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It has been a long time coming but the successor to the DS has finally arrived. When the DS first appeared on the scene it was the first handheld capable of rendering 3D graphics, something that was totally overlooked by the innovative dual screen approach, touch screen controls and a great games library. It made it's mark by offering games unlike anything we'd seen before and competed with the PSP, a far more powerful system, by consistently offering great games. While it was probably not a surprise to anyone that Nintendo would eventually unveil a DS with a true hardware upgrade, I don't think anyone could expect just how far beyond that they would go.
Now the 3DS has arrived and it offers the impossible, 3D without glasses. However, it also offers something far more exciting, a new DS. The chance to take the things that sold the DS and apply them to a new generation of games. 3D is an eye catching feature and one that is sure to shift a fair few consoles but if you look past that you'll see that not only are the DS' trademark features still working but Nintendo are developing new ideas that really are game changing. - - -
The console arrives in a tightly packed box, upon opening you'll find that little space has been wasted. Inside you will find the unit itself wrapped in protective wrapping, including a slip of foam between the two screens. Various pamphlets and instructions will greet you, a quick start guide for those easily intimidated by the multi-lingual reference manual and a few teasers of upcoming features.
You will also find the charger, this is identical to the charger found on DSi and DSiXL consoles which is a nice touch. Also included is Nintendo's new charging cradle, connect the charger straight up to this and you have a neat little stand for your 3DS that will top up the battery for you. Nintendo seem to have packaged this as a partial solution to the console's reputedly poor battery life, more on that later. It's not the most flashy piece of kit but it does seem fairly solid, it will sit steady on a desk or bedside table and makes it a little easier to get in the habit of charging the console up when you're done with it. Thankfully, you can still pop the cable out and plug it straight into the console if you prefer.
You will also discover a small envelope containing a few cards displaying famous Nintendo characters which will come into play later.
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Now, on to the console itself. Previous owners of DSLite or DSi consoles will probably be pleased to know that the console is nearly identical in size. The unit is a rectangular clamshell design that, when closed, can be held comfortably with a hand at either in and still have space in the middle. A few differences in shape have crept into the design and the console now seems to have a sort of three-tier structure to it. The lid now has a slight lip that makes it a little less fiddly to open than a DS lite, though they were hardly difficult in the first place. The build quality seems to have stepped up a little with the hinges on the lid looking particularly stronger. The shoulder buttons seem to have been punished for something and have been reduced to tiny, click little strips but they don't seem to have lost any usability at least. Of the few totally new features you are most likely to notice that there are now two lenses on the front for the system's 3D camera feature and a couple of new LEDs scattered around to indicate power level, wi-fi connected and the notifications system.
Thanks to a slight mix up with Amazon, I have had the pleasure of seeing both available colours (the black one twice, no less) and both are pleasant. The colour featuring in the most PR shots, Aqua Blue is actually a turquoise and something of a green one at that. 3DS systems feature a multi-shade effect and so the top of the system has a sort of metallic green sheen while the bottom is sort of a slightly sparkly blue, it's not unpleasant and is a lot more subtle than it sounds but I must admit that I took to the black a lot more. Sold as Cosmos Black, these systems are actually more of a charcoal colour. It looks very classy and I had to inspect it very closely to be convinced that it was actually made of plastic. Both colours are nice though and the console looks very professional and tidy.
People who have spent a long time with a previous DS might be a bit disappointed to find a few things have been shuffled around, the headphone jack is now in the dead centre instead of off to the right, volume is on the side and the Wi-Fi switch is where the DSLite's power switch was. However, most of these aren't flaws with the design but niggles that come about through habit and it didn't take long to adjust. More annoying however was that the stylus has moved from a convenient spot on the side, where you hands are likely to be already, to an almost locked in socket behind the screen. It is a lot more fiddly than before and irritates me to no end. The new stylus, however, is much nicer. It is telescopic, making it both slightly thicker by the nib and adjustable in length. However it's all very familiar territory, sitting very well among other DS consoles as part of the family.
