You might have got the impression I hate consoles. This is not true, I just hate it when they try and do the same things as a PC but do it badly and charge you more for the privilege (Sony, Microsoft, I’m looking at you!)… Nintendo on the other hand have a different aim in mind, games that can be enjoyed by everyone. They don’t fill their games with blood and shootymen but that does not necessarily make them childish, the Zelda games are harder and longer than anything Infinity Ward have released, the Pokémon series is far more complex than it looks at first glance and despite the cartoon critters can be enjoyed by all ages (apart from 14-18 year old males as the lack of an adult only rating will put them off).
So as a result I have had a DS Lite for a while, I didn’t upgrade to the DSi as I felt very little had changed (it also lost the GBA backwards compatibility) and I didn’t get any of the other slightly different models that Nintendo released. Until now.
Unlike the DS consoles so far, the 3DS really is new from the ground up. Only slightly larger than the DS Lite but with a much larger top screen, the real hook with this model is of course the auto-stereoscopic 3D (no glasses) and the increased processing power, meaning that unlike with the DSi new games can be much more graphically advanced. This does of course come with the disadvantage of severely reduced battery life, quoted as 3-5 hours as opposed to the 5-8 hours on the brightest backlight setting of the DS Lite (which can get up to 19 hours if you don’t mind a dim screen). Perhaps to compensate for this in some way it does come with a charging dock which makes charging easier.
The list of launch titles isn’t very large, notably absent are any Mario, Zelda or Pokémon games. A Mario title is due this year and a remake of Ocarina of Time is on it’s way however, and I would not expect another Pokémon game this close to the release of Black/White. So what do we have? Well I got to see a large chunk of the launch titles at The Gadget Show Live at the NEC, the ones that stand out are Pilotwings Resort, Super Street Fighter IV 3D, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Shadow Wars, Ridge Racer 3D and Nintendogs + Cats.
I got Ridge Racer 3D with my bundle and have since bought Pilotwings Resort. With an analogue stick added to the DS for the first time driving games have become much more enjoyable and Ridge Racer 3D is no exception. Pilotwings Resort takes you back to Wuhu Island, previously featured in Wii Sports Resort, and follows a similar format to that game though it is now all about flying, be it in a aeroplane, hang glider or rocket belt (Wii Sports Resort only had the plane for the flying mode).
Ridge Racer 3D is pretty enough for a portable game and the 3D works very well, enabling you to judge the distance to the next corner with far more accuracy than you ever could in racing games on the old DS but I got the impression when playing it that 3DS is capable of so much more. Pilotwings Resort on the other hand looks at least as good as Wii Sports Resort and really shows of the power of this console. As developers get the hang of writing for it I expect games to look better and better.
Apart from the 3D and increased power there are many other things that have been improved in the 3DS, Wifi is now fully compatible with WPA2 so you no longer have to worry about setting up an unsecured access point (no, WEP is not secure) to use Nintendo Wifi Connect enabled games. Street Pass allows enabled games to share data with other local players without any user input. The idea is this; if your 3DS is in sleep mode with the wifi on it will talk to nearby consoles and trade things like best times, ghost data and your Mii (yes you get a Mii with the 3DS), when you turn it on again you get a notification to say that you have a best score to beat or have been challenged to a race, the game in question does not even have to be in the device as Street Pass data is stored on the SD card so it can be looking for Ridge Racer ghost runs when you have been playing something else. Though I like the idea of Street Pass I have not been able to test it. I did wander around town with my console in sleep mode and the Wifi active but didn’t get any hits. I can see it working very well for kids at school, or if and when a lot more people have a 3DS, but at the moment it is not the most useful feature.
A couple of feature have not gone live yet and are waiting for an update from Nintendo but it will soon have a built in web browser (which will no doubt be mostly used to look up walkthroughs) and a Virtual Console and DSware store for downloadable games like the Wii. Both features should go live in North America on the 6th of June 2011 and will no doubt follow shortly after in the rest of the world. The Virtual Console will feature games from the GameBoy, GameBoy Colour, SEGA Game Gear and TurboGrafx 16. At the moment there is some confusion/doubt as to whether it will also feature GameBoy Advance games which is a pity as I would be more than happy to buy A Link to the Past again, I expect that the GameBoy Colour game Link’s Awakening will be available however which will make up for it in part.
Other features include a 3D camera which as well as being used for taking 3D photos is also used to play the Augmented Reality games that come built in to the 3DS, these games superimpose games objects (things to shoot at in most cases) over a 3D view of whatever is behind the 3DS. There are two of these for now, but I think they are mainly meant to demonstrate what the 3DS can do and AR features will no doubt be found in future games, particularly when the DSware store comes online. These AR games also make use of the accelerometer that has been added to the device since it’s last incarnation, something that has been made popular by touch screen mobile devices which tend to have few buttons, it gives developers yet another input method to use when designing the control system for their games.
It may seem that there is not a huge amount to make you switch to the 3DS, the limited number titles will put many off, but the same could be said about almost any console on launch. Nintendo perhaps should have delayed the release until they had a Mario or Zelda title available, but unlike some other consoles there is a huge library of games you can play on the 3DS due to it’s backwards compatibility with DS and DSi games. The only drawback with the DS compatibility mode is the fact that the titles are up-scaled due to the higher resolution screen on the 3DS. This can give them a slightly blurry look, much like if you run the LCD monitor on your computer at anything other than it’s native resolution.
At the moment it may not seem like a must buy gadget but, with the games set to release later this year and the DSware and Virtual Console stores on their way, it is clear that you will soon be feeling left behind if you have one of the older DS models.
— Jonathan Hill