The past year has flown by. Announced a year ago last week, it was pretty easy to get excited about Nintendo’s latest handheld, the 3DS. New colorful look, better graphics and full 3D support with a flip of a switch? I was pretty much on that bandwagon immediately. Now the 3DS is out in the wild, and I’ve had my hands on it a little under twelve hours now (after a midnight launch at my local Gamestop), and I can safely say that it DOES work. Opening this little device and flipping that 3D switch is akin to the first time you picked up that Wii-mote, or the first moment you stood in front of Kinect; it amazes, then confuses, then just blows your mind.
The Midnight Launch
The Gamestop I frequent usually shows a healthy number of local enthusiasts (of which we seem to be constant through each launch) for almost every midnight event. I personally have only been to those for Alan Wake, Red Dead Redemption, and Dead Space 2. The 3DS, however, even brought out a news reporter for an online website who videotaped and documented everything. But, honestly, once the clock struck midnight, I was in, out, and ripping open Pilotwings: Resort and Nintendogs in the car as my best friend chauffeured me home.
At first glance, the 3DS has a lot going on. The tri-color scheme (I got the Aqua Blue, but the Cosmo Black follows the same idea) of which the top, middle and lower sections of the device are three different shades of a greenish-blue, really give it a shocking and head-turning look. The downside is the top half is fingerprint friendly so get ready to be wiping it with the edge of your shirt all the time.
After you turn on the system, you’ll be assaulted by LEDs. There’s one that is just always on to let you know the battery charge (blue, red, flashing red) on the outside lower portion of the 3DS. On the right side, we have a wi-fi light that is solid yellow to show that you are connected to the Internet, and blinks when it is performing an update or doing something in the background. Then you have, on the device’s right hinge, an all-purpose LED: blue for StreetPass, green for SpotPass, orange when a friend comes online, and red (yet again) for a very low battery. You also have your standard orange charging light and the little “3D” that lights up any time the image on the top screen is capable of 3D viewing. None of these distract from the experience, but it’s almost just weird to have so many online-notification LEDs on a Nintendo device. Are they actually finally joining the 21st century? Maybe, just maybe.
The Home Menu
After powering up the 3DS and entering the Home Menu (a process which is thankfully lightning quick), those familiar with the Wii or DSi Menus will be right at home. You have your usual camera, music studio, health and safety warnings, and settings. New to the 3DS include the Mii Plaza and Maker, AR Games, Face Raiders and the Activity Log. All of these little boxes are entirely customizable; you can stack them in a grid, or conform them into one line, and then rearrange them at your leisure. It’s all a snap to click through, with great tactile feedback on the touch screen (the sound responses as you click are oddly satisfying) and smooth load times everywhere.
Even newer to the 3DS is the fact that anytime during a 3DS game, you can click the Home button on the bottom of your touch screen and suspend the game to mess around with the few apps, and then pop right back into your paused session of whatever you were playing. In the paused state, there are four apps the 3DS can run without having to exit your game: Game Notes (a simple notebook app), Friends List, Notifications, and the Internet Browser (coming soon). It’s a surreal experience to pause your game of Nintendogs to see if any of your friends had come online while you were in the bathroom, but it’s effortlessly fluid and definitely welcome. Of course I hope they go forward with system updates and add a messaging system, the ability to compare games and maybe even unlock game specific rewards or achievements. Wishful thinking, I know, but I can dream.
What I didn’t love
The camera is impressive (I took a 3D picture of my friend with the AR card of Mario jumping out of his chest, I mean where else can you do that?) but only in the 3D sense. Photos are grainy and low quality, and obviously still run in the DSi vein of “just for fun.” And besides uploading them to the packed-in SD card, there is no simple Facebook uploader like in the DSi. Why would they omit that? It just seems silly in this day and age.
The music app is almost entirely useless. You can record and mess around with sound, and play songs uploaded onto your SD card. But, honestly, will anyone do that? We all already have our iPods and MP3 players, I can’t see anyone going the extra step just to play music on the same device they have their games.
While I really love the ideas behind StreetPass, where someone else with a 3DS in sleep mode and hopefully with the games I play can share data, I’m not sure how much I’ll use it. I will bring it to campus and hopefully some other Nintendo nerd will be around for me to Pass with, but I can’t get away from the feeling like this feature is utterly useless outside of New York or LA and other such big cities. There’s even a super cool RPG-esque mini-game in the Mii Plaza where you collect Miis from people you’ve met in StreetPass and they take turns attacking the cage your Mii is locked in to free you. I’m hopeful I will get to try these features out, but people in even more rural areas than me are, forgive my French, screwed.
What I loved
Everything else. No, seriously. From the amazing-feeling circle pad (I’m in love) to the first time you see a dragon explode from your carpet in the AR Games, the 3DS had me from the get-go.
AR Games are playable using a pack of six cards that come bundled in with the 3DS. Just throw them down on a flat surface, launch the app, and your mundane coffee table becomes the home to a putt-putt golf course, an archery range, or a friendly gathering of the best Nintendo characters. My favorite here is Archery; moving around to discover the targets is half the fun, and seeing how the level will morph after you beat it is endlessly amusing. You can unlock new levels just by playing through the game normally, or pay for them with Play Coins (of which you earn by packing your 3DS along with you, getting 1 Coin for every 100 steps). It’s a fun way to show off the 3DS’s apparent new-ness and still will pull me back in frequently, I’m sure.
Then, of course, is the 3D itself. It works extremely well. I can’t attest to the elongated use of it yet, but I played Pilotwings for a good forty-five minutes this morning, all with the 3D slider cranked up, and I’ve yet to feel any weird headaches or eye strain. All the games I played present a really nice depth to the proceedings, especially Pilotwings, but I still loved seeing my puppy run around in 3D, and Rayman platforming in the third dimension is a blast to behold.
The activity log is also a great feature, one I have always wished my Xbox could have, where the 3DS is constantly counting the hours you play every game and app, providing you with detailed lists of the most played and numerous ways to reorganize and view each setting.
The 3DS has a ton of great things going for it: 3D gaming, silky-smooth menus, and addicting pre-installed software. What some may feel is lacking right this moment are the games themselves; I’m enjoying my three purchases, but would never argue that Nintendogs + Cats is a system seller by any means. Whether you feel you should pay $250 for it is entirely your decision, but what I’m saying is that the potential of this thing is enormous. Imagine a survival horror game (Fatal Frame-esque, perhaps) where you hold up the 3DS, going around your house, and seeing in-game things happen like monsters popping out or ghosts attacking.
I believe once really talented dev teams get behind this thing and really wrangle in its capabilities, we’ll see truly spectacular games. It just may take a while for developers to really grab hold of these capabilities of the 3D (I mean we didn’t see really great DS games for months after the launch of that system, either). But, for me, an investment in hope is plenty. What’s coming out this year has me just as, and maybe more excited than anything for my Xbox: Starfox, Mario, Zelda, Animal Crossing, and far into the future Pokemon 3D, and hopefully, hopefully a Pikmin 3D.
It’s a new dimension of gaming, the possibilities are truly, and finally, infinite.