Nintendo 3DS: First Impressions

My lovely girlfriend bought me a shiny new Nintendo 3DS for Christmas and has hardly regretted it at all, despite the fact that I now tend to ignore her in favour of Princess Zelda whenever we’re on a train journey. Poor girl. Anyway, it’s been exactly a month since I unwrapped Nintendo’s latest little wonder, so I thought I’d better share my thoughts on the good and not so good things about my little Cosmos Black 3DS.

Oooooh, look, it’s in 3D!

The first question everyone asks is “Does the 3D work?” Well, yes, it does. I don’t know how it does, but it does, and it looks pretty damn good too. The best thing about it is that it creates a really impressive feeling of depth, which works a lot better than those gimmicky 3D films where things keep flying out of the screen towards you. In fact, it’s generally in moments when objects pass directly in front of the foreground that the 3D effect is tarnished a little – your eyes tend to get thrown off when something passes very close to your face, but the effect works very well in creating a sense of distance.

The 3D also tends to work better in some games more than others: I struggled a little bit with the 3D effects in Ocarina of Time 3D, as I found that with large busy landscapes moving around fairly quickly, my eyes would often get thrown off, particularly when I found myself looking around at different points in the landscape. By contrast, the effect works extremely well in Ridge Racer 3D, despite the fact it moves very quickly – I suppose this is because you’re mostly focused on a single point in the distance.

Ow, my eyes!

I’ve not experienced any trouble with eye strain yet, although I can see that playing with the 3D on for extended periods of time could easily cause your eyes to give out with a feebly protesting whimper. And of course, the beauty of the system is that clever little slider on the side of the screen that lets you find a comfortable level of depth, or to even turn off the 3D effect completely. I’ve generally been playing with the 3D on, as I really think it adds to your immersion in the game, but it’s almost impossible to play in 3D if you’re on public transport. This is probably the system’s greatest setback – the 3D effect requires you to keep your head and the 3DS almost completely still, as any movement tends to throw out your eyes and requires you to refocus. This of course is disastrous if you’re on a bumpy tube or train, so I’ve found myself turning off the 3D whenever I’m on a journey… but those are also the exact occasions on when I’m most likely to be playing on a handheld console.

Motion schmotion

The fact that you need to keep your head and the 3DS reasonably still for the 3D to work also makes the 3DS’s motion controls somewhat pointless. The motion controls are undeniably clever, and surprisingly accurate, but having to constantly refocus your eyes as you wave the machine around somewhat drains the fun. Also, I can just about live with the shame of waggling a Wii remote in the privacy of my own living room, but waving a 3DS around in a crowded tube carriage is an ignominy I’m simply unwilling to bear.

Showing off potential

But despite being adamant that putting motion controls in a handheld console is an utterly pointless innovation, I am willing to concede that it’s a good way to make your relatives look foolish: watching my dad playing Face Raiders was probably the highlight of Christmas. And the 3DS is an undeniably impressive console – everyone I’ve shown it too has been intrigued by the 3D effect, and the pack-in games Face Raiders and AR Games are remarkably clever from a technical point of view. I was particularly impressed with AR Games, and I believe my jaw may actually have dropped at one point (have a look for yourself below).

The 3D camera also made people smile when I showed it to them, but to be honest I’ve only ever used it to show new people what the 3DS can do. At the end of the day it’s pretty blurry, and there’s not really much you can actually do with the pictures once you’ve taken them. Similarly, Face Raiders and AR Games are fun for five minutes, but I’ve no real desire to go back to them now the initial excitement has faded.

So, what DO you like about it then?

I’ve been a bit lukewarm about the system so far, but there are a few things about it that I absolutely love. I’ve already mentioned that the 3D effect is pretty damn impressive as long as you’re sat fairly still, but I’m also slightly addicted to Streetpass. Streetpass is a system in which your 3DS can swap information with other people’s 3DSs as you pass by them, which most often means that their Mii character ‘jumps’ onto your console and you can use that character in a game called Streetpass Quest. Although at heart I know that it really is very slight entertainment, I always get a little tingle of excitement when I get that little green light telling me a new Mii has popped in to say hello. And yes, I’m aware that this is incredibly sad.

Another nice feature is the pedometer – the system counts how many steps you’ve taken and converts them into ‘play coins’, which you can then use to buy features in games. It’s a neat little idea, and I like the way it gives kids an incentive to get out and walk around.

But by far my favourite thing about the 3DS is the games: so far I’ve got Ocarina of Time 3D, Ridge Racer 3D, Star Fox 64 3D and Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, and I absolutely love all of them (although Shadow Wars is my runaway favourite right now). With top quality software like this, there’s your reason to buy a 3DS right there.

The sting in the tail

Ah, but there’s a catch – that bloody battery. With the 3D on, battery life is barely three hours, and the system has run out of juice on me at least twice now. You can extend the battery life by turning off the 3D and turning down the sound, but that does take away from the playing experience somewhat. And don’t even think about putting the system into sleep mode while you’re in the middle of playing a game – having a program running during sleep mode eats up the battery like nobody’s business.

Final thoughts

Oh, that cheeky wee 3DS. It certainly is a charmer with it’s fancy looks and clever 3D trickery, but it’s an awfully naughty boy when it comes to squandering electricity. But then again, the 3D is amazingly good – as long as you’re in a position to turn it on – and I’ll be interested to see how game companies think of new ways to use it in the future. And speaking of games, there’s recently been a flurry of fantastic software for the system – with games like these, it’s easy to forgive the minor niggles.

Oh, and I love Streetpass. Did I mention that?

[As dictated by Lucius Merriweather in The Library]