Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you’re well aware of Hollywood’s recent obsession with 3D… only, it’s not just Hollywood that’s obsessed. The video game industry has been eager to embrace this latest fad as well, with the Sony PlayStation 3 already offering several titles that are compatible with 3D-ready TVs. But if there’s been one steady complaint during this whole 3D craze, it’s that in order to take advantage of the technology, you have to wear a pair of clunky (and expensive) shutter glasses. That’s what makes the Nintendo 3DS so appealing, because it’s not only the first handheld device to offer 3D gaming, but it’s also the first to deliver a completely glasses-free experience.
The system looks and feels a lot like previous editions of the DS, but there are a few noticeable changes, including a slight increase in weight and a larger top screen (at least compared to the DS Lite), as well as a three-toned color scheme that gives it an all-around sharper appearance. They’ve also added an analog stick called the Circle Pad that has a really nice feel to it and is incredibly responsive, although some games still benefit from using the classic D-pad, which has been placed a little further down from its usual spot on the face of the system.
Other new additions include a telescoping stylus located in the back of the device that’s actually a bit of a pain to retrieve; an SD slot that comes with a Toshiba 2GB memory card for saving game data; and a charging cradle that allows you to simply drop your 3DS in and pull it out when it’s ready so you don’t have to mess with a cable every time. That may sound a little lazy on my part, but trust me when I say that you’ll be using it a lot, because if there’s one thing about the 3DS that is sure to earn plenty of criticism, it’s the poor battery life, which only gives you around three to four hours of gameplay. This is without a doubt the system’s Achilles heel, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a third-party manufacturer (or even Nintendo itself) release an improved battery pack sometime in the near future.
Of course, no one in their right mind would spend $250 for the benefit of having an SD slot or a charging cradle, because if you do decide to buy the 3DS, it’s going to be for one reason, and the answer is in the name. Which leads to the obvious question: how does the 3D look? It’s better than some cynics might expect, and pretty impressive considering it’s being achieved without glasses, but it’s not going to blow your mind by any means. In fact, it’s very similar to what you’d see at the movie theater – albeit on a smaller screen and at a lower resolution – with a majority of the 3D used to create a sense of depth within the gaming environment.
Unfortunately, the effect really only works if you’re looking at it from the right angle, and even then, some games utilize the 3D better than others, with “LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars” standing out as the best of the bunch from the sample of launch titles that Nintendo provided me. There’s also the problem of the image blurring whenever you move system during gameplay, but as long as you hold it steady and don’t plan on playing it during bumpy bus rides, you shouldn’t have too many problems. And for those that do, or just want a break from the 3D every once in a while, you can always revert back to 2D mode by moving the Depth Slider (a small switch on the side of the system that lets you choose the intensity of the 3D effect) to the off position.
The 3DS also comes packed with several other cool features, including the ability to take 3D photos using the two cameras on the outside of the system; create a Mii using a photo of yourself (although results vary); suspend software in order to adjust screen brightness and access things like Game Notes or your Friend List; and exchange info with other 3DS systems using Street Pass. The latter feature, in particular, has a lot of potential for people who live in highly populated areas like New York City and Tokyo, but for everyone else, it’s hard to imagine you’ll get much use out of it. After all, you have to walk by someone that not only has a 3DS, but also has Street Pass activated and the system either turned on or in sleep mode. And with such a weak battery, that probably won’t happen as often as Nintendo is anticipating.
If there’s a killer app at all for the 3DS, it’s the Augmented Reality games, which make video game graphics seemingly pop up onto your coffee table (or any flat surface) by using the AR Cards included with your system. There are six cards in all, five of which are 3D renderings of classic Nintendo characters like Mario and Link that can be photographed in various poses, while the final card unlocks a series of fun minigames that make use of the system’s gyroscope and accelerometer where you can interact within a digital space by moving around in real life. The other preloaded game, Face Raiders – a quirky shooter where you fire at comical versions of your face or any others whose picture you’ve captured with the 3DS camera – also takes advantage of this idea of blending the digital world with the real world, and though they’re only fun for a few hours, they serve as a nice tease of what’s in store for the future.
And that’s the Nintendo 3DS in a nutshell. While there’s a lot to love about the console, it’s hard to recommend to anyone other than the most diehard Nintendo fans; at least for now. Between the high price tag, the mostly lackluster collection of launch titles, and a handful of cool features that won’t be ready until early summer (like Netflix Instant and an eShop where you can watch 3D movie trailers), it’s probably best to adopt a wait and see mentality. Unless, of course, you simply can’t wait, in which case, as long as you don’t mind dropping $250 for a handheld game system, the Nintendo 3DS delivers everything it promises and more.