, AR Games is arguably the 3DS’ killer app. Like many other Augmented Reality applications, it recognises the symbols on the cards and creates 3D characters that appear to be part of your world – you can even walk right around them.
The difference is that Nintendo has wrapped some surprisingly appealing gameplay around all of this technological tomfoolery, including shooting targets, fishing in a lake and creating 3D graffiti.
Of course, all of this 3D brilliance comes at a price. Those of you weaned on the robust battery life of the DS range of handhelds are in for a shock with the 3DS. With the 3D effect in force, you can expect one charge to last you about 3 hours. Using the 3D slider to switch the effect off doubles the battery life to around 6 hours.
Now for the important part of the review – the bit where we tell you in no uncertain terms if the 3DS is really worth the £200+ that retailers are currently asking for it.
The short answer is yes. Although the 3DS is far from perfect – we find the external design a little uneven, and the battery life is disappointing for a portable machine – it’s already changed our perception of what a mobile gaming platform should be.
The software we’ve tested so far has been highly encouraging, but titles like Ridge Racer 3D and Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition are merely applying a 3D perspective to existing concepts. It’s the 3DS AR Games which really get our blood pumping – these games are little more than highly-developed technical demonstrations at the moment, but there’s a staggering amount of potential here.
When used with the striking 3D display, this form of Augmented Reality becomes even more convincing, and proves that the 3DS is much more than a gimmick. We honestly can’t wait to see what the future holds, although the machine has a tough fight ahead with the recent explosion in iOS gaming and the looming launch of the Sony NGP.