After more than six years, Nintendo will finally release a truly new handheld device this weekend: the Nintendo 3DS. At $250, it's not exactly cheap, so the decision of whether to pick one up should be made with care. I've been messing around with the US version of the device for about two weeks now, so I hope my experience will help to direct you one way or the other. I'll start with the basics first before delving into the nitty gritty.
WHAT IS IT?
The Nintendo 3DS is a new gaming handheld device from Nintendo. Unlike the many redesigns to the Nintendo DS, the 3DS is a brand new device with its own set of games and features. Most notable of these features is its ability to present 3D graphics to the player without them needing to wear glasses.
THE 3D EFFECT
Without question, the 3D effect on the 3DS is impressive. Sadly there's no real way to see the effect without holding the device yourself, but the effect is notable the moment you first glance at it. You should know that things don't necessarily pop out of the screen. The effect is more like you would see in recent 3D movies, where the screen achieves a sense of depth, almost like you're looking through a window. Even non-gamers will be able to appreciate the sense of depth achieved with the games, making it a definite "wow" piece of tech.
Certain people deal with 3D visuals better than others, and certain games pull it off better than other games. There's a slider where you can adjust the sensitivity of the depth, and, even at the lowest setting, some games (like "Super Monkey Ball" and "Ridge Racer 3D") made me nauseous after just a few seconds. It's also worth noting that Nintendo doesn't recommend young children (below 7) playing with the 3D mode on, as it could damage eyesight. This is something that can be locked with parental controls.
The system itself is shaped a lot like a Nintendo DS, complete with clamshell design, dual screens, four face buttons, two triggers, so on and so forth. The two major differences are the 3D screen on the top, which is larger and considerably higher resolution than the DS top screen, and the analog slider. The analog slider is basically a flat analog stick which is used as the main control input for most of the games, and feels great. The top screen, too, is bright and clear, able to produce graphics which are close to (but not quite as good as) the Wii.
The big one here is battery life. With all the bells and whistles turned on, you're only going to get 3 hours of play time with the device. Turning off WiFi and lowering the screen brightness may bring that closer to 5 hours, but even then it's pretty lacking for a handheld device. Nintendo does pack in a cradle with every device, which makes charging extremely hassle-free, but I'd much prefer they spent that money on something with more capacity.
Another mistake? The blue version of the device is an absolute eyesore. You can see it up top. Presumably it's designed to appeal to more casual gamers, but I'd strongly recommend going with the black option instead.
There also seem to be some issues with manufacturing. The top hinge on my 3DS is extremely loose, which causes the top screen to wobble back and forth about a centimeter simply by tilting the device forward and back. In speaking with other members of the press, this seems to not effect all devices, so if you're having the same problem, you may want to consider getting a replacement.
I'll start by saying that I haven't played every launch game, as some publishers weren't able to send out early copies. Here's a list of the ones I did play:
"Super Monkey Ball 3D"
"The Sims 3"
"Super Street Fighter 4 3D"
"LEGO Star Wars 3"
"Nintendogs + Cats: Toy Poodle & New Friends"
"AR Games" (Free pack-in)
"Face Raiders" (Free pack-in)
Pilotwings Resort - If you do end up buying a Nintendo 3DS, this should be the first game you buy. In terms of production it's on the level of Wii Sports, with charming graphics and a jazzy soundtrack. Solid controls, lots of unlockables, and excellent Mii integration.
Super Street Fighter 4 3D Edition - Easily the best graphics of the launch line-up. The 3DS version of "Super Street Fighter 4" is basically a port, but every single aspect of the console version has made the trip, including all the fighters and modes. If you're big into fighting games, this is an easy pick.
LEGO Star Wars 3 - While the game is pretty typical for a LEGO title, "LEGO Star Wars 3" features the best use of the 3D screen as characters look real enough that you could reach in there and pull them apart. A great pick for kids and Star Wars fans.
AR Games - These mini-games comes free with the system and utilize augmented reality to create 3D playing fields in the world around you. They're pretty basic but the effect is very cool and should keep you occupied for an hour or so.
Face Raiders - Another pack-in game, this one uses a picture of your face to create another augmented reality shooting game. Even more basic than the AR games, but for a free pack-in, it's a fun distraction.
Steel Diver - This game has you piloting a submarine through a variety of missions. It's extremely complex, likely designed for the hardcore audience, but it ends up being more of a chore than a satisfying experience as you're forced to micromanage dials and levers to keep your sub alive. An augmented reality minigame and a tactical strategy game are also built in, but neither managed to impress.
Nintendogs + Cats - Clearly this was Nintendo's attempt to capture a more casual audience (read: Moms) with the 3DS, but the end result is a product that's basically the same as the DS version, albeit with better graphics...and cats. Extremely uninspired.
The Sims 3 - Horrible controls and ugly graphics make this one of the most difficult "Sims" games to play.
Super Monkey Ball 3D - Another "Super Monkey Ball" game with all the same features you've come to expect. If you've played one, you've played them all. The 3D effect made me sick to my stomach.
Madden Football - A nearly featureless version of "Madden" which just offers quick play and season modes. This was very obviously rushed so that there would be a "Madden" game at the launch of the device.
Are you the type of person that likes to go to parties and whip out some fancy piece of technology to impress those around you? Good news: the 3DS is just for you. It is, without a doubt, an awe-inspiring piece of technology that will impress gamers and non-gamers alike.
If you're interested in, you know, games...well, that's where things get a bit trickier. Right now, at launch, there's no must-have app for the 3DS. "Pilotwings Resort" was my favorite of the launch games, but that's far from a must-have title. The next major release for the device, "Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D" currently has no release date and, after all, it's a port rather than a completely new experience.
The sad fact is that while there will be some fun experiences on the Nintendo 3DS, it's probably not going to get a must-have game until, at least, the holidays, and even then might be too early. My recommendation for everyone but the most hardcore technology and Nintendo fans would be to wait until there's more convincing software.