My initial impressions on the Nintendo’s 3DS

I remember playing the NES in a friend’s house as a kid for the first time after a Christmas in the 80s. Super Mario Bros was the first game we played on the system. I must have been about 8 or 9 at the time though it wasn’t the first console computer game I had ever played. That was an Atari before that. But this was such a leap from watching a square “ball” bounce across the screen and it was addictive, watching this little orange character bouncing around the screen.

And so it was that throughout my childhood, game consoles were a part of it. Mostly Nintendo but not exclusively (I loved my Sega Megadrive and Sonic at the time). I think I’ve owned a Nintendo product most of my life; Super NES, Game Boy Advance, Wii, DS and  a DSi. They’ve all brought me a lot of fun. So of course when Nintendo 3DS was launched I wanted one, partly because of some of the games that were going to come out on it, partly because there seemed to be some cool stuff (maybe) built in to it (like AR for example) and partly because it was Nintendo (yes I guess I could be considered a fanboy).

But the price of the device was way too high for me and then it was getting slammed for weak games at release and the 3D was giving people headaches. I wanted to try it for myself, make up my own mind, but every computer games store I dropped by, never had one available for demo at the time. I admit, I didn’t try that hard, I liked my current DSi.

But now the price has dropped and there is a great bunch of great games coming out for it. I am particularly excited by a new MarioKart and new Monster Hunter game (the concept trailer looks amazing). On top of that so many of the game stores are doing deals right now for 3DS, if you keep your eyes open.

And that’s what happened. A deal on in Game, trade in your DSi (not DS) and get a (red) 3DS for €40. (It’s also my birthday soon so it was a gift from my wife). Sadly I had to give up all my DSiWare games and there wasn’t a way to transfer sounds recorded, though I did copy the photos onto an SD card. Also, the remainder of points I had left on the DSiWare shop were lost too. They were not redeemed when I connected the same account on the 3DS. Arg. But still, I now have a 3DS!

I’ve been messing with it all weekend now, though I don’t have any actual 3D games for it but… I’m liking it. There is a lot of stuff baked in and even without getting any 3D games there is a lot you can do on it.

So let’s talk about the 3D thing first, because we can touch on lots of things along the way. My daughter jokes, calling it the “three-dee-dee-s” and I’ve had conversations with her about the difference between 2D and 3D with her. (I’m such a geek-father). 3D is in the title, so it is important, one of the big features of the device.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure about 3D before playing with the 3DS. It was more the upgraded graphics capabilities that seemed important to me. Seeing that my only other exposure to modern-day 3D technology is 3D movies, I wasn’t expecting much.

When I booted up the 3DS, on the configuration screen, they have this image of a grid and then it says, “calibrating 3D…” and suddenly the grid extends back into space. It’s a neat “oooo” moment. The 3DS menus are very slick and the 3D effect is used well actually. Pretty much like greying out an unused or paused screen, stuff get’s shifted into the background when not in use. It’s a nice visual UI trick.

And you can modify the intensity of the 3D effect. Which turns out to be really useful. I don’t know about you, but when I watch a 3D movie in the cinema, the 3D effects are pretty noticeable at the beginning of the movie but it seems about a third into any movie my conscious mind doesn’t seem to register that they are there despite that I do see them and thusly they loose impact. Occasionally I’d be looking at a 3D image and I couldn’t tell if it’s in 3D any more, but the 3D effect is there. Flick off and on the 3D and it refreshes it in my mind and I can go, ah, yea.

As a side note, when you quit a game, you don’t quit it. You suspend it and the last screen is pushed into the background in 3D while you browse the other icons. When you start another game, it asks you to if you want to kill the suspended game. You can’t run multiple games or applications but… you can access the internet browser, and some of the other built-in features like notifications, game notes, online friend’s statuses and so on I believe. And I could imagine that being quite powerful. I keep a piece of paper with lists of combos for Monster Hunter Tri on the Wii (Monster hunter tri is being ported to the 3DS!), and use my laptop to look up the internet on advice on choosing armour and weapon upgrades. I can now do this from the 3DS without quitting the game I’m playing, in theory. I haven’t used that feature aggressively yet.

Of course my existing DS games do not use 3D so I can’t really comment on actual 3D game play, but all the built-in games like Mii Maker, Mii Plaza, AR, Face-Raiders, etc. all use 3D. So you can get a good feel for it. Moving your Mii around in 3D is nice but not exceptional. It’s just as nice with the 3D slider turned off. You can also take 3D photos which is silly and fun but not amazing. The images aren’t as striking as some of the other 3D effects. However it’s in the 3D camera application that the most striking 3D effect is available. it’s one of the graffiti options where you can create bumps and digs of various strengths over a photo. It’s actually stunning, seeing this dip extend backwards as you scribble or rise up.

But I did I get a small headache. I’ve read about the “sweet spot” for viewing the 3D. Well I found it’s more of a sweet area, not big enough for two heads but big enough that I didn’t have to put myself in any awkward position to get the best of the 3D effect. I used it exactly like I used my DSi to get the full on 3D effect. Tilting the screen left or right does knocks out the 3D effect and it can be disconcerting though you can tilt the screen up and down much more.

