In some ways it seems a bit of a mistake for Nintendo to call their third DS iteration the 3DS. By making so much of their top screen they may be getting a lot of free hype, but the other aspects of the 3DS go unnoticed.
One of the reasons I liked the original DS was that it offered a range of features that worked together – touch screen, dual screens and microphone. And happily, the 3DS does in fact have a lot more to it than simply that 3D screen. In fact, for me these other features are just as exciting.
Firstly, placing two external cameras on the 3DS shell not only enables you to take 3D pictures (and convert them to Mii’s automatically), but they can also be used by games to track your position in relation to your real world environment.
This approach to augmented reality – placing the camera in the hands on the player (like the Wii-mote) – seems a much less problematic and flexible approach than either the Kinect or Move camera pointing at the player. One of the most magical demonstrations of this feature is a little game where you place a card on the table which is detected by the cameras and used to introduce enemies into an image of what the camera is seeing.
It sounds complicated, but what results is a challenge where you literally circle the table with the 3DS as you explore and shoot different enemies that popup. This not only requires you to move left and right but also to peer down from above and crouch down to get a shot in under some enemies’ armor. Again, this is not something to do in public, but a very different and engaging way to play a game.
The other great trick in the 3DS arsenal is the motion sensors – both accelerometers and gyroscope are included like MotionPlus on the Wii – that provide a new way to control particular game elements. In Ocarina of Time for instance you aim the sling shot by simply moving the 3DS around in front of you, or in Steel Diver (3DS) you use the motion sensing to aim your torpedoes. On its own this isn’t a big deal, but like the other features of the 3DS, when it is combined with either 3D or augmented reality it inherits an almost magical quality.
As if that wasn’t enough, there are then a range of non-game related features. There is a pedometer feature that tracks your activity through the day much like Walk With Me (DS). You can also access 3DTV services on the device – although these are yet to be fleshed out it sounds like Eurosport and some Sky channels will be first out of the gate.
Then there are a range of social networking modes. But this is not social networking as we know it on Facebook. Rather than just developing a close knit collection of friends online, Nintendo offers a variety of ways to feel part of a wider gaming community on the device.
This StreetPass feature means that if you take your 3DS out and about you are likely to return home with gifts and awards (and Mii’s) received from other 3DS’s that you came into contact with – provided your locality has enough people wandering around with the new handheld console in their pocket, handbag or backpack.
They have also learnt a thing or two from the success of Xbox Live. Rather than separate friend codes for each game you now have one universal code for the system. This means you only have to “friend” people once to be able to play with them on any game with an online mode.
While all these features may not be as headline grabbing at the 3D screen, this is the real reason I’m looking forward to the new device.
The Nintendo 3DS is available to preorder from Amazon for $249.99.
[All images by Andy Robertson.]