Ever since E3 2010 where Nintendo unveiled the first glasses-free 3D gaming system, the hype around the system has been nothing short of phenomenal. Recently released in Japan and coming soon to other regions in the world, there is little doubt that this is going to be a smashing success for Nintendo yet again, who after the Wii and Nintendo DS is on a serious roll.
However, should they be? - Does the 3DS live up to the hype? - Well, in a word, yes! - We recently took a Japanese unit for a spin after the release and whilst we can't wait for the US and European units to really get into it, the Japanese unit gives us a feel for how this system is stacking up.
The first impression that we got from the 3DS was one of surprise. Not because of the 3D screen, but more because of the design and weight. This is the lightest DS model ever made and given the high level of technology employed, this was quite a surprise. It's also surprising to see the look of the unit. Despite the top screen being larger, it's incredibly sleek and shiny (we have the black unit - the system also comes in blue) and just overall looks and feels incredible.
Holding the unit
The unit sits well in the hands and with the light weight it's possible to hold it for an extended period of time without cramp, and you will want to do this as this is clearly a well designed game machine. One thing that is a bit annoying is that the unit does have to be held at a specific distance to get the most out of the 3D effect, and unlike previous DS models you really can't just hold it where ever you like. Overall, though, a big pass in this area.
Portable 3D gaming
Of course, the key feature of the 3DS is its 3D screen - and it works; it really works! - Somehow human eyes can be tricked into thinking that this system is showing a fully 3D scene on screen. Initially it feels weird to the eyes and it's hard to really pick up the 3D effect, but over time as you use the system more and figure out the best distance for your eyes, it really comes into its own.
The effect and its success does seem to be determined by the game being played (we currently have Street Fighter and Winning Eleven 3D Soccer - previews soon). We noticed that the 3D effect was much more easily lost in the soccer game than Street Fighter and we put that down to the fact there is more characters on screen. However, there is no doubt that as Nintendo said, there is an adjustment period for your eyes. The 3D also heavily relies on the lighting around the environment you are playing in, so it appears from early game play.
The best thing Nintendo has done on this unit is include the 3D slider. At times you will just want to play in 2D and somewhat give your eyes and brain a rest, and this is the perfect way to do it. There is hardly any interruption when switching between 2D and 3D.
Learning lessons of mistakes in the past, Nintendo has included an analogue stick to assist with playing games that need that level of precision, such as Street Fighter. Along with this a DPAD is present on the system as well as a physical start and select.
Just like the DS units, the touchpad is on the bottom screen and it is not 3D. The screen is also larger and in a wide screen format when compared to the old units. The two screens are no longer the same size as well.
What software does it come with?
In Japan at least Nintendo has included a number of free games to help you get started. These are augmented reality games that use the local environment as its background. The first game "Face Raiders" picks up the faces of people near the 3DS and puts them on enemies you need to shoot down to score points.
Perhaps the more interesting game, however, is the AR card game. The unit ships with a number of cards that can be placed on a table. As the 3DS camera picks up these cards, characters pop out which you can also shoot. It's really quite something to see for the first time.
Along with the games Nintendo has also included a music application and camera application and it is the camera where the system comes into its own again. Not utilising a flash makes it very dependent on the local lighting, but you can take pictures in 3D. When viewed on the 3DS system the photo will appear 3D and to have that technology in a piece of hardware retailing for $249 USD and $349 AUD is quite incredible, especially when 3D HD camcorders are fetching thousands of dollars.
What about the other changes when compared to DSi?
The 3DS contains a brand new operating system when compared to the DSi, although some of it is familiar. When you insert a cart, it will appear on screen, but will not automatically boot. It is also possible to access some areas of the operating system while a game continues to play, which is very different to the DS systems of years past. Nintendo is yet to launch the 3DS e-shop, but you already can grab a firmware update over the internet which most likely has some bug fixes and also proves that over-the-air firmware updates on the 3DS will happen.
There is no doubt that the 3DS is an amazing piece of hardware and Nintendo has led the way yet again. However, in a world with iPads and iPhones, is the purely game playing handheld still relevant in the year 2011? - Our opinion is that the 3DS proves that it is. What is clearly a well designed handheld in both construction and software, the 3DS should be on your wish list come its release in the US on March 27th, Europe March 25th and Australia March 31st. We will have more coverage of the western units when they are released.