News Column

Nintendo 3DS Review

March 21, 2011


Nintendo 3DS, Review

The Nintendo 3DS, the latest handheld from Nintendo, is due to arrive in stores March 27. was able to obtain a unit early for review, and thus share the impressive--and surprising--results with readers today. As the name of the unit implies, Nintendo has enhanced its popular dual-screen ("DS") video gaming handhelds with actual 3-D technology. The unit's promise was "3-D without the glasses." Does it live up to that promise?

No need to bury the lead: the 3-D implementation is seriously impressive. Adorable little Mii figures pop from the screen when viewing the included Mii Plaza application, for instance. Or piloting one of the three aircraft in "Pilotwings Resort" (the jet belt is the most fun) becomes totally immersive. It's pretty awesome. The autostereoscopic 3-D technology, in layman's terms, counts on your eyes focusing on different halves of the top screen, and displays separate images, which trick your eyes into melding them into one fully fleshed out, 3-D image.

The issue? You'll hear a lot of reviews warning that "users may experience headaches," and laugh it off. Well, this reviewer--an old hand at portable gaming, not to mention staring at a screen all day long--suffered from this unexpected phenomenon. No joke, it was a bad one. Luckily, the 3D effect can be turned off or lessened to whichever degree you are most comfortable with via the "3-D slider." Future playing sessions took advantage of this ability, with thankfully lesser effects. I should note that children under 7 are advised not to use the 3-D effect at all, and parents can restrict the functionality via parental controls, which is a good thing.

Personally, I suspect that getting used to the unit will further mitigate the headache issue, but for now I'm enjoying the still-immersive, 2-D experience of playing with my virtual Nintendog or having my Mii hang-glide around an island.

On that point--incorporating the Wii's popular Mii avatars is a genius idea. The 3DS can even take a photo of the user and attempt to transform that photo into a Mii that looks like the user. While anecdotally it didn't create a great doppelganger for this reviewer, the whole process was fun, with amusing graphics and entertaining effects turning this from merely a neat concept into a fun experience.

"Experience," in fact, is the key word when using the Ninendo 3DS. The bells and whistles are impressive (though some, like the Internet browser, weren't available on this early release). But each functioning item on the laundry list is at least amusing, if not downright impressive, in its own right: both regular and 3-D photo capture; activity log (which tracks game play, as well as how many steps you've taken with your unit when it's on sleep mode, thus earning virtual coins for unlocking special content); an online shop for purchasing downloadable games, many of which are virtual versions of past favorites (Game Boy, GBA, older DS, etc.); backward compatibility with DS games; music application; and more. Special bonus points go to the included Face Raiders game, a hilarious, if not especially challenging, action shooter where the villains wear the faces of yourself and whomever you can grab a picture of. It utilizes the unit's camera during gameplay as well, so you're shooting enemies near the coffee table or wall hangings of your own house, bringing the virtual fun into the real world just a touch. There are some social interactivity functions as well that operate on units recognizing others in proximity and sharing Miis and such.

The hardware is mostly smooth sailing. The interactive bottom touch screen and display-centric top screen still work in tandem well. The stylus feels a little small; the SD card slot has an odd cap on it, and the three physical menu buttons--Home, Start and Select--feel oddly incongruous considering so much of the screen-adjacent controls are virtual rather than physical. There's a knob to manipulate the 3-D viewing at the top left of the unit's bottom half; it's what lets you, for instance, view 360 degrees of your Mii (or your virtual dog, so you can scratch Fluffy right behind the ears). Other than that, direct controls are just like a traditional DS (or even Game Boy), with the directional cross control on the left side and buttons ready to mash on the right side. Throw in a headphone jack, Wi-Fi toggle and speakers, and you have yourself a portable, very functional, multifaceted entertainment system.

All in all, paying $250 for such an impressive piece of hardware is definitely in the cards for some hardcore gamers, or dedicated casual gamers. Beware the 3-D effects, but know that the 3-D is not the make-or-break feature--a very important component, but a ton of fun and functionality can be had without it. As impressive as the Nintendo DSi XL is, this unit really is leaps and bounds beyond it.

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Source: (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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