Feature review: Nintendo 3DS

This is super late! We know. We’re not really sorry. Enjoy it anyway!

A subject I find fascinating to discuss with other gamers is: How many enticing games must appear on a given console before you’ll seriously consider buying it? For those who aren’t pragmatically committed to a single console for any ridiculous reason, their answers vary. Some are very set in stone with rules like: at least five, regardless of the cost of the games or the console itself; and some vary, considering the price of the machine and games and the number of games in a complex equation that has to balance out before they’ll reach for the wallet.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because that time is upon us once again with the recent launch of Nintendo’s latest hand-held console. No matter how inattentive you are to gaming news, you’ve probably at least heard of the Nintendo 3DS and know what its trump card is. That’s right, glasses-less 3D gaming at your fingertips, literally. I remember when I first heard about it, I wondered how well it would work, but owning one now, I’m here to tell you, it works fantastically.

First off, the price of the machine: It retails for R2,799. While I honestly expected worse, somewhere around the R3.5k mark, I can’t speak for everyone. R2,799 is a lot of money to some people. The first batch of games also retail for R499 a pop. Two colours are available, black and aqua blue, and the package includes everything you could possibly need, the machine, the charger, umpteen instruction books and leaflets, and even a charging cradle that you can simply plop the unit onto when it needs a bit of juice – which will be quite often, but more on that later.

In terms of physical quality, the 3DS does not disappoint. It’s hard not to be impressed by the weight of the shiny little clamshell rectangle in your hands when you first take it out of the box, which has some pseudo-psychological way of making me feel better about the money I paid for it. When you first turn it on, you’ll go through a mandatory setup process where you can create your user profile, make a Mii, choose a nickname and set up the degree of network privacy you’d like to maintain with the machine. Interestingly, the 3DS lets us choose South Africa and even various provinces within (Gauteng being one) as a recognized location. With any luck, that will translate into support when the 3DS online store becomes available with the late May firmware update – unlike the friggin’ Wii.

Once you’ve got your 3DS all set up, you’ll probably want to start tinkering with it to see everything it has to offer. In terms of appearance, it doesn’t look all that different to a standard DS apart from the inclusion of a PSP-like analogue nub above the D-pad and the dual outward-facing cameras on the back, which are used for taking 3D photographs. A telescopic stylus sits neatly in a holster molded into the back of the machine, next to the cartridge slot. The Start, Select and Home buttons are also located underneath the touch screen this time round. The 3DS also includes a slot for an SD card for game saves and software downloads, and comes with a 2GB one already inserted. The earphone port is also much more sensibly located at the bottom middle, allowing the cable to hang free between your hands. The volume slider sits on the left hand side of the machine, the wireless network switch sits on the right hand side, and the 3D intensity slider sits on the right hand side of the upper screen. And finally, the power button is now located just to the right of the touch screen. Apart from that, the D-pad and face buttons are in the same place they always were. Oh, and the 3DS also has a 3-axis gyroscope for picking up movement not at all unlike the PS3’s Sixaxis capabilities.

The 3DS operating system isn’t all that different to that of the original DS. By default, players can scroll side-to-side through the pre-loaded software and options by dragging the stylus left and right, but there are options for other layouts. Apart from the options and settings, the other 3DS pre-loaded software includes a Camera application, which you can use to take photos and then doodle on them with several basic paint tools. You can use the inward facing camera to take pictures of yourself, or the dual, outward-facing cameras to take 3D photos of anything you’d like. There’s also a sound player that can play a wide variety of sound files if you load up your SD card with them, a Mii Maker, an activity log and, most impressive, two games. The first is a charming little distraction called Face Raiders, in which players to take photos of people’s faces and then shoot them as enemies in a rather physical mini-game using the 3DS’s gyroscope. The second is called Augmented Reality, where players put down cards (supplied with the 3DS) that are read by the 3DS’s cameras and will start several mini-games requiring players to shoot enemies and solve puzzles, often physically, by moving around.

But I know what you’re all dying to ask, which is why I’ve been torturing you by putting it off – how well does the 3D work? Well, for most people, I’d say it should work perfectly unless you’ve got a vision disorder or are tragically missing an eye. The only catch to the 3DS’s autostereoscopic 3D is that you have to hold the DS between 25-40cm from your face and look at it dead-on to get the right effect. If you find it a bit painful to look at or are noticing some ghosting, you can use the 3D intensity slider on the side to adjust the effect on the fly, from completely off to quite deep. Once you’ve got your ideal setting and distance worked out, you’re likely to find it quite amazing. It’s crystal clear and not fuzzy at all, and since the 3DS is significantly more graphically capable than its predecessor, it can display some pretty detailed visuals. Strangely, I get used to the effect after a while, to the point where I wonder if its on or not – but then the same thing happens to me in 3D movies once I’ve sat in them for 20 odd minutes too, so maybe it’s just me.

The last thing I’ll mention about the hardware is the battery life. Compared to the old DS, I can see some people calling it pathetic. Playing games like Super Street Fighter and Ridge Racer 3D, from a full charge I usually only get about 2-3 hours of play time. I’ve heard that you can extend that a fair bit by turning the 3D off and using headphones instead of the 3DS’s surround speakers – but then why would you want to? With any luck, Nintendo will come out with more advanced batteries for it at a later stage.

With my 3DS, I got the only 3 games that interest me out of the launch batch, but I’ll tell you quite honestly that my purchase was largely motivated by the promise of the upcoming titles, like Resident Evil: Revelations and Dead or Alive: Dimensions. Anyway, here’s a brief rundown of what I have.

Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition

A good, solid videogame to have at launch, 3D Edition looks great, especially when you pull off those crazy Ultra attacks and the camera flies all over the place. The game also includes an over-the-shoulder mode, which is interesting but damn hard to get used to. It does show off the 3D effects a bit more and, ironically, gives you a taste of what is must be like to have been a Street Fighter character stuck staring down a single narrow plane for 25 years. It also has online play via the 3DS’s wireless internet connectivity.

Ridge Racer 3D

I don’t know what it is about Ridge Racer, but you’re either an avid fan or you’re not, and there’s doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. This version is pretty much like any other and comes loaded with classic tracks, plenty of cars to unlock and many grand prix challenges to win. It has ad-hoc wireless multiplayer, but no online option, and the 3D looks fantastic, especially when you end up with three or four cars going neck-and-neck.

Splinter Cell 3D

I love Splinter Cell, so adding a third dimension to one of the best titles in the series (and indeed, one of the best stealth games ever) is a guaranteed sell for me. This is basically a port of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, and the 3D looks fantastic, especially when Fisher is sneaking up on someone for one of those up-close-and-personal encounters – it actually makes it easier to judge the distance. The control scheme was well thought out for 3DS’s limited amenities, and employs a system not unlike MGS: Peace Walker on the PSP, but with the touch screen used for managing Fisher’s inventory and gadgets.

There are several other games available that may or may not take your fancy – and remember that the 3DS is fully backwards compatible with all of the original DS software, so it’s already got a software library, in a way.