james debate
james debate

Monday, 18 April 2011

Since time immemorial Nintendo has utterly dominated the handheld gaming market. With 150 million units shipped, Nintendo's most recent handheld, the DS, dwarfs the sales of every other portable electronic device. Now with increased competition from the likes of Apple and the indefatigable Sony, how can Nintendo stay maintain their position in the market? The answer, Nintendo execs hope, is the 3DS.

nintendo 3ds review

Ninendo boffins have resisted the urge to turn their signature handheld into a multi-purpose phone, mp3/video playing, all singing all dancing device. At launch the 3DS comes with a camera, some social features and, of course, the games. Internet features, an app store akin to DSiWare and potentially 3D film playback are on the way, but clearly I have been unable to review them.

Of course, the headline feature is the 3D display, and for those of you wondering whether or not it actually works, I am pleased to be able to tell you, yes it does.The 3DS screen uses some pretty clever technology which allows each eye to detect different pixels, allowing a 3D image to form. It's used in pretty much everything on the 3DS, from the games to the nifty main menu, to the camera.

The first thing users will see is this menu, which draws a great deal of inspiration from the Wii and its "channels", it is from here that one can change the main settings, calibrate the 3D and use any of the various "apps" available. Of course, I went straight for the 3D camera just to really put it through its paces.

There are actually two cameras on the 3DS, a front facing 2D camera, and a back facing 3D one, so make sure not to get the two confused like I did. The cameras themselves are not particularly high quality, but it doesn't especially matter since at the moment there is no way to get photos off the 3DS onto other devices, not that there's any reason you would want to unless you're blessed with various 3D displays. Nevertheless, the pictures one gets are actually in 3D, which is exceptionally cool for the first half hour or so.

A far more interesting use for the camera is the "augmented reality" game, which uses special cards that come with the system to add various 3D objects to the real world, as seen on screen via the 3D camera. This can be used simply for photos (one can pose with Mario, Link and various posable Nintendo characters or your custom Mii) or for games, which so far includes a target shooting game.

The 3DS also comes equipped with various games oriented around your Mii, which for the uninitiated is a custom avatar you can design to look like yourself or whoever you want. The twist is that the 3DS uses its wireless technology to interact with any nearby 3DSes, which allows Miis from different systems to visit one another, and otherwise expand the Mii adventure game. Naturally the 3DS also comes with a fully fledged messaging system.

These social features are pretty pointless at the moment however, unless you happen to be living next door to someone who has a 3DS. The chances of you coming within wireless range of someone on the street or public transport, while you happen to be playing your 3DS, for a long enough period of time for this to actually work, are very low at the moment. Of course it's early days, and with the 3DS currently flying off the shelves this may not always be the case. A greater concern is the battery life, which is pretty bad at only 3-5 hours, meaning you're not really going to carry it around with you all day anyway.

But of course this is a Nintendo system, which means the focus is always going to be on the games. It is a shame then that the console has launched with such a lacklustre lineup. You have Street Fighter IV, Pro Evolution Soccer for football fans, and Pilot Wings if you want to show off the 3D... but other than that it's slim pickings at the moment. The 3D is great on all accounts, particularly Pilot Wings, which essentially does for the 3DS what Wii Sports did for the Wii, but it's premature to pass judgement before the summer when the likes of Zelda, Star Fox and Mario Kart are all scheduled to release. As with any Nintendo console, success will ultimately lie with the in-house produced games.

For those of you who are interested in horsepower, the 3DS ranks on a par with the Wii; so more powerful than the PSP, iPhone and about on a par with the new iPad, but clearly not as hefty as the likes of Xbox 360 or PS3. That being said, Nintendo has never been a company that worries too much about such things.

So is it a risky strategy for Nintendo, paying only lip service to the increasing cry for multi-functional devices while concentrating predominantly on the games? Yes, but then the same can be said for the Wii, and that product went on to completely decimate the more versatile competition. Is the 3D a gimmick? A bit, especially with the cheap and cheerful games that are out now, essentially just for testing purposes. The real test will come when the AAA titles come out later this year.

So the conclusion for now: impressive hardware, bags of potential. But at the moment there are still a lot of features left incomplete, and a lack of killer games. If you've resisted the call of 3D games thus far, you can afford to wait until the summer by which point we will have a better idea of how it stacks up as a gaming device.

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