Lifting the lid for the first time will reveal the first real signs of a new system. The first thing you're likely to notice is the change to the button layouts. Where the D-pad was found on previous DS consoles, you will find the circle pad instead. This little rubber pad is the console's answer to the analogue stick; a smooth and precise joystick that provides better directional control for 3D games. It feels nice to the touch and your hand doesn't slip or lose control as happens so often with the analogue stick on the PSP. It's very comfortable where it is and feels totally natural. The D-pad is still around, it has just been moved down a couple of centimetres. This looks uncomfortable at first but again it's just a matter of teaching your thumb where the pad has moved to. The pad itself is now nice and clicky, as are all the buttons, and feels a bit better quality. Beneath the lower screen you will also find the Start and Select buttons as well as the new Home button, carried over from the Wii. These buttons mounted beneath the screen look flat, almost like touch sensitive buttons. Unfortunately they are merely behind a rubber membrane and a little awkward to actually click down.
The bottom screen itself appears largely unchanged. It is still a touch screen and is exactly the same size as the DS lite's lower screen which makes it slightly smaller than a DSi and quite a bit smaller than a DSiXL. Closer inspection reveals that the resolution has had a bump up. While this is not going to be fighting off the beautiful Retina screens on the new iPhones, it has a nice increase that just makes things look a little crisper. Of course, the top screen is where all the action is on this console and it makes it clear from the start with a switch to widescreen. Despite the change in aspect ratio, the height and resolution (relatively speaking) are the same; the big change comes from the top screen's claim to display 3D images without the need for glasses. Without a doubt, this is the console's biggest selling point so the screen has quite a lot to live up to. Fixed to the side of lid is a small slider for 3D volume capable of adjusting the level of the 3D "pop" from off to headache inducing; a nice touch the encourages people to get used to a comfortable level of viewing.
A small note on hardware, I understand that the 3DS also features motion sensors and gyroscope controls similar to the Wii remote. However, aside from the built in pedometer I haven't seemed to encounter these yet.
The system also comes with a 2GB SD card, this has already been loaded in so don't go searching the box for it. It's easily swapped with a bigger one if you decide to do that.
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How does it work?
As 3D is only visible if the eye receives two separate images, glasses are normally used to create the 3D effect by filtering something different to each eye. The 3DS accomplishes this quite differently; the top screen has a resolution of 800x240. This means that images are created from 240 horizontal rows of dots and 800 columns of dots. The 800 columns are divided in two, 400 alternating columns are used to create an image for one eye and the remaining 400 create an image for the other. Built into the screen is a device called a parallax barrier. This is essentially a filter that makes each set of pixels visible only from a certain angle, diverting the image for the right eye off to the right and the left eye to the left. Hold the console straight on and at the right distance from your eyes, and Hey Presto! two separate images for each eye... in theory at least.
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Turning on the 3DS for the first time presents you with the 3D calibration settings. You are instructed, step by step, to turn the 3D slider all the way up and hold the 3DS about 30cm from your face. The console then displays the Nintendo 3DS logo and moves it off into the distance and out into the screen while you find the sweet spot and adjust the slider until things are comfortable.
So, does it work? Yes. There is no doubt about it, if you hold the console straight on and look right into the screen then the 3D effect works perfectly. The viewing angle is the only obstacle you have to work with and it's really not the bad, it's really as simple as just holding it in front of your eyes. The chances are if you've spent any time with a handheld console already then you've already picked it. Sitting comfortably and placing the console directly in front works just right for me. The slider is a more flexible thing, essentially it moves the two viewpoints closer or further apart. The trick is essentially to make the distance between the two images match what is natural to you, something that will change depending on how far away you like the console and the distance between your own eyes. The slider is nice and smooth though and it's easy enough to get something you're comfortable with. The effect itself differs from situation to situation and people are likely to enjoy different things and rock the slider around for different games, it quickly becomes habit though.
