Last week, Escapist writer Murray Chu contacted me about a hands-on opportunity he had with the Nintendo 3DS. Today, he shares his thoughts and impressions of this much-hyped handheld device. Is the 3D effect convincing? Is it necessary? Does the battery die faster than optimism at the start of election season? Murray shares his 2 cents on these matters below.
Nintendo 3DS: Gizmos and Gimmicks
I got a chance to sit down at the Canadian Nintendo office last week and play around with the 3DS for an hour or so. Most information, such as the 3DS technical stats, etc. can be found elsewhere on the net. Today, I’d like to share some information that you may not have known, while providing my thoughts on the gadget.
News to You – Out of the Box
The 3Ds will come packaged with some AR (Augmented Reality) games and a 2GB SD card. It features a telescopic stylus that is stored vertically near where the game cartridge is inserted.
Included with the 3DS are six AR tracking cards. Certain 3DS games uses the two front cameras to track the cards and determine your relative distance. For Nintendo’s archery AR game, the area around the tracking card will change into hills and valleys that you need to maneuver around in order to get a good shot at the targets. Eventually, the tracking card disappears entirely and is replaced by a dragon that shoots fireballs at; you must dodge them by moving the 3DS while also getting the right vantage points to shoot at its weak spots.*
The 3DS features a Home button that Wii users will be familiar with. It is located right under the touch screen and is used to access certain features and setting for the 3DS, but most people will probably just use it as an emergency pause function.
Unlike the DSi, which only supported .aac music files, the 3DS will support the .mp3 file format. Unfortunately, the cool music viewer with Excitebike and Mario will not be back. Aside from music playback, the 3Ds can also run Street Pass and Pedometer mode while on stand by. The pedometer will allow users to earn coins that unlock goodies in supported games.
The minimal 3 hour battery life of the 3DS isn’t all that bad. The biggest energy guzzler is still the brightness setting. Even at the lowest setting, there is still some backlight. Using 3D effects will not affect battery life much.
3D or not 3D
The 3D effect works, but it’s hit or miss. It will depend on the person and the game being played. Even with first party games, such as Kid Icarus and the packaged AR game, it was difficult for me to maintain the 3D effect. It bothered me a lot with the AR game and I played better with the 3D slider all the way down. Zelda, on the other hand, used 3D fantastically. It wasn’t mind blowing per se, but it definitely added to the game. Most likely, my problems with maintaining the 3D effect had to do with the lack of headtracking. Kid Icarus featured a lot of depth, and I found it very natural to shift my head and body side to side (like the way we used to do for old school platformers). By doing so, I was constantly moving myself out of the “bubble” that defined the area where 3D would work. However, for Zelda, I did not feel the urge to move my head much at all and the 3D effect persisted as I explored the Deku Tree dungeon.
The Nintendo reps presenting the system told me that, as players get used to using the 3DS, they will learn to maintain their arm and head positions. However, as a gamer that liked to play on the bus and in bed, I know that it can be a bit too much to ask. Plus, my arms did get tired and my body got stiff after a bout of playing. For the most part, the 3D effect seemed unnecessary, especially with the lack of headtracking. I would have preferred Nintendo use the technology to double up the graphics instead. The 3D camera, however, is kind of cool, and the analog circle pad is awesome to use. I didn’t have much of a chance to try out the motion controls on the 3DS, but if developers combine the accelerometer sensors with the exterior cameras, I’m certain that motion detection will be very good.
Most of these won’t be available at launch, but I got to try them out at the preview event. Unfortunately, the two games that I wanted to try out, Star Fox and the ball bounce tech demo, weren’t available.
Nintendogs and Cats: Basically the same stuff as Nintendogs before. 3D is not bad here and is easy to maintain, though you may be tempted to move your head a bit to peer around the room. I petted the animals, gave them silly outfits, and threw objects into the room for them to play with. Cute, but not my thing.
AR Game: There doesn’t seem to be a name for this game, but it is packaged with the 3DS. Basically you move the 3DS around a tracking card to position the reticule and then press a button to shoot an arrow. Moving around makes the 3D hard to maintain and the game is really short. I suppose it’s there for you to show your friends as a sort of tech demo.
Face Raider: Terrible name for a game, I know, but this is another AR game included with the 3DS. A picture is taken of your face and put onto several floating heads that attack you. You have to scan your area by moving the 3DS around and shoot down all the heads. It’s actually pretty fun and I can see almost anyone enjoying it. My wife managed to beat the Nintendo rep’s high score on her first try! T_T
Kid Icarus: This is sort of like Star Fox 64, where you are positioned behind Pit and use the circle pad to move him while tapping the touch screen to shoot. There is a bit of camera control and melee work as well. This was one of the first games I played and I had a hard time keeping the 3D effect and ended up just sliding it down so that I can actually play without getting my eyes crossed. The game was pretty good and I imagine that, with a bit of practice, the gameplay will flow better.
Resident Evil: This was one of the last games I played and the 3D effect persisted throughout my time with the game. The controls are pretty hard to get used to, however, but then again, I’ve never been much of a Resident Evil player. I’ll definitely need a bit of patience to get through the learning curve for this game.
Street Fighter 4: Like a lot of fighting games on the DS, you can map special moves and super combos to the touch screen. Flash kick on demand? Thank you Capcom! Wing is complaining that this breaks the game, however. :p 3D effect definitely seems unnecessary here.**
Zelda: The 3D effect here is very subtle but definitely adds to the atmosphere and, out of all the games I tried out, is probably the best use of the effect. The graphics have been vastly improved from the Nintendo 64 version of the game and I’m definitely looking forward to playing this again. Navi is still super annoying, but at least you’ll have four assignable item buttons (X, Y, and two on the touch screen).
While the 3D feature of the 3DS did not wow me very much, the handheld as a whole package definitely did. I would like to recommend that people hold off on picking one up until they
see if they like the games that come out and if there are any blatant problems with the 3DS that would be fixed by a potential quick release of a 3DS Lite. However, given how likely that this handheld will sell like hotcakes, I’ll also say that pre-ordering one right now is not a bad idea at all.
*Massive damage not confirmed. ~WiNG
**My primary concern with allowing touch-to-activate moves in SSF4 isn’t that it dumbs the game down, but that it eliminates the time needed for charging and complex 720 motions. For instance, using these controls, a Guile player can fire off a Sonic Boom while walking forward. A Zangief player can perform Ultra 1 standing completely still. While this isn’t inherently game-breaking, it may open the door to previously impossible combos and frame traps that the game isn’t balanced around. ~WiNG