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Hardware: 3DS

When the original Nintendo DS launched, mainstream handheld gaming experienced a small revolution. The launch lineup was abysmal, yet possibly even better than the lineup the 3DS established. But the fun to be had with a touch screen was clear; the handheld’s power had developers pumping out beautiful 2D games and a fantastic 3D Mario Kart entry, while not being all about graphics. It was a nearly perfect balance between cost and experience, a handheld that simply couldn’t be found disappointing, even if the Lite version fixed numerous issues and tightened the package into a nearly flawless system.

Turning on the 3DS, one is greeted with the standard time and date configuration, and an amusing introduction to 3D, complete with a timer counting down to the moment in which the 3DS logo moves off the screen and sinks back into it. Immediately I was surprised by the lack of depth in the initial demonstration, having used nVidia 3D Vision on numerous PC games. But at the same time, I also felt my eyes strain just the tiniest bit, most likely due to the effect combined with the size of the screen. I shifted my position a bit and the 3D effect disappeared, as with the technology employed by the 3DS there is a rather narrow “sweet spot” in which the handheld can be properly viewed. At times throughout my initial experience I tended to hold the handheld too close to my face, which also created problems. Tilting side to side is also a recipe for disaster, I found, which is interesting given that the 3DS has gyroscopes reading tilt for any games which wish to use such a novelty.

I moved on, trying to keep the limitations in mind. Upon playing the first Augmented Reality game I really started to feel the 3D getting in the way, as it’s pretty hard to move around and keep the 3DS in your personal “sweet spot” without losing it or playing overly cautiously. Still, between that and some erratic behavior (which is probably due to the low-quality cameras being used), the games are sufficiently impressive, but they are still not much more than tech demos. Fantastic tech demos, but another case of Wii Sports, to be sure. If the 3DS was strapped to your head, they would work as they were meant to; as it is now you have to create that sort of steadiness and alignment between your eyes, the 3DS, and the AR card(s) on your own, which is pretty distracting and difficult to do in the middle of a game.

I updated the system and an OK Go music video in 3D appeared. It was awful, and that’s coming from someone who enjoyed their treadmill video. It didn’t look fantastic either; I can’t imagine the 3D movies Nintendo has lined up are worth the effort.

The last thing I tried was seeing how 3D pictures would turn out. I ended up placing the stylus near the cameras, creating a pop-out effect that was about as intense as it could possibly be; at about the point where the thing would have been poking my eye out I was so cross-eyed my brain couldn’t take any more, and then the 3DS started switching focus dramatically, sending my eyes on a journey straight to hell. To be honest my head still feels a little weird.

Enough of the experience though; what of the hardware? The analog nub is a huge step in the right direction, feeling very good even with old DS games lacking proper analog support. The stylus is perfect, adjustable, and yet its awkward placement close to the left hand makes it hard to get at on the fly for right-handers. The system itself feels much like a DS Lite, and is nearly the same size, although sadly playing DS games on the 3DS introduces some nasty scaling due to the different screen resolutions, and turns things into a blurry mess. The D-Pad seems like a cross between the original DS pad and the Lite pad, not fantastic but certainly no real issues, and positioning somehow works, although it looks awkward. The bigger top screen is pleasing. The 3DS is the first Nintendo handheld I’ve used that actually supports WPA2, which is pathetic and of course welcomed by anyone with remotely modern wireless security. The cameras are garbage as mentioned briefly, but do indeed get the job done more than half the time. The system is a very tight unit, well optimized and far more acceptable than the DS was at its launch, and it looks nicer too.

Now hopefully we see some games for it.