I’ve grabbed all the chances I could over the last few months to try out Nintendo’s latest handheld console, the 3DS. But I knew having a few minutes on a device tethered to a PR representative or in a crowded shopping mall wouldn’t compare to the sort of hammering my kids could give it in a few hours.
Happily the Nintendo gods seemed to have agreed as I got to try out a system with my tribe over the weekend. The kids were obviously really excited to get their hands on one, and I was keen to see how they would react.
Pilotwings Resort was the first game we tried, and I was really impressed. However, after all the grand claims and pizzazz of the media circus around the 3DS’s upcoming launch ($249.99 from Amazon), Pilotwings was surprisingly sedate, almost understated.
The kids have played Wii-Sports Resort to death, and collected the majority of location pins on that version of Wuhu Island. I thought this might deter them from being overly excited about returning to the same location. They actually seemed to relish the opportunity.
The novelty of the 3D display drew the requisite oohs and ahhs from them as they fiddled endlessly with the 3D slider. It made me realize that there was no real way I could tell if my youngest two (3 and 5) were playing with 3D switched off, as I had asked them, and I soon setup the Parental Control to put a password on this feature.
Pilotwings Resort plays much like its Wii counterpart. I missed the subtle fidelity of the MotionPlus controls and the detail close to the ground seems to have been simplified a bit, but otherwise it is hard to spot any real differences.
The kids actually did a much better job of figuring out what had changed than I did. In fact a favorite game developed with one of them flying around in the Wii game while another played on the 3DS, whereupon they would shout out any minute differences they noticed.
It turns out that although it’s essentially the same island there has been plenty of development between the two games. It seemed to make sense to the kids that the island would have benefited from the influx of tourists and trade the Wii game brought with it.
In terms of visuals, the addition of the 3D display and the smaller screen makes this a superior experience to Wii-Sports Resort. I found that with the 3D slider just under halfway I could play the game for a good hour or so without any complaints from my eyes or brain and my seven year old seemed to be happy to play it with no complaining. The kids in general seemed to “get” the 3D output without the straining of muscles I found first time I saw it.
As well to the 3D adjustments you can adjust the map’s magnification on the bottom screen by tapping it, and switch between three different cameras. Although the first person view is impressive, and top down view quite fascinating, I plumped for the sheer joy of seeing the little aircraft pop out the screen in third person 3D. Although the 3D novelty soon wears off, it continues to add something substantial to the feel of the game. The solidity of the top screen works well with the almost therapeutic sense of gently exploring your own private island.
The other release title we spent time with was Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D. This is the most visually impressive of the 3DS launch titles I’ve seen. Although this success is slightly to the detriment of other imaginative possibilities with the 3DS’s bristling interface it feels completely fresh.
Pro Evolution, and FIFA for that matter, have never really worked on portable devices for me. Maybe they picked up my frustrations, but kids have also steered clear of playing soccer games on the go.
This didn’t stop them, or me, being just a little excited about the prospect of Pro Evolution Soccer on the 3DS. Not only does Nintendo’s new handheld console have enough horsepower to realistically render the action, it of course has that 3D display and all manner of ingenious ways of interacting with it — camera, accelerometer, gyroscope, microphone and the good old touch screen.
While I was absorbed collecting location pins in Pilotwings Resort, my oldest son (6) spent the afternoon playing Pro Evolution on the 3DS. I had to pause my game quite a few times to help him get started, and on a few occasions to encourage him to keep trying despite his frustrations.
The main issue stemmed from the fact he has recently been playing Pro Evo on the 360. I think he thought he would be able to pick up the 3DS version as quickly as he had on the Xbox. But things are a little different here, and for good reason — as I tried to explain to him.
The lower “Player” camera angle combines with the 3D visuals to create a real sense of depth to the play. When you are passing down a wing or crossing a ball in you have a much better feel for how far away the other player is. It sounds funny to talk about a pinpoint action game like Pro Evo “feeling” different, but that really is the best way to describe the effect of the 3D.
Pro Evolution has always offered instinctive play, but on the 3DS it has a real sense of touch. Hitting a perfectly weighted cross pitch ball is not only a little easier to judge, but feels like it results as much from a connection with the game as it does learning the current year’s controls.
The problem, as I soon realized while trying to explain the wisdom of these changes to my son, was that he had 3D switched off — not being old enough (eyes still developing) to take advantage of this feature. Without the benefit of the 3D output the changes struggle to stand up as well.
In the end these frustrations were too much for the little guy. Even though he could have tweaked the camera settings to accommodate the 2D display, it was this novelty that had brought him to play Pro Evo on the 3DS rather than 360; without it he preferred to play on the big console.
For me though, with the 3D turned on, Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D got me genuinely excited about playing soccer on a handheld for the first time. Like much of my other game playing that has migrated to platforms that offer portable short bursts of action, the 3DS fits in nicely around the hustle and bustle of busy family life.
The experience is fleshed out with 60 national and 170 club teams as well as some impressively well-timed commentary. I would have liked to see a proper online multiplayer mode, but the local multiplayer modes work pretty well with just one copy of the game.
These games impressed but the real star of the show were the Augmented Reality Games. These AR Games offer more than proof of concept, and in many ways outshone the 3D screen we had heard so much about. The 3DS comes installed with two different AR Games: Face Raiders and A.R. Games.
Unlike the 3D focused experiences that exclude any child with developing eyes (roughly six or younger) the augmented reality games can be played by anyone and are just as magical.
You may have seen some of this before as both EyePet and Invizimals use a similar approach. The basic concept is that the game uses the space you are physically sitting in as the play field. You see your environment appear on the screen via the camera and then the game projects playthings into that space that can be interacted by just your (virtual) touch.
The 3DS version of this is typically Nintendo — very simple and very addictive. The console comes with a series of AR Cards which are placed on any surface and then viewed via the 3DS cameras. At this point the magic happens. In a slightly similar way to EyeToy and Kinect’s ability to view a three dimensional world, the two lenses on the 3DS case provide an oriented view of the player’s surroundings.
Depending on the card placed in front of it different games (quite literally) pop-up out of the table — or in some cases holes appear that have to be peered into. Although the kids had seen this before, being able to maneuver around the different targets by viewing the card from a different angle seemed to create a really strong connection between them and the virtual world.
Playing AR Games myself, there was a nice simplicity compared to other similar games. This was in part because the camera was on the system rather than pointing at me, but also due to the 3DS’s accelerometers capturing the exact angle I was viewing from.
Each game progresses through a series of levels that can be played over for a better score or quicker time. We spent our afternoon playing the game where you have to shoot various monsters that emerge from a box on the table, but there are a whole range of other challenges to try.
Spending more time with the 3DS and seeing my kids experience first hand was a lot of fun. What I hadn’t expected though was that many of the non-3D features actually got more attention from them. The only problem was returning the unit after we had finished with it. It’s inspired my oldest two to start saving to buy one between them when it launches — although I think they may need a little help to have enough money by then.
The Nintendo 3DS is available from March 27th for $249.99 from Amazon.