Eventually every dynasty must be challenged, especially after a company has enjoyed years of dominating the handheld gaming market. That company being Nintendo, whose line of Gameboys and DS consoles have been the standard-bearers of excellence for decades, and who only recently has seen the landscape they helped create literally transformed right before their eyes. With fierce competition from devices like smartphones and tablets threatening them where it counts, the stakes for them to maintain their leadership position have never been higher. This is where their new 3DS comes in, which promises to immerse players like never before – all without the need for additional glasses or hardware. And for the most part it does, although bringing some few caveats and questionable design choices along.
If you’ve ever picked up any of the recent iterations of Nintendo’s greatest moneymaker, then you should be able to note how the 3DS resembles its forerunners in many details. Its body is slightly larger than the DSi, with dimensions that measure in at 0.83” x 5.3” x 2.9” (WHD) and weighs in at 8.28oz. The top screen (the one capable of displaying 3D) is noticeably wider at 3.5″ diagonal, with an resolution bump to 800 x 240 (WQVGA), while the bottom touchscreen makes due with a smaller 3.02″ display, which is slightly smaller than the DSi’s 3.25″ but features a resolution increase to a respectable 320 x 240 (QVGA). When closed, the 3DS measures .8″ high, a bit thicker than the DSi’s relatively trim .74″ high when closed.
Looks are one thing, but the hardware powering the 3DS isn’t lacking either. From what we’ve experienced, this is without a doubt the most powerful and robust handheld Nintendo has produced so far. the internals feature a custom PICA200 133MHz GPU, 128MB of Fujitsu FCRAM (‘fast cycle” RAM), 6MB VRAM, 3-axis gyroscope, three 0.3 megapixel cameras (one 2D front-facing, two 3D rear), and dual ARM11 CPUs that run at 266MHz each; double the CPU speed of the DSi. Finally, a 2GB SDHC memory card for required memory storage is also included.
Aside from the improved dual screens, the basics include a revised button layout that makes room for an contoured analog “Circle pad” (like the PSP analog nub), located above the conventional D-pad, while the Start, Select, and a Home button are now located on the underneath the touch screen. The power button has been moved to the lower right (where the Start/Select buttons used to be), and finally a 3D slider bar sits on the right side that adjusts the intensity of the effect or eliminating it altogether. The stylus is now retractable and lays hidden in the back for discretion.
The 3DS is available for North Americans in two metallic-looking colors: Aqua Blue or Cosmo Black, where cascading shades attract different tones in certain lights, but also show off every fingerprint and smear. There’s also a large variety of indicator lights that display power, WiFi, and several other system processes; the word Christmas tree certainly comes to mind when seeing them blinking all at once.
We could spout off technical figures all day, but holding the 3DS in your hands to see if it’s actually capable of delivering a 3D experience is the real question. The short answer is that, yes, the 3DS does indeed do autostereoscopic (glasses-free) rather well. As an niche advocate of the technology, the feat is rather impressive as each eye sees parts of different pixels between the device and layered material through a parallax barrier, which essentially creates a sense of depth and dimension. identical to the stereoscopic effect you’ve likely seen in theaters or on high-end HDTVs.
The addition of the third dimension is pretty convincing to the average person, but it may take some time to lock your vision to the initial effect while playing games or using the cameras. Proper viewing involves focusing your eyes and fiddling with the 3D slider bar (depending on the quickly your eyes can adjust) to find the sweet spot that ‘works’ for you. You’ll also have to hold the unit steady for the intended effect to work right, as even slight movements can cause the 3D view to often unsync with your vision (known as crosstalk), an issue coupled with extremely confined viewing angles and distance (14”/30°).
With patience, you should be able to experience the extra dimension and enjoy it for a while, although Nintendo does recommend periodic breaks to help ward off potential eyestrain or slight nausea after long-term use, especially for children under the age of 7 or those with prior eye conditions. Whether that’s an exaggeration or not is up for the experts to decide, but the warning is prevalent on all 3DS hardware and software labels.
The 3DS is capable of slight multitasking, though this seems limited to core functions, where other apps can be changed on the fly. The dashboard features a cleaner interface that still sports a row of empty spaces for your upcoming apps and quick loading for 3DS games specifically. To get the most out of the hardware, you’ve got preloaded software to hold you over, such as network features like the Wi-Fi seeking SpotPass, passive 3DS data communication through StreetPass, and even a fully-featured Mii avatars creation station that are welcome additions. Many of the promised features, such as the new web browser, e-shop, and Netflix were not available at the time of this review, though Nintendo promises to rectify that with future firmware.
There’s also several built-in games and other diversions to help keep you busy in the meantime. Face Raiders was a real highlight, as the game takes your portrait using the camera and gives you gyroscopic control and aiming at several airborne counterparts and objects. Its hard not to be entertained by blasting objects with your face plastered on enemies.
But its the AR games, accessible via the set of Nintendo character paper cards (included) that will probably gather the most attention from onlookers, as they provide a taste of augmented-reality as only Nintendo could. Simply place one of the colorful cards on a clear and unobstructed surface, line it up with the camera, and watch the magic blossom on the display. The six included cards come to life with activities such as fishing, archery, and photo shoots, all which respond to the position and angle that your 3DS happens to be in..
The appeal of the 3DS will no doubt mesmerize most who want to experience it for themselves, especially if its their first time with the technology. You would think that each release of the DS things would get better with age, but that isn’t exactly the case here.
Like the transition from the Game Boy to the original DS there are several areas in which the 3DS takes a few steps backwards. From a design perspective starters the build quality doesn’t feel as solid as its immediate predecessor, and this is readily apparent when the top half is open; there’s a small but distinct wobble that can most likely be attributed to cheaper hinges being used. Another nitpick is the placement of the stylus, which has migrated to the top rear of the unit alongside the game card slot, hardly the most convenient place in our opinion.
Above everything else our biggest gripe with the 3DS is also the most damning, namely its battery performance – which has seen the remarkable and expected near-20 hour of life on the DS Lite reduced to a meager average of 3-4.5 hours for 3DS games, 8 hours during standby, and a slightly-better (but still miserable) 5-8 hours when playing original DS games on a full charge. While its understandable that the battery life would take a hit with all that power under the portable hood, a major blow given the brand’s legacy at providing improved charge value with each revised iteration. It’s fair to say that you better get used to keeping the AC adapter close by if you plan on carrying the 3DS around, because gaming longevity is definitely the least of this handheld’s priorities.
The 3DS isn’t just Nintendo’s most powerful and ambitious handheld, its also their most expensive and quirky, which makes it a tricky recommendation. Its hard not to be amazed by its glasses-free 3D and beefier horsepower. Unfortunately, they’ve also had to make some considerable exceptions in regards to the console’s design and the actual implementation of its namesake technology, the latter of which shows clear signs of not quite being ready for widespread adoption yet. Regardless, Diehard fans and early-adopters have no doubt picked up theirs already, but until developers get around to releasing more compelling software or the inevitable hardware revision that addresses the issues arrives; everybody else can probably hold off on getting this autostereoscopic wonder for now.
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