Nintendo 3DS

Unplggd Test Lab

Product: Nintendo 3DS
Price: $249.99
Rating: Recommend

With the launch of the 3DS this week, Nintendo has joined the 3D craze, for better or worse. The device is attractive, the new controls are easy to pick up, and the augmented reality and 3D features are very cool. But with no interesting launch titles in the US and a short battery life, there's no sense of urgency for any but the most dedicated gamers. Luckily, the games on the horizon are extremely promising, and it does come loaded with some extraordinary features, the merits of which you can check out below.

Specs:

  • Custom PICA200 graphics processor from Japanese startup Digital Media Professionals
  • Top screen: 3.53 in (90 mm) 5:3 3D screen, 800x240 pixel resolution (400x240 pixels per eye)
  • Bottom screen: 3.02 in (77 mm) 4:3 resistive touch panel, 320x240 pixel resolution
  • Weight: 230 grams (8.1 oz)
  • Width: 134 mm (5.3 in)
  • Breadth: 74 mm (2.9 in)
  • Thickness: 21 mm (0.83 in)
  • Supports 2.4 GHz 802.11 Wi-Fi connectivity with WPA2

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Between the exploding smartphone games market and the multitude of handhold consoles available, we're in a golden age of handheld and casual gaming. And we were essentially raised for it, having been playing games on Nintendo handhelds since our hands could curl into that familiar Gameboy-holding claw.

But is 3D really the best direction to innovate? The merits of 3D films are still up in the air, and they give some people (including us) headaches.

The Nintendo 3DS uses autostereoscopy, accomplished through a parallax barrier which is a layer of material with precision slits, placed in front of the LCD screen; at the right distance, each eye sees a different set of pixels, creating a sense of depth.

We were skeptical about the merits of 3D, and worried that it would be headache-inducing. We're happy to report that, although after some periods of extended play we have a bit of a weird feeling in the head, our time with the 3DS has been blissfully headache-free. (And the weird feeling is easily reduced by changing the intensity of the 3D effect, using the built-in slider.)

That slider is one of the new features of the device, which has a bunch of other cool new controls and tech features, including:

  • One front-facing and two rear-facing .3 megapixel cameras - the two on the back work together to take 3D pictures
  • a circle pad
  • a 3-axis accelerometer
  • a 3-axis gyroscope
  • backwards-compatible card slots
  • an infared port

So far the 3DS comes in blue and black. Our blue unit seems to have a little bit of sparkly sheen and is more aesthetically pleasing even than it appears in official product photos. The 3DS also comes with a charging dock, a cord, a 2gb SD card, a packet of augmented reality cards and a huge stack of product manuals.

Pros:
This baby is really kitted out. And as it turns out, the 3D is an awesome and useful feature, and much more than a mere gimmick.

The built-in games show off all the fun new stuff really well, including the augmented reality (AR) and face capture, so if you get to see a unit being demoed, these are what will sell you on the whole thing.

The 3DS comes with a music video from OK Go, they of the choreographed treadmills. This time, they're dancing around with some Ikea furniture and some trained show dogs, which do a fair bit of leaping at and over the camera area. This was the most "3D glasses"-type experience we had with the 3DS, and even that wasn't a bad one.

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One minigame lets you "collect" photographs of your friends' faces by capturing them with the camera, after which you must battle that face as multiple incarnations of it, wearing helmets, fly at you in attack; it's only added to your collection after you've defeated it with tennis balls.

The Mii creator takes a snap of your own face, then crafts a custom Mii out of it, which you can then pose in the 3D AR environment, for photo-taking fun. Oddly, there's also a thing that lets you take a photo of a person with the back camera, then superimpose a pic of your face (taken with the front camera) onto theirs.

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There are other features, like Street Pass, which encourage you to take the game out into the city with you; as you pass others on the street, your Miis jump to other systems or your characters can do battle, and you can get special items and achievements.

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Finally, the QR code Mii sharing is also very cool. All you do is share the code it generates, and people can instantly download your Mii onto their own system, like so:

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Cons:
Much of our excitement for buying the 3DS was based on the thrill of seeing some of our favorite classic Nintendo titles rendered in a new, compelling form. After all, wasn't the Monkey Island redo just as awesome as it was originally, eek, 20 years ago?

Maybe we're just jealous that the Japan launch got the latest Professor Layton title. But as of today, the available titles include:

  • Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition
  • Pilotwings Resort
  • LEGO Star Wars III The Clone Wars 3D
  • Rayman 3D
  • Super Monkey Ball 3D
  • Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Shadow Wars
  • Steel Diver
  • Ridge Racer 3DS
  • Asphalt 3D
  • Bust-a-Move Universe
  • Nintendogs + Cats
  • Samurai Warriors Chronicles
  • The Sims 3
  • Madden NFL Football 3DS
  • Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D

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We started out with LEGO Star Wars, although we weren't compelled by any of them in particular. We're holding out for some of the upcoming titles, like Final Fantasy, Zelda and Animal Crossing. (Considering what the Zelda titles for DS did with the built-in microphone and how it utilized things like closing the lid to transfer images between screens, we're very excited to see what else they'll come up with in the future.)

Here are a few of the promised titles, only a few of which are currently available for pre-order:

  • Kid Icarus: Uprising
  • Kingdom Hearts
  • Final Fantasy
  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater 3D
  • unnamed Batman game
  • Assassin's Creed: Lost Legacy
  • Resident Evil: Revelations
  • DJ Hero
  • Mario Kart 3DS
  • Animal Crossing
  • Star Fox 64
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked
  • Dead or Alive Dimensions
  • Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell 3D
  • Contra 3DS
  • LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Frogger 3DS
  • Thor: God of Thunder
  • Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights 3DS

Also, as of the launch there's no internet browsing capability. At some point in the future, the 3DS will also be able to stream Netflix. But as we mentioned earlier, that these things aren't already on the system mean there's no sense of urgency compelling consumers to grab up units. (Despite this, the 3DS is the more pre-ordered video game system ever in the UK, and pre-orders for this unit were double that of the Wii in the US.)

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It may be a small thing, but they've really de-emphasized the use of the stylus on the touch screen, which now has a Home button, and touchscreen buttons are generally large enough to be tapped with a fingertip. Still, there are times the stylus is required, like typing on a keyboard, and at those times its position just beside the back-center of the unit makes it impossible to remove smoothly. In fact, you actually have to turn the unit to pull it out. That's a big change from the intuitive placement and easy removal position of the stylus on the DS Lite.

Last, but not least, the battery life on the 3DS is dire. The specs promise 3-5 hours depending on screen brightness, Wi-Fi, volume and 3D effect, but playing a 3D game at normal brightness gave us an hour and a half, tops, before the low battery signal came on. That's a serious problem for a device that's supposed to be portable. Its predecessor, the DS Lite, could manage between 13-17 hours on its lowest brightness setting, which was perfect for long trips. With this skimpy amount of play time, it's not feasible to take the console too far from the 3DS charging unit.

The Bottom Line:
If you're a casual gamer and you like handhelds, chances are you will end up getting the Nintendo 3DS. After our initial skepticism, we're really glad we ended up pre-ordering. The 3D components aren't gimmicky in the least and add a lot of fun to the experience, while the augmented reality is a lot of fun to play with.

But if you're not completely sold so far, feel free to wait until they improve the battery life, add in some net capabilities, and come up with a few more interesting games. Once those issues are addressed, this unit will be unstoppable, and we can tell that games developed specifically to take advantage of its features will open up entirely new avenues of gameplay.

In the meantime, we recommend finding a demo unit at your local games store, so that you can see it in action and be won over by its potential.

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