As I said, I did get a headache, but it’s quite minor, it passed quite quickly. It’s definitely caused by eye strain, like wearing your glasses wrong (I know what eye-strain feels like sadly). You can quickly increase the eye-strain by flicking the 3DS left-right and breaking and restoring the 3D effect, my eyes would be trying to adjust too quickly. Also looking over someone else’s shoulder at the screen can strain your eyes. Thankfully you can shut it off if you’re trying to show something on screen or if you’re moving a lot while playing.

I have more to say on the 3D but I want to talk about some of the other stuff first, but my opinion of 3D is changing I have to say. It’s more than a gimmick, but it’s not the be all end all of the 3DS either.

So like the DSi, it has a internet browser built in. It also a physical button on the side for turning on/off Wireless (and I think Street and Spot Pass). Which is good on conserving the battery life, I’d imagine. The sharper and bigger screens makes reading the web much nicer than the DSi and I found the keyboard (using a stylus) easier to use too for the same reason. Of course no flash, so no videos. But I had no problem browsing the mobile versions of Twitter and Gmail (Google+ is not supported).  It is what it is and it’s not primarily an internet device. I’d fine it handy at home for checking my mail/twitter because it starts up straight away, but I wouldn’t do more than that.

They have significantly overhauled the eShop compared to the DSi or Wii. It’s much fancier, it has inline trailers (some in 3D) for both items that you can download from the eShop and ones being released in retail shops, prices in Euros, a nice selection of categories such as “cheap games”, “action”, “sports”, “games with Mario in them”, “camera fun” and so on. Sadly no free demos that I could find. There isn’t a huge amount of 3DS specific titles right now but it does inherit all the DSiWare games plus it has a Virtual Console for black and white Gameboy stuff. You can also easily submit reviews/ratings in simple Nintendo style as well.

As I said at the beginning, I couldn’t transfer or get the DSiWare games I had already purchased. Apparently there is a tool to transfer from a DSi to a 3DS, but seeing I was trading in my DSi, that left no way to get them onto my 3DS. A pity. I don’t understand why Nintendo couldn’t have kept a list of the games I downloaded and if they available on the 3DS allow me to re-download. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s a little frustrating.

The eShop is massively improved and really looks like Nintendo are making a real effort here. Sadly I’ve heard some news about how Nintendo treats indie developers and they’re doing an Apple thing with a “walled garden” approach. And they’re only interested in “real” game developers apparently and at the same time fighting constantly to take down homebrew efforts. *sigh* I’d love to have the power to write code for the 3DS myself (I’d love to try doing some stuff with AR for example), just for fun. Ah well.

There is a few free items to download straight off the bat though.

There is a 3D Pokedex for pokemon fans. My daughter is still playing Pokemon Black on her DS and thought she’d get more of a kick out of the Pokemon’s in 3D, but a few minutes play and you go, that’s nice next. Still it’s free and it’s a nice way to show off the 3D to other Nintendo fans.

Also available for free is the Zelda Four Swords, celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Zelda. I didn’t play more than a few minutes. It’s designed for multiplayer and it’s basically dungeon crawling in NES Zelda-like style.

But the best free item is the Video app. The Video app downloads 3D videos to your SD card in the background over Wireless or by Spot Pass. It downloaded a 8 minute animated cartoon, a video of a orchestra and a magic trick. I’ve heard of content deals between Nintendo and Dreamworks and Aardman Animations so some interesting stuff could popup here. Nintendo have been releasing episodes of a cartoon based on Kirby on the Wii, week by week. The kids love it and I did love the stuff Aardman Animations did in Flipnote Studios on the DSi, so this app could be a huge selling point. I’m looking forward to what else it downloads for me.

So with the eShop you can download the trailers of the games shown at the Nintendo presentation at E3. And now I can see how 3D can be used in the game. Seriously the Kid Icarus: Uprising trailer looks amazing with the 3D turned on, clever use of a small sprite in the middle the screen, loads of small objects or one big one, I’ve now added that one to my wish-list. Mariokart 7 also takes an amazing visual turn with 3D turned on.

The Super Mario 3D Land trailer is worth checking out. There is a scene where you have a pyramid style set of blocks, but one appears to stick further out in 3D but not in 2D. The scene twists and you can see that it was an optical illusion and it wasn’t really a pyramid. The 3D highlighted that one of the blocks was a trick. Another scene, you’re looking top down and you have to make Mario jump out into nothing and it sense of depth is exciting. There is also a brief scene showing how the gyroscope in the 3DS is used to aim a cannon to shoot Mario up to a set of blocks.


Hey! Look at that ugly mug. It's me, as a Mii!


You can now share you're Miis as QR Codes and now you can have me on your 3DS, forever!

