Photo: Steve Kovach
I haven’t played a console video game in over two years.Since Apple’s App Store launched, my gaming has been on the iPhone, playing simple, addicting games on the subway, or ports of classics that come alive on my touchscreen.
And why shouldn’t I? Those games are cheap, easily accessible (popular titles can never sell out), and live right on my phone.
I think Nintendo’s 3DS, which officially launched yesterday, is going to change all that.
After a week of using the system, I’ve realised there’s a huge new space opening up for mobile games. It’s one where the simple Angry Birds-like games can exist with pricier in-depth games. All on a console developed by the biggest names in gaming.
And then there’s 3D. It’s easy to make jokes about little kids burning their retinas or to dismiss the technology as a silly gimmick, but I can tell you right now the 3D effects on the 3DS live up to Nintendo’s hype.
3D Is Here, Whether You Like It Or Not
You may scoff at the onslaught of 3D mobile devices coming this year, but the 3DS proves that the technology does have a place when it comes to gaming and apps.
The 3D effect isn’t exactly what you’d expect. When I first heard about the 3DS, I thought the images were going to pop out of my screen, Star Wars hologram style.
In reality, it’s almost the opposite. When you turn 3D on, the image gets more depth rather than pop out at you. It’s almost like looking through one of those red viewfinders from the 80’s.
I was sceptical at first, but I found that 3D does add a lot to a game. It’s amazing that such a simple tweak can add to the “wow” factor and make it more fun to play.
And on a broader level, the 3DS proves that with some clever development, 3D apps can survive and even become fun and useful. I’m looking forward to what Nintendo and others come with once the 3DS online market goes live.
Another excellent feature with the 3D effect is augmented reality. The system comes with two augmented reality games preinstalled, and while they’re pretty simple to play, it’s incredible what Nintendo was able to pull off.
For example, the “AR Games” app has image recognition software that detects a series of playing cards that come included with the system. You place the card on a table and the augmented reality kicks in, creating a 3D gaming environment wherever you are.
The AR Games are pretty silly, but I couldn’t help but be wowed when my coffee table morphed into a giant volcano inhabited by a nasty dragon.
On the surface, there’s not much that separates the 3DS from it’s predecessor, the DSi. It has the same clamshell form factor and cameras for sharing photos.
But this time Nintendo added an analogue joystick that makes it easier to control 3D games. The top 3D screen is large and clear, but the graphics seem to get slightly duller when 3D is turned on. I’m looking forward to the upcoming Netflix app so I can see what video looks like on it.
The bottom screen is smaller, and mostly used for touch input. You can use your fingers, but the control isn’t as smooth as an iPhone. You’re better off using the stylus.
Games load quickly, although there is some lag when booting original DS games. There’s also wifi for online gaming and playing with other nearby DS systems.
There are two major drawbacks to the 3DS hardware:
First off, the battery life is pretty terrible. I was able to get between three and four hours of play time, depending on how often I had 3D switched on. If you want to take the 3DS on a long plane ride, you should consider buying a battery booster to keep it running.
Next, I did notice my eyes getting tired after keeping 3D on for extended periods of time. It helped when I wore my reading glasses, but it’s a bit disappointing that you can’t keep the system’s best feature switched on all the time without needing to rest your eyes.
How does it stack up to iPhone and Android gaming?
Apple’s App Store has been around since 2008. It now has thousands of free or cheap casual games that are stored directly on your device. Same goes for Android.
But with the 3DS, you’re still stuck paying around $40 per game plus you have to manage them all as separate cartridges. It’s true that 3DS games will be more in-depth than most games on smartphones, but mobile gaming has changed. People want immediate access to apps, and they don’t want to spend too much for it.
Fortunately, Nintendo has an answer. The 3DS is coming out with an online market for downloading games and apps in May, so hopefully you’ll be able to have a nice selection of classic Nintendo titles that are priced closer to what you pay for iPhone apps.
Should you buy it?
At $250 plus $40 per game, the 3DS makes for an expensive hobby. But the 3D experience is amazing and fun to use. And when the market opens in May, you’ll have access to more apps and games that will turn your 3DS into a fully-featured mobile media device.
If you have the cash, love games, and want an early peek at the future of 3D, the 3DS is a must-have.