It's probably worth mentioning that the 3D effect has been subject to one or two dramatic health scares since the console was first announced. This is due to Nintendo advising that children 6 and under should not play with the 3D enabled. However, this has been blown so far out or proportion that it has become ridiculous. This is currently the industry standard advice on all 3D products including 3D films at the cinema and 3D TVs and comes from that fact that not enough is known about how 3D visuals will influence a developing visual system. Claims that the 3DS is harmful to eyesight in general are nothing but ignorant scaremongering. For those of you with young children who would like to buy a 3DS, Nintendo have not only included parental controls that lock out the 3D effect without a PIN number but, as always, they have made them very easy to implement along with the usual age restriction settings.
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The Operating System:
Once the 3D calibration is over the system will run through a few more settings. You'll be prompted for the usual time and date stuff. It will also build you a profile if you give it your name, age and where you're from. It has a nice and easy Internet setup and will also prompt you to set up parental controls if you choose. After the initial setup is out of the way we are finally allowed into the operating system.
Using the 3DS is a lot like a mix of the DSi and the Wii, using a "channels" system of organising applications. The touch screen is used to select applications and generally interact while the top screen displays information. With a few taps of the touch screen, the icons can be adjusted so that only one or two fit on the screen at once or shrunk to get the whole lot on, it's very intuitive and provides access to the whole system at the touch of a button. A lot seems to have gone into the presentation of the 3DS, not only does the system boast a true operating system but it has a lot more in common with the interface of the iPhone than the PS3 or Xbox 360. It opens up the system to you and prompts you to click around the icons and explore. Everything is very easy to use and feels well though out. This is also where that new Home menu comes into place. Pressing it while using any other piece of software will return you to this screen and give you the option to exit or load something else.
3D is also integrated into the system; each application has a rotating diorama that floats about in 3D when highlighted. It's a nice little touch and a good way of looking at different images to get the 3D comfortable for you. The top screen also displays battery info, date and time and wi-fi strength, all slightly offset from the backdrop. It actually looks as though the screen is composed of several layers, about an inch thick.
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The 3DS is a lot more than just another DS console. While it is compatible with all DS games, it is essentially the first true successor. The console is significantly more powerful and as such 3DS games can only be played in this system. Aside from the higher resolution screen and new hardware features, the processor and graphics capabilities of the system are significantly increased; much like the leap from the Playstation to the Playstation 2.
Built in Stuff:
A surprising amount of effort has gone into the software included with the 3DS. While Nintendo experimented with bundling software when the Wii was released, they have carried this a lot further this time around. Where WiiSports really helped communicate what the Wii was all about, the built in 3DS games are real, long term diversions that exploit the best features the system has to offer.
I doubt this comes as a surprise to anyone but Miis are included with the 3DS. Introduced on the Wii, a Mii is an avatar representing you in games and on the system. Choosing from a range of facial features, you can create a cartoonish representation of yourself that can be used in a wide range of scenarios. While there is ultimately not much you can do with a Mii except use them in certain games, they are fun to build and fun to share. It has improved a little since the Wii days with a wider range of eyebrows and hairstyles etc. but not much has changed. One drawback is that the system is really aimed at a single player, once you create a Mii to represent yourself then it locks the console to that Mii. While it makes sense as a portable console, it's much less of a group activity this time around. All the following comes pre-installed on the console.
"AR Games" is probably one of the most innovative pieces of software ever pre-installed on a piece of hardware. Essentially it is a collection of games that makes use of the 3D camera and the small envelope of cards I mentioned earlier. These cards are used for the camera to fix on in order to create games utilising your surroundings. One card featuring a box with a teasing question mark on it is placed on a desk, boot up AR Games from the home menu and it will start the camera. All you need to do is point the camera at the question mark card and a small little character will pop out. He will begin a series of games in which your desk becomes the playing field; soon the card will be unfolding into a little shooting range right there in the room. I don't want to spoil the games too much as a lot of the appeal comes from seeing what will happen next. There are games involving shooting at targets, a bizarre cross between pool and mini golf and even a little fishing game. Things will pop out, pits will descend through to wood and at one point a dragon escapes, all there in the room. It's an odd sort of combination, using the camera to blur the lines between the games and the real world but it's oddly exciting.
