The gaming industry is a wonderful movement that continues to re-invent itself and its medium in a way that film and television can’t quite seem to keep up with. Yes, we have had 3D films for a while now and while they seemed to be a big deal at first with a few major blockbusters, namely the likes of Avatar and TRON: Legacy, they focused on the type of 3D experience that had objects flying towards you or jumping out of the screen for a shallow but quite entertaining gimmick. Now the 3DS has taken it in the opposite direction, 3D no longer has to mean cheap tricks and jumpy visuals. It has now grasped the sense of depth needed to be taken seriously as a graphical format, but just what does this new hardware have to offer?
The 3DS comes in at just a millimetre smaller than the Dsi in length and width whilst being slightly taller from the base up, aesthetically the 3DS has left the smooth rounded edges of its predecessor behind in exchange for sharp, clean lines and a triple toned look that gives you the feeling it was sandwiched together. The top of the console now boasts 2 cameras to enable 3D photography and video capture, the Volume control buttons have been replaced with a small but easy to use slider which sits nicely next to the SD card slot and it is worth noting that the 3DS also comes supplied with a 2GB SD card for storing downloadable titles and music/video. The right side of the 3DS is now home to the wireless switch to enable easy on/off of the wi-fi without going through the system menus and the headphone socket has had a minor resiting and now rests in the centre of the front edge of the 3DS.
Upon opening up the 3DS, I noticed that the stylised lines continue throughout the rest of the console and accentuate the new button layout. The Circle and D pads respectively take precedence on the left side of the touch screen and the traditional y,x,a,b on the rather spacious right, underneath the touch screen Nintendo have added a much needed Home button with the familiar Select and Start buttons guarding it on either side. The top screen has now been widened and lies nestled comfortably between the inner camera above and the 3D slider on the right, the 3DS is currently available in Aqua Blue and Cosmic Black but pictures do exist of a red version.
Of course the real interest is what happens when you turn it on, after loading the DS for the first time and going through the setup and calibration you are greeted with an obviously Wii inspired Home menu where you can find a whole host of new features including the StreetPass function which allows you to interact with other 3DSs on the move. This includes 2 games to get you started, and the friends list to see what your friends have been playing recently. Other new features are the Notes system which can be used with the touch screen to jot down notes and doodles when playing 3DS games and 2 AR games one making use of the Augmented Reality cards provided with the console and the other allowing you to shoot flying objects in your own room.
All the while flicking through the menus and exploring the options it slowly dawns on you that the logos and menus on the top screen are all showing in 3D, as I said at the beginning this isn’t the sort of jumping out of the screen over the top 3D we are used to seeing in the cinemas, this is a subtle 3D that adds depth and dimension to the image in a way that actually adds to the experience instead of just being cheap.
Even the menu screen looks good with the new tech present here, the 2 AR games bundled on the console seem to be designed to show off this new hardware, as you would expect. Face Raiders allows you to shoot 3D enemies in your own living room by overlaying the game on top of a video feed provided by the cameras. This is a fun title that tries to show off the 3D to its potential but loses out for one major reason, movement.
Face Raiders requires you to move the console around to aim at the enemies and when doing so your eyes often lose that “sweet spot” needed to view the 3D perfectly. Obviously the inclusion of the slider means you can adjust the intensity of the 3D or turn it off altogether but that really isn’t the point here. Losing said sweet spot means that the the visuals become blurred or doubled as your eyes attempt to re-focus from an angle they aren’t supposed to.
The AR game falls to the same fate, using the included cards the 3DS establishes a central point, from here it then overlays graphics in the same way as Face Raiders to create a new game environment. What is impressive here is the depth and scale of the areas created but again this breaks up when moving the console to navigate the game’s challenges.
This may sound bad but I have to mention here that the AR games included are not indicative of the general quality of the 3D, I have played many different titles on the 3DS now and can safely say the 3D is of a high standard so long as the software makes the most of it. Some titles don’t work as well in 3D and others are excellent, sadly the AR games are at the bottom of my list for quality with Rayman 3D standing proudly at the top in all its reborn glory. The built in gyro controls are used in the AR games, although not very much, they respond well but not quite as well as those built into the iPad or iPhone 4 for instance. It will be interesting to see how they integrate the gyro into other titles as the game library grows.
Sadly not everything about the 3DS is glorious, its battery life is the main concern and really the only downpoint I can think of about the console after spending many hours hands on with it. The battery life is dependant on the software, the intensity of the 3D, the wireless being on and a number of other things you can’t change but the most I have got from it was 5 hours with the 3D off. With 3D on at full brightness I have got 2 ½ to 3 hours of life out of it which is a huge disappointment for a console which boasts 3D as its major selling point.
Gaming isn’t just all the 3DS can do. With a confirmed service for Netflix in the US and Sky 3D in the UK, alongside an inbuilt music player and editor, the 3DS is looking to become an all round portable media centre like the PSP. If it will become as popular as the PSP is the real question. I guess only time will tell.