Three Times the Fun With the 3DS Please

The Nintendo 3DS, the successor to the most successful handheld gaming system to date, is a new system that comes with the promise of powerful graphics, stronger online support and, most importantly, stereoscopic 3-D without the need for special glasses. Even during its launch, the 3DS mostly succeeds, although a few major missteps are keeping the system from reaching its true potential.

Even before you turn the system on, there are a few noticeable changes right away. The stylus is now telescopic, and while the dual screen design and button layout remain mostly unchanged from the DS to 3DS, the addition of the slide pad (essentially an analog stick) is a welcome addition. The slide pad is concave unlike the PSP’s analog nub, making it far more comfortable and easy to use. Unfortunately, the addition does mean the D-pad has now shifted downward, though it is still relatively comfortable to play with.

The new design does have its share of drawbacks. While the build is mostly great, and the paint job reminiscent of the stylish original PS3, the hinge of the system is unfortunately weak. The stylus has been moved to the backside of the 3DS, as it was on the original DS design, making it harder to take out and put back. The location of the Home, Start and Select buttons have also been moved to below the touch screen, which isn’t terrible, but the feel of those buttons are oddly squishy and hard to press as well.

The 3-D effect is easily the system’s most striking feature. It essentially displays two images at once, and a parallax barrier directs one image to your left eye and the other to the right, provided you are in the sweet spot. There is an analog slider on the side of the system that lets you adjust the strength of the effect to varying degrees. Everyone will experience the effect differently and this further varies between different software, as the 3-D can become more straining and pronounced. As for myself, I can enjoy the system with the 3-D effect maxed out for a few hours at a time with no headaches. However, one person I showed the 3DS to almost immediately complained about how straining the 3-D was and turned it off. All games can be played in 2-D and the graphics are around Wii quality, so even if you can’t see 3-D at all, the 3DS is not a total loss.

Provided 3-D works for you, it can be really amazing to see what a difference the effect brings. In “Street Fighter IV,” one of the launch titles, 3-D adds nothing to the gameplay but it gives the game a totally futuristic vibe. The system’s 3-D doesn’t pop out at you like in a 3-D movie. Instead, it is sort of like looking into a box, which is far less gimmicky. None of the games thus far prove that the 3-D enhances gameplay yet, but it will be interesting to see if that occurs with future, more ambitious software.

The 3DS includes a wide variety of software built in. The “Mii Maker,” “Activity Log,” “3D camera,” pedometer and “3DS Sound,” which lets you edit, record and listen to music, are all self-explanatory great features but there are two in particular that are more interesting. The “StreetPass Mii Plaza” is built around the “StreetPass” feature of the 3DS. During sleep mode, the 3DS automatically receives data from other 3DS owners you pass while walking. For the “Mii Plaza,” other 3DS owners’ Miis then travel to your system. Gifts and words are exchanged and those Miis even help out in a little RPG game.

There are two main games included with the system: “AR Games” and “Face Raiders.” “AR Games” makes use of the included AR cards to produce something really cool. After placing the question mark card down on a flat surface, little archery targets appear and you have to position yourself and the 3DS to shoot them. “Face Raiders” on the other hand requires you to first take a picture of your face. It is then put on floating enemies that you must shoot out of the sky with tennis balls. Both are fun and contain more depth and modes than they initially let on.

There are two near-fatal flaws of the 3DS at launch. First is the abysmal battery life, which only functions two to five hours depending on usage. This is further coupled by the three-hour recharge time. The other is that the shop and some Internet functions are not currently available. It would have been amazing to download old GameBoy games or original software now, especially with the overall weak launch lineup, but that is coming in a later update. DSi software transfer will also be included in that update.

At $250 the 3DS is an expensive handheld. Aside from “Street Fighter,” the launch games are largely unspectacular. However, the built-in software will likely keep early adopters happy for some time. Buying the 3DS now is an investment in the future, as there are plenty of AAA games coming to the system by the year’s end.

Rating: 4/5 Stars