The other cards in the envelope feature characters such as Mario, Link or the Pikmin; the allow you to pop Mario out there wherever you're pointing the camera and take pictures of him around the house. It's diverting for a while and a neat idea but gets old fast. You can also take photos of your Miis out and about.
They aren't perfect however. While the 3D effect looks particularly wonderful, making the little obstacles look like they're really in the room, most of the games expect you to move around a lot and see things from different angles. This really isn't great for maintaining the 3D effect and in general it's easier to just switch it off and play the game... which of course looks much less exciting. Another problem I found is that the 3D camera doesn't do too well in low light and had a lot of trouble getting the console to actually see the card.
Face Raiders is a little unusual in that it seems as though it should be included with the other AR Games, it is also a game that uses the camera to create objects in the environment around you but does not rely on a card to get a fix. Instead Face Raiders asks you to take a picture of yourself or a friend and then encases that face in a sort of sci-fi viking helmet. You will then play a game in which your friends faces fly at you and you have to shoot balls into their mouth, they will eventually burst through the walls of your house and surround you. You've get to move the camera around a lot and cover all angles to get all the faces and it can get quite challenging. While this sounds pretty bizarre, I can assure you there's nothing more entertaining than watching familiar faces pop out at you, make weird noises and then explode after being hit by a tennis ball. It's easily one of the most entertaining games included on the system and it's absolutely hilarious.
The 3D camera isn't just used for games, it can also be used to take 3D photographs. If you can get it to work right. There's a manual focus that involves making two images overlap but it never seems to get it right and the auto focus is terrible for closer objects. It seems to fare much better at distance. On top of that, the cameras are all the same quality as the original DSi camera, 0.3 megapixel. The pictures look absolutely horrendous and while the gimmick of 3D photography is great fun at first, it's really ruined when you realise you can never turn out a picture that's nice to look at. It's a shame and could have been overcome with only a small bump up in camera quality.
Game Coins and the Activity Log:
The console's Game Coins feature is easily one of the most interesting features. When you close the system without turning it off it will go into sleep mode. During this time it will count your footsteps, encouraging you to get out there and strut your stuff. For every 100 steps you take the game will give you a game coin. You can earn a maximum of 10 a day and they can be spent on a range of things such of unlockable AR Games. Retail software can also use game coins; Lego Star Wars III, for example, allows you to buy new characters with coins. It's a great idea and I'm very interested to see how developers will utilise this in the future. The 10 coins a day limit is frustrating but it's intended to cut down on people cheating the system by shaking the console.
The activity log is really simple and seems to be based on the similar feature of Wii fit. It is a graph that charts how much walking you've been doing with the 3DS pedometer. It also keeps track of every game you've ever played, ranking them with time played, average time per session and other little features. It's hardly a selling point but it does make for interesting reading.
Spotpass and Streetpass are also pretty intriguing features that try new things with wireless connectivity. Spotpass is a simple system that allows the 3DS to connect to local Wi-Fi hotspots while in sleeping mode. There it will look for system updates or new content you might be interested in. Sky will be using SpotPass to distribute 3D clips promoting their Sky 3D channel while Aardman Animation are planning on distributing free, 3D Shaun the Sheep shorts (try saying that three times fast.) This will also be used in games such as Dead of Alive: Dimensions that will be sending free add on content to buyers for the first 30 days after release, a new item a day. So, if you have wi-fi at home or just take your 3DS to McDonalds then it will automatically connect to the net and give you free stuff.
Streetpass is even more interesting. Essentially it is a continuation of the Bark Mode included in the original Nintendogs. With your approval, the system will collect data from the games you play and swap with other 3DS owners you pass in the street. This means if you put your 3DS onto sleep mode and in your pocket and you pass another 3DS owner during the day then the two consoles will swap certain data. When you get home you'll have swapped Miis, short (automatically censored) messages and other things depending on the games you own. Owners of Street Fighter on the 3DS can put together teams of fighters, pass another player who owns Street Fighter and the two teams will have a showdown. The next time you play Street Fighter you can check the results and see if you get any rewards for winning. This does not require the game to be in the system, saving streetpass data to be shared to the console. These features are also covered by the parental controls and can be enabled or disabled on a game by game basis.
