Nintendo 3DS: First Impressions / by Allison James

Nintendo's 3DS, their sixth (as far as most people would concerned) portable device line following the Game & Watch series, GameBoy, Virtual Boy, GameBoy Advance and DS, goes with the standard Nintendo formula - family friendly + interesting gimmick + relatively cheap + relatively low-end technology. It's also their second attempt at 3D following the disastrous Virtual Boy. Thankfully, it's learnt its lesson. No more red and black games. No more goggles on legs. No more "portable, but not really". And no more Waterworld.I'll start with the bit that is the main focus, naturally - its 3D capability. Now, I hate that phrase that always gets attached to the 3DS - "you have to see it to believe it". Unfortunately, it's right. Although the viewing range is feeble (tilting up and down is fine, but go five degrees left or right and the 3D will turn into a weird graphical effect similar to those little Pogs (or whatever) with scratchy plastic surfaces that you can tilt to get different images. The slider is a nice addition - you can fine tune it to your eyes very, very easily, or turn it off if you start to get a headache (some people get them after five minutes of 3D, I find that I can watch it for around an hour as long as the slider's adjusted properly). It's worth playing in 3D when you can though - the polygonal graphics, which aren't fantastic (PS2-Wii-ish looking maybe?), suddenly burst into life and look really good.However, 3D isn't all the 3DS has going for it. It also features a number of "Augmented Reality" items, including built-in games and general fun. Two front-mounted cameras allow for the 3DS to map out the area infront of you in 3D. It can then "add" objects or items to that world. A set of six included physical cards enhance this further, allowing specific items and models to be added accurately to your surroundings. The first game you get when using the first card starts with target practice, dotting targets around your desk or whatever you have infront of you. You move the console, and indeed yourself, to aim at these targets and shoot them. It is VERY, VERY intuitive - I cannot state that enough. There's none of that slight pausing if you're using the likes of a Wii remote to make sure you're on target - you can just judge it perfectly, as the game world is your world.Just as you think it's reached its peak with plopping targets around, you realise that there's a hole been dug into the desk, and you still have one target left to shoot - but there isn't one. It's not until you reach over the virtual hole that you discover one last little target down there. THEN, it goes another level. A dragon spurts out of your work surface - it's long and fast. (Woof.) Then, out of the blue, it lunges at you - with the 3D effect on, this can make you jump until you're used to it. You actually have to get out of its way sharpish, shooting its neck until it bites the dust.The other feature of the double-front-mounted cameras is to take 3D pictures. These are saved to the 2GB SD card that comes pre-inserted into the 3DS' SD slot (mouthful), or whichever SD card you've replaced it with. As with everything else, the 3D works a treat on these photos, though the pictures taken are disappointingly pretty low-resolution. You can then whip out the SD card, stick it in a computer and look at them there. Mike discovered a great website, 3dporch, where you can then upload these photos, and others can view them by saving them to their own 3DSes, with a pair of red/cyan anaglyph glasses, or just in 2D. This is a picture taken by Mike of the YoYo Games office with a 3DS - gives you an idea of the resolution it takes pictures at, or the effectiveness if you have the glasses or 3DS.Onto the actual games. The launch lineup is... poo. Thirteen games, three of which are Nintendogs and one of which is Rayman 2. That's nearly a third of the launch lineup which can immediately be laughed at then ignored. I personally got Pilotwings Resort and The Sims 3 with mine - the game I felt would be best for trying the 3D (though it's trumped by the AR stuff packed in!), and the game I felt I'd be likely to play the most, respectively. Both games are alright, but when alright is the best the system can offer, meh. The future of 3DS gaming looks far more promising, though. While Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Metal Gear Solid 3 are both old games, they're also both very good, and should be given a new lease of life with the extra stuff (though I'd rather have seen Wind Waker than OoT - personal preference). The new Mario game in production is almost certainly going to be strong, if familiar, as is Mario Kart 3DS. My personal biggest looking-forward-to is Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracle. A new instalment of the game that single-handedly made me give a shit about DS again? Yes please!If it's of any interest, the boxes are pretty similar to the DS'. In Europe at least, it uses a white box, and has a number of rounded rectangles cut out of the plastic so you can poke the inside of the coverart. The cartridges themselve are weird - they're a much lighter grey than DS games (though not white), and they have a single little tumour-like dimple protruding from the top right hand side to prevent trying to stick them into original DSes. Could probably cut it off and try it anyway, but it'd be a waste of time.Hardware-wise, a couple of complaints. The entire thing is shiny. Y'know what that means? Fingerprint vacuum. It's very pretty for the five seconds you don't touch it, after which it requires frequent wiping to keep clean. Even the buttons are shiny. The design is a downgrade from the likes of the DS Lite - the lid is very slightly bigger than the body, which produces a weird aesthetic to it. It's miles ahead of the original DS though. The hinge also feels a bit of a downgrade - while it goes to default positions fine, it's loose in any other position and so difficult to adjust to the angle you may want it. I quite like the analogue nub/stick it now has, though I question why they didn't one-up the PSP and give it two of them (PSP2 now going in the double-stick direction). It renders the D-pad awkward to use though - it's too far down the system so you can't grip it properly AND use the pad.The stylus on the other hand is a major improvement. Gone is that thin, short bit of plastic - in its place comes a sleek, thicker metal number that, with the magic of telescopy, can double in size with a quick yank. It also feels more solidly held within the system when not in use too, producing a satisfying click when both removed and replaced. Lastly, the docking station that comes with it is flat-out amazing. You can still plug the 3DS straight into the wire if you'd rather, but with the dock it's a quick plonk to charge it, and a grab to get it back. Either charging method still lets you use the system.Its battery life isn't great, taking more time to charge than the 3 hours of use you'll get with using it normally. It's a little stingy, though if you're at home or just stationary in general, docking it when not the main focus of attention becomes second nature very quickly.So, final verdict? I love it. Well worth the £187. If you're tempted by it and have the money, I can't recommend it enough. It doesn't have a good library, but that's only now. It will improve drastically in the future. And with all the packed-in features and games, I can confidently say you could actually get hours of fun out of it without even having a dedicated game. Call it an investment if you please. The 3D is immersive and unobtrusive, being compatible with nigh on everything (except original back-compatible DS games) and easily removed or tweaked. The AR is just flat-out amazing to use. The potential of the games to come for it is undeniable. It is just a very high-quality system in general. I'd put it as the single most-improved Nintendo hand held I've bought (I've been around for the GB, GBA and DS before it) - fun, interesting, often amazing, feature-packed. And that's just first impressions.