Last week when I noticed a prominent and unexpected parcel on my front porch I was excited. When I realized that the label indicated it was from Nintendo I was elated. And when I opened it to discover a shiny new 3DS and a treasure trove of games I was… well, briefly rendered unconscious.
After playing around with the system for a few days I began compiling notes for my inevitable review only to realize that I was treading a well-worn path. Countless other previews, reviews and technological autopsies have already expounded upon the nuts and bolts of the 3DS. You’ve likely already read all you care to about its screen resolution, its external cameras and its 3D depth slider.
In fact it became plainly obvious that there was little I could discuss about the mechanics of the system that hadn’t already been covered elsewhere. But as I noodled more and more with my 3DS I came to realize that, as a Nintendo product, many of its most interesting, peculiar and confounding aspects existed well below the surface of ARM processors, autosteroscopic displays and snappy shoulder buttons.
So with Nintendo’s big weekend release event at Union Square drawing ever closer, I’d like to pause to spotlight a handful of 3DS-related oddities that I gleaned from my initial impressions of the device.
It’s Not Easy Bein’: When a fellow contributor remarked to me that the Aqua Blue 3DS system was, in fact, green, I chalked it up to cultural differences. Andy is a European, and I assumed that our expectations with regard to color (or in this case colour) were slightly at odds. I was wrong. When I opened the box the first thing that struck me was how not-blue the system was. This, of course, got me thinking about all of those handsome very blue accessories that PDP and Hori have made available for launch. I’m actually quite interested to see if the colors match up, as is most certainly the purpose. Still, in the meantime I shall begin referring to this system color as Unadvertised Aquamarine.
War and Peace and Safety Precautions: The second thing I noted upon opening my delightful care package was the sheer volume, the absolute girth of the 3DS operations manual. Clocking in at 329 pages of instructional, warranty and precautionary information it’s like the extended director’s cut of a traditional product manual. Admittedly, English, Spanish and French documentation are bundled together in one handsome binding, but that doesn’t make it appear any less formidable from the outside.
Let’s Be Careful Out There: I also couldn’t help but realize that the 3DS only includes within its robust packaging a single stylus. Whether you make it a point to purchase a backup immediately is certainly your prerogative, but I can’t shake the feeling that I am presently performing without a safety net.
Playing with Power: While much has been made of the system’s less-than-stellar battery life, I was relieved to find that the 3DS actually uses the same 4.6V AC adapter as the DSi. While the drop-in charging cradle is a nice option, you can still slot directly into the handheld itself for charging, and this means that any DSi travel chargers you may have accumulated over the previous cycle will still prove useful.
Wrongful Suspension: While on the subject of battery life I’d also like to touch upon the 3DS’s ability to suspend gameplay and return to the home screen on-the-fly. While the option itself is presently teetering between incredibly helpful and extremely annoying – every time I press the HOME soft key I am asked whether I want to close or suspend my previous activity – the fact of the matter is long-term game suspension very quickly eats away at the limited battery life. If you’re planning to suspend PilotWings Resort for a bit while you make a cup of coffee or run to the deli, be sure you drop the 3DS back on the charging cradle first. If the battery reaches a critical level before you return you will lose your unsaved progress.
Solid Gold: Sleep Mode likewise chips away at battery life, but the feature is well worth it. In this mode the 3DS not only marks you daily steps in its Activity Log, it converts your movement into Play Coins. These can then be traded for in-game assets. Presently my Play Coins are being gobbled up equally between hiring heroes in the Find Mii mini-game, in which sword-bearing cats attempt to rescue your Mii who is being held captive by ghosts (and even as I’m typing this I realize it makes no sense at all), and buying figurines in Super Street Fighter IV.
Complete Control: Let me also join the growing chorus of gamers proclaiming Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition to be the series’ best portable experience to date. The addition of the 3DS circle pad gives a real sense of flexibility within the game, and the Lite control option means even notoriously bad Street Fighters like myself can pull off a fairly advanced move set. This hasn’t kept me from having my ass handed to me in online multiplayer matches, mind you, but I reiterate that the gameplay is smooth and intuitive.