Built in to the 3DS is an application called the Mii Maker where you create those little Mii characters of yourself. It has a nice feature of automatically filling in details of your Mii from a photograph, which is fun but I radically changed it’s output for my own Mii, so YMMV. You can also download your Miis from the Wii as well and view them in 3D. It’s, well, nice. But it feels like a companion tool to the Mii Plaza application.

I think Mii Plaza and Street Pass feature could be described as Nintendo doing a Zynga/Farmville. Also hats. Yep, hats for you Mii and that’s why you’ll want to play it. You collect other Miis using StreetPass. StreetPass appears to be some way for the 3DS to quietly talk to other 3DSs when you’re out and about. Over the weekend I brought the 3DS with me to Dundrum Shopping Centre, just to see if I would collect any Miis and it did, a whole two Miis, not particularly amazing first attempt.

Once you’ve collected a few Miis you can put them to work in the two mini-games in the Mii Plaza. Puzzle Swap just gives you a piece of a puzzle for each Mii you collect. There there is StreetPass Quest. Here you can use Miis you collect to battle ghosts and monsters. As far as I can tell so far, it’s purely a numbers game. Just beating baddies by the number of Miis you throw at them. But, with each stage you beat, you win a hat for your Mii to wear.

Thankfully if you can’t find places where there may be other 3DS owners, you win coins simply by walking. Then you can buy Miis to battle in StreetPass Quest or buy puzzle pieces.

It’s like Nintendo want you to take the 3DS with you everywhere. The new docking station for charging means you can just pick up without the (minor) hassle of plugging/in out cables. The StreetPass encourages you to just carry it with you when you’re out walking around. There is also SpotPass, which seems to be some internet hotspots have deals with Nintendo and send content to your 3DS, as far as I can understand, though I’ve yet to hit one myself. Is the 3DS feeling guilty it isn’t a smartphone so it offers other excuses to carry it around? Still the Mii Plaza games are entertaining and silly. I’d imagine games like Animal Crossing will benefit from this. I wonder is there a potential for ARG-like events with the 3DS using SpotPass and StreetPass?


Kirby in AR!

There there is AR; augmented reality. You get a set of cards with the 3DS. Dump one on the table, start up the AR game and point it at the card. Now you’ve got little boxes popping up and targets to shoot. You can also have famous characters like Mario appear or your Mii and take photos of them superimposed on your table.

It’s here where 3D is useful. It helps to make what you see on the screen more, I guess, solid. As you move around, the table to shoot stuff, you 3D makes the experience engrossing. While the AR stuff included is a bit gimmicky (I found anyway), it does show it has potential. Face Raiders, another AR-style game built in is a lot more fun. You take a photo of someone, it puts it on a flying ball and you have to move the 3DS around to shoot it. If you have a DSi you’ll probably have tried the graffiti options on photos and seen it change someone’s expressions. Well here it is used in Face Raiders to make faces look angry, laugh or try to kiss you! It also bashes holes in the walls around you that the balls fly out of.

The combination of a 3D screen plus augmented reality software is potentially amazing. Though from the media I’ve seen online, this feature is ignored. There are no games coming for it as far as I can tell. What I would love to see is a physical board game with pieces with gameplay like Atom Zombie Smasher. Imaging laying out a grid like board, then placing your counters/figures that represent your snipers’ or exit points and then you playing a helicopter and moving around the board taking out zombies as they advance forward. Or even more simple board games but enhanced with animations and moving buildings, much like taking the Wii’s Mario Party titles and giving them physical boards.

And it’s this potential for AR with 3D that finally sold me on why 3D was a good idea and it’s not just a gimmick.

And to finish off this post, a few final notes.

There is a new controller on the 3DS, a circle pad. They also kept the classic cross D-pad. Seems a little redundant but I found the circle pad great for Mario Kart, much easier to get those boasts and make smooth motions. And in Contra, much easier to aim diagonally. However there is a little loss of precision. I found I much prefer the D-pad for Bomberman. So perhaps the circle-pad is not a true replacement for the D-pad yet. Also I found playing DS games on the 3DS to be disappointing because the graphics now look a little pixallated on the shaper 3DS screen and after watching the trailers of the new games, I’m only left with envy.

The stylus is different too. It’s fits in the back, a bit hard to pull out if you’re in the middle of a game, but less chance of it falling out. A problem me and my daughter had with the DS and DSi, was that the stylus starts to become loose and fall out all the time. When the new stylus is extended fully, it feels longer than the stylus from the DS and DSi which is nice because the old ones were just a tiny bit too short for my hand.

Battery life is not stunning. Leaving the StreetPass on in Sleep Mode, I got a day out of the 3DS before I had to charge it again. So I’m finding I’m only going into sleep mode when I want StreetPass to be on.

Finally, I’m not a fan of the actual physical hardware. It feels heavier than the DSi and it uses three very different plastics (the top, middle and bottom of it) unlike the more smooth design of the DSi.


My new 3DS in all it's ginger colours!

Overall though, I’m happy to have it and now all I need are some actual 3D games! :)

Note: I had embedded vids for some of the games I mention, but WordPress seems to have gobbled them up. Arg.

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