Nintendo 3DS Review

It’s been far too long since I last put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard as it would actually be in my case. To return with a bang, I have secured a Nintendo 3DS to review along with a handful of it’s 3D-enabled launch titles.

Now, lets just point out that, until now, I have diligently clung to my “phat” DS which I bought umpteen years ago and have enjoyed, in a limited capacity, with very little desire to upgrade to a Lite, DSi, DSi XL or anything else that might have snuck in between. There are still good games that I haven’t played on the original DS. It’s a fantastically strong offering that, when you care to actually look, really offers a superior experience to the oft watered-down and micropayment infested nonsense we are getting steadily accustomed to on mobile phones and tablets.

Case in point: one of my daughters favourite titles “Cooking Mama” is, in it’s iPhone form, a fairly good title with great mechanics. But it stings your pockets with micro charges for recipes, and even when you’ve purchased all of those the game content is still just a vague shadow of that which can be found in any of the DS versions. Grabbing “Cooking Mama” for the DS and handing the ageing, robust and inexpensive console to my daughter in place of her iPhone was a good choice, and I’m not entirely convinced that smartphones could ever be fatal to the DS as it stands.

Nintendo’s new handheld is a mixed bag that invokes feelings of love and and hate in one confusing package, before taking a look at one I was a definite skeptic and would have resisted the temptation to buy one. After spending about two weeks with Ninendos new handheld my skepticism isn’t so clear cut.

The 3D might be dead on arrival due to it’s limitations and simple ability to manifest headaches and eye-aches out of the ether, but fortunately there’s an off switch leaving a really nicely built console, with many improvements over it’s predecessors.

There is, however, one oft mentioned drawback: the battery life.

Coming from somewhere upwards of 10 hours of battery life to somewhere in the realm of 3 feels like a step backwards and is the 3DS biggest weak point. The feature packed console is clearly not without compromise. But whether or not this issue is really a deal-breaker depends on where you plan to use the console.

At home, battery life isnt an issue at all and travelling with the 3DS is incidentally next to impossible whilst using the 3D; the parallax barrier technology used in the 3DS has a very finite sweet spot.

A lesser drawback with the 3DS is the 3D itself. Its gimmicky, without a shadow of a doubt and isn’t truly 3D at all. It simply creates a very poor illusion of depth, lacking other visual cues associated with our real 3D world, such as parallax. This not-so-3D also thwarts our brains innate ability to infer depth from lighting cues and the known sizes of objects.

The 3D of this era is no better than the 3D we had decades ago, and the lack of glasses serves only to make the effect less flexible and less powerful. Glasses-free 3D is far from a decent stop-gap between classic stereoscopic 3D technologies and true holograms, but we’re sadly stuck with it.

The problem is that you cannot move your head from side to side without losing, or distorting the 3D effect. The technology leverages the separation between your eyes so that each sees a different set of pixels which are obscured from the other eye by tiny, vertical bars. If you move your head too far to the left or right, both simply see the same pixels and the effect is ruined. This is a huge problem because it almost totally eliminates the otherwise massive potential of head tracking (the 3DS has a single front camera), which could otherwise be used to add an absolutely stunning parallax effect- ie: allow you to move your head to the side and look around “close” objects- and thus experience a far more convincing and immersive 3D.

Still, gimmickry aside the 3DS will impress at first glance, and the 3D is nice for the odd stint of pseudo depth enhanced gameplay. For the most part, though, and particularly if the user is under 6, the 3D slider will remain in the “off” position. Which is why I really believe the console would be better off without this effect, and the significantly reduced price tag which would come from removing the expensive display technology that makes it possible.

The 3DS is far from a one trick pony, however, it’s been significantly improved in a number of ways, starting from raw horsepower which allows for much better graphics and will ultimately result in some brilliant games. The analogue nub on the 3DS is the best bar none, and is brilliant to use even in regular DS titles. The other controls are the same, but as responsive as ever. The larger, brighter screens (remember, I’m coming from the original DS here!) are a real treat, and I had no problem playing DS games on it.

The bigger top screen is another bonus, and orientation sensors really round off the package, making something truly special and, of course, very reminiscent of today’s smartphones. The software on the DS is a massive improvement over the earlier consoles, although the lack of both a web browser and DSiWare at launch is somewhat frustrating.

Oddly, the titles that best show of the 3DS are shipped with it, preloaded permanently on the handheld itself. Face Raiders is massively entertaining, looks great and plays great, I’ve clocked more time in it than any other games. The Augmented Reality titles, which use a small deck of picture cards to make 3D objects appear in the cameras view of the real world, really put most of Sony’s efforts on the PSP to shame… most particularly because they don’t require a cumbersome camera add-on.

Following closely behind Face Raiders in play time comes Pilotwings Resort. It looks and feels like a mini-game from a compilation, but isn’t a bad demo of the 3DS. The trouble with Pilotwings is that it gets boring and repetitive quickly because it relies on point scores for replay value. It’s not worth more than a tenner, and I could easily see it being a £5 iPhone game. If Nintendo are afraid of competition, the launch titles don’t show it. The lukewarm mix of rehashed IP is a standard Nintendo mainstay, but there will surely be one or two games really worth playing, not to mention the DS back catalogue.

What excites me is the promise of an Ocarina of Time remake, which should be fantastic and something I really want to play. With the 3D firmly off, tucked into bed, and hooked up to the power supply I could picture myself making my way through this timeless classic on the 3DS, but I’m not sure if I want to pay £200 for the pleasure.

Overall, it’s a fantastic console in every respect bar it’s namesake, the 3D screen, and it’s terrible battery life. I wouldn’t advise buying one until some worthwhile games turn up unless you really need to make a purchase right now. The lukewarm reception of the 3DS is probably down to the presently terrible selection of games coupled with the painful price. At nearly £200, it feels like you’re paying a premium for an ultimately underwhelming feature with limited potential, although the built-in games and software, good build quality and awesome analogue stick do help mitigate this sting.

Okay, admittedly I’m convinced enough to want to buy one! But I think I’m about due a DS upgrade now, and the DSi really isn’t much cheaper.