No personal data is swapped and most of the time people won't even know it's happened until they get home.
It's a great feature that means you feel less like you and your console belong to an insular world. There are drawbacks however; it has clearly been designed with Japan in mind where there are more gamers, more portable consoles sold and a denser population. However, should 3DS sales reach the same sort of levels as current DS sales then I don't imagine it will be hard to get the occasional hits even in small towns.
-Puzzle Swap and StreetPass Quest;
Puzzle Swap and StreetPass Quest are two games that come included with the 3DS' Mii Plaza. They take advantage of Streetpass and Game Coins, really showing off the best the features have to offer.
Streepass Quest is a quirky little RPG game in which you Mii has been taken prisoner. You are locked away and warriors must work their way through a dungeon of monsters to rescue you. Warriors are obtained by meeting people via Streetpass. When you pass another 3DS their Mii will be sent to your plaza, the next time you load up the 3DS you'll be able to make a party of adventurers from the Miis you've collected and send them to rescue you. If you haven't met anybody on StreetPass you can buy a cat (for some reason) warrior with two game coins. Every time you defeat a group of monsters you'll have the chance to unlock a hat which you can give to your Mii. It's a great, funny little game that will take anyone a long time to work through and really encourages you to go out and collect Miis or earn coins. It's only a simple little game but it has a lot of length for a piece of bundled software.
Puzzle swap is based on similar ideas. You have a range of little jigsaw puzzles that need completing, however you only have one piece. You can buy another piece with 2 game coins, however it might be a piece you already have. When you pass another 3DS it will trade Puzzle Swap data with them and give you the opportunity to grab one of their pieces. While it's less of a "game" than Streetpass Quest, it's quite a fun little thing to have on the side.
Both of these games really do a great job of selling what Streetpass is all about and will take every 3DS owner a lot time to complete and a reason to seek out other 3DS owners. It's a great step forward for portable games consoles, bigger even than 3D, creating more of a network of connected consoles and players and it's an idea I really like.
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-Music player & 3D Videos
The 3DS is capable of reading MP3s from the SD card, load them on and it will pick them up automatically. Sound quality is reasonable through the speakers (though better through headphones) but it's not going to replace anyone's MP3 player just yet. There are a range of nice 3D visualisers though and some of them can even be played like little games; worth a look.
The system is also capable of playing 3D videos. While the service for providing these videos is not up and running yet and there seems to be no way to run them from the SD card, running a system update that's available out of the box will provide a test video with shots of wildlife, skydiving and things like fireworks. It's nice enough but there's really not enough to say about this feature just yet. The 3D still works, though for videos the slider becomes a simple on/off switch as the perspective of the two cameras is fixed.
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-EShop + Internet
Here's where the 3DS meets it's first major hurdle. The console is going to feature a virtual console similar to the Wii which will allow people to buy and play old GameBoy games and other older games. It will also be compatible with all DSi Ware titles and a new 3DS Ware label is beginning. This, along with the system's Web Browser, is not available at launch and will be coming in a global system update in May. As such, I can't really comment on this feature but I do think it counts against it that it has launched without.
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Playing 3DS games is very similar to previous DS systems. Games come loaded onto a small cartridge, a little larger than an SD card that look similar to older DS cartridges. The only difference is a small tab to prevent the games being loaded into a DS system. Each game uses the 3D capabilities in different ways so it will be a good idea to get used to adjusting that 3D slider with your mood.
With the 3DS' more powerful hardware we are seeing games to offer more options in terms of Gameplay. Super Street Fighter IV 3D is a very authentic port of the console versions while a game like Rayman 3D is a very solid port of an old Dreamcast game. The launch line up is a little weak, with new titles like Lego Star Wars III being an enhanced port of the DS title and not a port of the Wii version which would more accurately reflect the system's capabilities.