Across the 3rd Dimension: It’s impossible to discuss the 3DS without at least touching on its core 3D functionality; however, I seem to have come away with a different impression of it than most. I believe that the 3DS is at its strongest visually when it offers subtle in-game depth as opposed to eye-searing dynamism. I think of it as the difference between the 3D in Avatar versus that of How to Train Your Dragon; while the former assailed you with sheer spectacle the latter simply used it to add an additional level of immersive engagement. This is why, though I assumed a first-party Nintendo product or a more hyped title like Street Fighter would really wow me, my favorite 3D gaming experience thus far has come compliments of LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars 3D. The game adds just enough depth to make you feel like you are in a world comprised of proper bricks and populated by minifigs, and its fixed camera ably incorporates a sense of real distance without ever overwhelming the player.
There Be Dragons: The bundled Augmented Reality games also work as advertised, although technologically-speaking they don’t seem to be any more advanced than the Invizimals or EyePet titles on Sony’s PSP. Still, it is important to note that practically every one of these AR games ends the same way: with the player fighting a dragon. Admittedly, I could understand why I might need to defeat a dragon at the end of an archery mini-game. Being attacked by a great wyrm after a casual round of fishing, on the other hand, seems a bit off.
Pleased to Meet Mii: I am, in the words of Lynyrd Skynyrd, a simple kind of man. So it is perhaps unsurprising that the aspect of the 3DS that brought me the most joy was a fairly straightforward feature. I was a huge fan of the Mii Channel on the Wii, but as an early adopter of that system I really haven’t done much with my motley crew of cartoon-y avatars in recent months. Yet having such a service on a portable device has proven a constant source of entertainment. I learned quickly that the option to make a Mii from a photo is far from flawless, but a related feature kept me from being too downhearted about that particular realization. Bundled in with my system and games was a pleasant message from Nintendo PR that concluded with a QR code and instructions to scan it. Doing so netted me a Reggie Fils-Aime Mii (Reggie Fils-Ai-Mii?), but it also got my creative juices flowing. Because, you see, the 3DS likewise allows you to convert your own Mii to a QR code, and while this seems fairly banal when contrasted with the more advanced features it really served to remind me that this was indeed a strange and wonderful Nintendo device. With all the delightful quirks and eccentricities that entails. It also gave me something interesting to put on my next round of GeekDad business cards.
Though I’ve made a genuine effort to pepper this post with uncommon information not likely imparted by other 3DS profiles and reviews I reach the end of it realizing full well that you still have what is likely an incredibly common question: Should I buy one?
My answer to you then is a rousing it depends. The simple truth is the 3DS delivers on its promise. Assuming you don’t have any issues with depth perception and aren’t a member of the gamer minority that responds poorly to its brand of glasses-free 3D it will provide gaming experiences unavailable on other portable systems. If you’re hoping to walk out of your retailer of choice on launch day with both the handheld and the famed killer app, however, you may be disappointed.
Games like Super Street Fighter, Steel Diver, LEGO Star Wars and PilotWings are all perfectly enjoyable titles, but of the half-dozen I have experienced I have yet to find one that is a universal must-have. To put it more definitively, if you are looking to upgrade from a DS Lite I say go for it, but I’d caution you not to sacrifice you DSi or DSi XL to the trade-in gods just yet. (Especially considering a mechanism for transferring those DSIWare games is shortly forthcoming.)
Consequently, if you have the $250 USD to spend on a shiny new technological bauble you will get your money’s worth from the 3DS. This is assuming, of course, that you approach the purchase with realistic expectations. There’s a lot to love about Nintendo’s shiny new handheld, and with an ever-expanding lineup of quality titles you’ll only find more as the system matures and truly comes into its own.