Hands-On With the 3DS

BY James Day  //  February 11, 2011

Impressions of Nintendo's upcoming portable console.


ith the release of their new handheld system less than two months away, Nintendo has been holding numerous showcase events for the 3DS across the world. I was lucky enough to secure a place at the highly sought after London event and get some hands-on time with it.

Continuing the somewhat hyperbolic promotion of the system, the first ten minutes of the experience were taken up with a sort of interactive tour that attempted to hype up attendees. Though there were one or two moments to be appreciated such as a live enactment of a Street Fighter battle, personally it didn't add anything to the experience.

Eventually, we were let loose on two different rooms housing dozens of 3DS systems running a variety of games.

As confirmed by countless games journalists before myself, the 3DS does indeed produce the illusion of three-dimensional depth without the need for special glasses. Even with my wonky vision I had no problems seeing it. That said I'm mildly disappointed at how subtle the effect was. Much like the 3D movies I've seen in cinemas it's far less dramatic and "in your face" than you'd think.

Perhaps my expectations were set too high after the system's debut concept trailers displayed objects and characters flying out of the 3DS's screen. Maybe it was because the titles on display focused on inward dimensional depth rather than having elements appear to jump out at the player. Whatever the case, the 3D effect was a lot less spectacular than I expected for a system touting it as its primary feature.

In spite of the 3D effect's letdown, the unit itself was the same sterling quality you'd expect from a piece of Nintendo hardware.The unit itself was the same sterling quality you'd expect from a piece of Nintendo hardware. Its base dimensions and weight are very similar to the Nintendo DSi's and as such felt sturdy and weighty enough to feel satisfying but not so much that it would be a burden on the pocket.

Due to the increased focus on three-dimensional game play Nintendo have provided an analogue nub that they're calling the Circle Pad. Unlike the Sony PlayStation Portable's nub this one's slightly concave and significantly larger, making for a much more comfortable fit under your thumb. It performs as you'd expect being as responsive and natural as the Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360's analogue sticks. In fact, it was so intuitive that I picked it up without even a conscious thought.

The feature of the 3DS that impressed me the most was its augmented reality capability. For those unfamiliar with it, augmented reality takes a real world environment and supplements it with computer-generated elements. Typically this is done through a digital device with video camera functionality, layering CG objects over the video feed that can be programmed to be relative to actual physical space and even be interacted with through the device it's being viewed on.

At the event Nintendo were showing its own use of AR in an application imaginatively called AR Games. By pointing the system's 3D camera at one of the premade cards provided the tabletop in front of me suddenly became an interactive playing field.

The gameplay was simple, asking only that I aim and shoot at the relevant targets in front of me. But as the game went on I was forced to physically reposition myself to be able to find the appropriate angles for my shots with the game keeping the on-screen action relative to my movements. It displayed some genuinely convincing graphical effects too, in particular the apparent bulging of the table surface just before a large dragon enemy burst through.

The feature that impressed me the most was "augmented reality," or CG objects layered over the video feed and programmed to be relative to actual physical space.Though the basics of augmented reality aren't new (even games using it like EyePet and Eye of Judgement have been around a while) the system's 3D camera has the potential to expand on it, what with it being able to recognise distances and obstacles in the environment around it. The 3DS seems like the perfect vehicle to help AR reach a broad audience too, helped further by the fact that AR Games will come preloaded on every system.

The rest of the games on display were a mixture of launch day and launch window retail titles. There's not all that much insight I can give on them from the few minutes I had on each. Many are ports of other games such as Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, so you know largely what to expect.

This focus on ports and pseudo-ports (such as Dead or Alive Dimensions and Resident Evil: The Mercenaries) is one of the major downfalls of the initial slate of 3DS games. Another is that there isn't a genuine must-have title (port, sequel or otherwise) that looks to capitalise on the 3DS' features. As a fan of Nintendo's software, Kid Icarus: Uprising and Ocarina of Time 3D are definitely on my want list though neither look set to break new ground.

Still, if you do decide to pick up a system early on you'll have a reasonable amount to toy around with. The 3DS will come preloaded with an array of smaller games and applications including an Internet Browser, a Mii maker, AR Games, Face Raiders and some sort of Pictochat equivalent, not to mention the ability to capture 3D photographs and play standard DS titles.

Whatever your inclination the 3DS releases on March 25th in the UK and Europe, following two days later in Canada and the United States.

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