However, there are some very positive common trends. The 3D effect adds a lot of depth to games, particularly platforming games. Rayman 3D particularly shows off a lot of scope with its 3D effect. The circle pad is also deserving of a lot of praise, it is incredible precise and the 3DS games take advantage of it beautifully. It is easily one of the best control methods we've seen on a handheld and it can only be appreciated in gameplay.
The only shame is that we are not seeing many games really taking advantage of StreetPass and SpotPass yet with Super Street Fight IV 3D and Nintendogs being singled out as the best examples so far.
I will be reviewing specific 3DS games in detail seperately.
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Playing Original DS Games:
The original DS is the most successful piece of gaming hardware ever made, this makes the decision to keep it backwards compatible a no brainer. The console handles them games well, though not perfectly. Due to the higher resolution of the 3DS screens, when DS titles are displayed (full screen on the bottom, same size but with black panels on the side for the top screen) they must be upscaled. This means that the original pixels are retained in their original place relative to one another but spread out while software tries to intelligently fill the gaps. It cuts down on pixellation but has a softening effect on the image. It doesn't look terrible (far from it) but games won't be as sharp as you remember. You can hold down Start and Select when loading a game and it will boot up the game using the original resolution with black borders around but this will make the touch screen difficult to use.
All in all, this is still a DS and while it might not look perfect it's not the kind of flaw that will drive you crazy.
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Taking it as a package, the 3DS is pretty impressive. The much anticipated 3D really does work and works better than you'd expect. It offers all the features of DS consoles that came before and yet sets itself apart as a totally new system. We are overdue for a successor to the DS and it's nice to see what has been a great design for a console being utilised for some more impressive hardware.
I do have some complaints though. Firstly, the battery life is a shocking downgrade. Where the DSLite would regularly last over ten hours, you'll be lucky to make the 3DS last more than four. It really is that bad. It will bump up a few hours when playing original DS games but otherwise it just doesn't have that comforting feeling that comes of being able to depend on it.
Secondly, the presence of the 3D screen breaks the original DS concept a fair bit. One of the excellent things about the DS is the feeling of balance. There was no main screen and often developers would ask you to hold it on its side or swap which screen you were looking at. With 3D being the big selling point and only one 3D, widescreen display, it turns the console into a system with one main screen and one control screen. It's a shame and I shall be sad to see the inevitable demise of controlling characters on the touch screen as in the two DS Zelda titles.
Finally, the absence of the DSiWare, 3DS Ware, Virtual Console and Web Browser at launch is a real shame.
In the end, the 3DS delivers what it promises. A DS, 3D graphics and a whole new console. But, it's the less shouted about features where it really changes things. 3D is fun and it works, but it really is just a gimmick, no matter how well implemented. Streetpass, Spotpass and Game Coins however are already proving themselves as new ways to play, the minute you turn it on.
The future is probably very bright for the 3DS. When numbers reach the point that StreetPass becomes truly viable outside Japan it's going to be a blast and when software rolls around that really takes advantage of the system then it will probably be the most exciting games console in the world. A lot is coming to the 3DS and at the moment it's just looking a lot of untapped potential but for a console that's only just been released, there's an awful lot to do. A lot of it has never been done before and it's quite hard to fault. The 3DS loses a star for having a poor camera and for launching without most of the internet options but it gains so much from having so much to do out of the box, for trying new things and for succeeding.
This is like DSi 1.5, they just added a 3D screen some slight software additions and 3D photo taking. I own one, I only use it because Ocarina of Time with enhanced graphics was relaxed on it, otherwise it is basically a DS with 3D screen. It blows my mind how Nintendo like to release rehashed version of the same console again and again, but with slight variances so that the consumer might want to buy it. I own the original DS and the DS Lite. I saw no point of the DSi as it only brought along the camera, and the DSi XL just made the screens larger so that you could see how low res the graphics were. They did it with the Gameboy, they did it with the Gameboy Advance, and now for our generation, we get the 3DS. I bet there is going to be a 3DS Lite soon, 3DSi with video recording capabilities followed by a 3DS XL for those with fat hands. You know, I'm going to do my own review, because I feel that Nintendo are just treating it's fan base like retards.