TechEye got a Nintendo 3DS sample unit to play with last week, over half a year after first manhandling it at the Gamescom show in Cologne. It has to be said, playing with Nintendogs and brawling through Streetfighter managed to make us feel 13 again.
Alas, Pilotwings Resort failed to tickle the tastebuds as flying games simply aren't this reviewer's cup of tea - apart from if you can blow the bejeezus out of little pixel soldiers. Does anyone here remember Wings of Fury for the Amiga?
Anyway, the 3DS came in a nice fancy box including the console, power cable, ear phones, a docking bay, six AR cards and a 2GB Toshiba SD card. Oh yes, a manual was naturally included, too. Charging the 3DS requires placing it in the docking bay, which is hooked up to the wall socket. You know you're all set to go when the charger LED stops glowing.
Hey ho, and off we go. We shove a game card into the correct hole on the 3DS' rear end, also home to a small place for the touch pen. An L and R button are also placed on its backside, firmly entrenching the game slot and pen hole. On the front there are no surprises, two pads on the left and the obligatory XYAB buttons on the right. Select, home and start buttons are positioned below the touchscreen.
First time turning it on, the unit asked us to calibrate the 3D effect to a setting which wouldn't hurt the eyes, our give us an epileptic fit. After that, the unit asks its owner to set the country, date and asks if parental controls are desired, or not.
3D photos can also be shot using the rear lense, although the quality isn't all that great as can be seen below in this photo of my sock. Nonetheless, pics do look rather good in full 3D on the console's panel. Using the slider, the overlaying images can be shoved apart resulting in a schizo fix.
But what about the games?
Well, TechEye received three launch titles as above. All three were rather good.
There was a slight naming mishap in Nintendogs, where we accidentally named a puppy "Guttenberg", after Germany's former defense minister who had to resign last week, instead of "Gutenberg" as in Johannes Gutenberg, the man who invented the printing press. Isn't he sweet?
Nonetheless, Guttenberg was lovingly petted, taken for walkies and played with for a good hour until he went to bed.
Face Raiders was the first game TechEye had a go on, a preinstalled augmented reality (AR) game requiring the player to make a snapshot of him- or herself using the internal camera on the front.
The mugshot is saved and then featured on round flying balls, which float around the room displayed by the 3D camera module on the rear panel. Users may find it fun to hit themselves in the face, less stable sorts may experience terrifying bouts of paranoia.
Nintendo's 3DS comes with further AR games preinstalled, requiring users to place an AR card on a table to act as an anchor in reality for the unit. This hack found himself having to move around his desk to hit targets popping up from his desk right around the card.
On the hardware side of things, controlling and playing games is a wonderful affair, as can be expected from Nintendo.
One problem was that the hinge for the upper screen appeared to be a bit weak, as it flopped one step back while TechEye tryed to navigate a plane through hoops in Pilotwings Resort.
The major question is: will the very good autosteroscopic 3D screen be enough to top the ranks of consumers wish lists? It will certainly score high for younger age groups, but this year will also see smartphones with autostereoscopic displays sporting higher resolutions and better graphics. Wealthy adults may dismiss the 3DS as a gimmick, though we'd disagree.
Actually, Nintendo's newest offspring is a ton of fun.
Apart from the touch-screen controls, the two main selling points for the 3DS are that it is the only unit out there on the market that currently features an autostereoscopic screen - and the games. Games sell consoles, not the flashiest graphics, as Sony and Microsoft had to learn bitterly last time around.
Sony may be releasing the PSP2, but Nintendo is bound to thrash it in terms of sales, despite again having the lower spec hardware.
3D adds a lot to the immersive quality of games, especially when they are addictive titles such as Zelda, Super Mario, or Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid. It will also be interesting to see how and if other games will make use of AR, as this offers an even higher degree of immersion.
Console makers will face an up-hill battle in the short to middle term. Handset makers will too, despite not fully sharing the demographic. In the short to mid term, we can expect the 3DS to find its place in the rucksacks of many kids, next to an iPhone or Android handset.
Long term predictions are hard to make. Nintendo has a great brand and broad legacy, but the market is charging full steam ahead and will be entirely different in years to come due to the convergence of various devices into one handset. Nintendo is already cleverly adapting, being first to market with a handheld console featuring full autostereoscopic 3D.
In future, Nintendo will probably develop AR features and games more deeply and integrate it into upcoming systems, if not even base them entirely around AR.
One thing is certain - the 3DS is set to be another success story for Nintendo and unit sales will make the company's shareholders very happy, at least for the time being.