After months of waiting and much trepidation, I now have in my hands Nintendo’s latest entry to the handheld wars: the Nintendo 3DS. How does it fare? Hit the jump to find out!
Despite being at the forefront of interactive family fun, veteran game software and hardware developer Nintendo’s machines were never known for their visual achievements. The Nintendo DS had a graphics engine that was less than equal to the Wii and was clearly a far second compared to its opponent, the handheld juggernaut known as the Playstation Portable.
With the arrival of the 3DS, Nintendo aims to break the grounds of visual entertainment with a unique feature: glasses-free 3D. The technology, known as autostereoscopy, allows the user to view 3D images and movies without the need of glasses or any form of headgear. Screenshots will never do the machine justice; it’s something you have to see for yourself. But is it enough to defeat its long-time rival in the war for handheld domination?
(Writer’s note: Since this is a personal review, I won’t be describing the 3DS’s technical specifications much since the information is readily available on the web. Rather, this review will focus more on my experiences regarding the handheld and its functions.)
The 3DS is a sleek machine, with a glossy top plastic finish that’s cool to the touch and a metal underside that’s completely thumbprint-proof. It snaps close tight like a book, unlike the DS’s design that has a gap in between the two panels.
The 3DS has a physical composition similar to the Nintendo DSi’s design, save for a a number ofÂ add-ons and tweaks added here and there. It has two cameras at the front for use in stereoscopic image capturing, allowing it to take 3D photos (yes, 3D photos!) and saves them both in .jpg and .mpo file formats. As of now, the only way to view the .mpo files is through the use of another 3DS, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we get glasses-free TVs in the near future.
The screens are different: the top screen is 25% larger than the DSi, allowing for widescreen gaming. The bottom screen is a tad smaller than the DSi, though in my opinion far more responsive than the DSi’s touch screen.
The right side of the top screen houses the 3D depth slider, allowing you to adjust the 3D depth of the machine. Turning it all the way up does not mean that the 3D will be clearer: it depends on your preference, and you’ll find yourself setting it in the middle most of the time.
The machine features a “slide pad”, a rubber coated analog pad at the left side of the screen twice larger than the Playstation Portable’s analog pad. It’s smooth to the touch and very easy to use, with the middle allowing your thumb to rest comfortably on it for maximum control. The directional pad has been moved below the slide pad.
The control buttons are the same but the function buttons have been drastically revamped. The start and select buttons have been moved to the lower part of the touch screen and a new “home” button has been introduced, reminiscent of the PSP’s home button. The layout is flat, with all three buttons embedded on a flat bar underneath the lower screen.
I found this redesign to be quite uncomfortable; I found myself fumbling between the three function buttons, trying to figure out which one is start and which one is select, and I sometimes accidentally press the home button.
The power switch from the DS is now a power button located right below the control keys. Again, this kept confusing me since I got used to the DS’s start and select button locations.
At the right side of the machine is the wireless switch, the same place where the power switch was in the DS. The left side houses the volume bar.
My opinion: all these physical changes are simply erratic. If you’re a person who got used to the DS and DSi’s interface, you will have one heck of a time fumbling around with the 3DS’s physical controls. The redesign is outrageous, and I think Nintendo will be redesigning it for an upcoming 3DS version in the near future. The control scheme, save for the slide pad, is unfriendly.
The 3DS has a new graphics engine which is a far cry from its predecessor. The images are crisp, with high-end 3D games running at 30 FPS with the 3D effect set at maximum, clearly outmatching anything the Nintendo Wii or the PSP can come up with. My only game right now for the machine is Street Fighter IV 3D, and I have got to say that the 3DS has graphical potential; it’s almost close to the console version.
Regardless if you don’t have any games for the 3DS, the machine has a number of built-in applications to keep you amused for a lengthy amount of time. It has the basics: a camera app that allows you to take 640×480 photos both in 3D and jpeg format, a music player dubbed “Nintendo 3DS sound”, and an internet browser that has yet to be enabled in a future system update.
New additions include the Mii Maker, a 3DS version of Nintendo Wii’s Mii system that allows you to make small avatars of yourself or people you know.
Streetpass Mii Plaza is the 3DS’s version of Playstation Home, which allows you to view other Miis you encounter in your travels via wireless. “Streetpass” is a new social feature by Nintendo that allows the machine to communicate with other 3DS units when you walk past them, even while in sleep mode. Most 3DS games are connected to this feature: SFIV3D uses it to simulate fights between your pre-selected teams against another 3DS owner’s team once you pass their wireless radius.
Streetpass is interesting but I haven’t had the chance to fully experience it yet; I’ve yet to meet other 3DS owners here in the Philippines. Perhaps in a few months?
Next up is one of the 3DS’s more interesting functions: AR games. The machine comes with six augmented reality cards, ranging from a “?” box to Mario and even Samus. Using the device’s two front cameras, you can play games using these cards, allowing you to turn even a boring dinner table into an exciting archery field or billiard table.
If you’re still having trouble visualizing it, think Yu-Gi-Oh and imagine the possibilities. Oh snap, right?
The next feature is a game called Face Raiders. The mechanics are simple: snap a picture of a person’s face and watch that image get animated. Using the 3DS, you must then move around the room you’re currently in and shoot that image (which will be attacking you) using the A button. Me and my housemates lost hours playing this fun feature, believe me.
The game also reminds me of that old Nokia app where you use your camera to kill bugs on your screen by moving around with the device. Again, another interesting possibility for future games.
Other current functions include an activity log where you can check your current usage, most played games, as well as steps made.
Perhaps one of the features that got me interested in the 3DS from the beginning is the built-in gyroscope, commonly known as a “pedometer”. As you walk, the 3DS records each step you made, and grants you “Play Coins”, virtual currency that can be used in various games. A hundred steps gives you a play coin, and you can acquire ten per day with a maximum of three hundred play coins in stock.
Though the device is visually impressive and presents a number of gaming possibilities, the 3DS is still young. Currently the device serves only as an icebreaker for parties, a chance to give that “oh snap!” moment to people, and a camera that can take 3D photos.
It’s safe to say though that the machine has a bright future ahead of it: even with the advent of the NGP, I believe that the 3DS can and will hold its ground, with its AR features and its social implications. But until it gets a more impressive lineup of games, I would have to say hold on to your money for now.
Device Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS
Purchased at: Datablitz SM Cubao
Purchase Price: 13,500
This review was written based on the device’s initial release and personal experiences of the owner. All opinions are subject to change in the coming months.
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