Nintendo 3DS Review Feature - The Next Level

Nintendo 3DS Review

Just how much power are we playing with?

Article by Chris Bahn (Email)
April 16th 2011, 03:50AM

Let's face it: technology moves fast. No matter how much we strive to stay ahead of the curve, something better is always around the corner. Fortunately, if you just recently picked up a Nintendo 3DS or have considered purchasing one in the near future, the age of tomorrow has taken a leave of absence.

Being somewhat of an electronics junkie, it's often difficult to fight the temptation to own every gadget on the market. On one side of the spectrum, smartphones and tablets are evolving at an alarming rate, incorporating the latest in cutting-edge technology - including features like HDMI support, dual cameras, quad-core processors, and the option to act as a mobile hotspot. On the opposite end lies Nintendo, one of the original pioneers of mobile entertainment that's embodied the spirit to stay innovative and competitive.

Over the course of this article, we'll closely examine how the 3DS stacks up and if it truly holds up to all the hype. After all, who wants to invest in something that's already going to considered obsolete?

Still from Best Buy commercial

That's no moon
The Nintendo 3DS is touted as a device that will usher in a new dimension in entertainment as the first to deliver 3D visuals without the need for special glasses. It's also one of the biggest DS handhelds ever released, carrying a weight of 8 oz. and measuring in at 2.9" x 5.3" x 0.8". This isn't something I'd recommend stuffing in your front pocket as there's bound to be some discomfort after several hours of moving about. Since it's still a little breezy here in New England, I tend to carry a sports jacket and keep the 3DS in an internal pocket. However, when the climate starts to warm up, I'll be forced to either carry a backpack, risk using a rear jeans pocket, or just leave it behind.

For a device that carries a $250 price tag, one would expect a wonder of industrial engineering. In an age where consumers crave sleek, iconic designs, it's disappointing that the 3DS is anything but. Take the iPhone 4 for instance, which boasts one of the most eye-catching designs to ever grace an electronic device. Here's another practical example we can all relate to. Would you rather drive a sleek, two-door sports coupe or a station wagon? Sure both can get you from point A to B, but if given the choice, we'd all settle for the first option. Why? The former design shows a sign of success and prestige, while the latter indicates you're probably just getting by in life.

It's intelligent (sort of)
The 3DS dashboard features a cleaner, more manageable format inspired by the Nintendo Wii. Here you can access a variety of hardware-, profile-, and game-related modes. The list of options is as follows:

  • Health and Safety Information
  • Game (if inserted)
  • Camera
  • Nintendo 3D Sound
  • Mii Maker
  • StreetPass (Mii Plaza)
  • AR Games
  • Face Raiders (uses face recognition)
  • Activity Log
  • Download Play
  • System Settings
  • This Space Vacant (additional slots open based on new content)

The Nintendo 3DS with dashboard showing

With so many features to explore, it's natural for a first-time user to feel a little overwhelmed. Fortunately, a digital version of the 3DS instruction manual is included directly within the dashboard, offering instant access to everything from how to manage the photo gallery to utilizing the StreetPass.

The Nintendo 3D Sound mode is a cool feature for anyone who desires the ability to create sounds using the internal recording function. This seems like something of a novelty that would be more appealing for kids. However, this "application" (and I use that term loosely) could serve as an alternative for anyone looking for a cheap option to an MP3 player.

While navigating through the dashboard is a breeze with the stylus, menus are slow to load or exit. This was a bit hard to accept, especially since I've grown accustomed to devices capable of processing applications with minimal effort. If the Nintendo DSi was any indication, Nintendo wants to offer smartphone features without going all the way. Would it really take that much effort to offer a native e-mail client, calendar, and an application to manage contacts? Those would certainly be a lot more beneficial to older gamers than encouraging them to invite other Mii characters to their virtual neck of the woods.

Speaking of which, on paper, StreetPass sounds like an innovative idea that works best if you're the type to actively spend a great amount of time in public areas like shopping malls or airports. The concept essentially is a virtual haven where your collection of Mii characters can mingle with others. Yes, this would typically mean strangers. Although this feature doesn't pose a security risk, the thought of alien Mii characters dwelling in my digital habitat seems a little strange. Plus, in order for this feature to actually function correctly, you have to count on other users keeping their device "accessible" either by the system being actively powered on or lying dormant in "Sleep Mode."

If you're fortunate to be a lucky recipient of "visitors", they can be utilized in a special mini game that offers a light-hearted RPG adventure in which members of your Mii party must save your default Mii character. I haven't been able to advance very far simply on account of the fact no one has actually dropped by my neck of the woods. Bummer. I guess that means my Mii will be imprisoned indefinitely.

"Shark still looks fake"
One of the biggest concerns about the 3DS hardware is its ability to project 3D visuals. By using the slider located on the upper right end, users can configure the desired 3D effect (there are three levels in total). My initial impressions were quite favorable after a brief run with Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition. Compared to the rest of the launch library, this title truly showcases the 3D effect at its finest. From the character select screen to the actual in-game action, the visuals truly come alive and it's surprisingly easy on the eyes despite the lack of special glasses.

I wish the same could be said about the rest of the lineup. Various reports suggest that games like Ridge Racer 3D and Rayman would be better suited with the 3D filter left off as it tends to leave players disoriented. And to think, many of us tend to play for prolonged periods of time, I would dread to think of the long-term effects this might have. In the system's defense, there are safety warnings heavily documented in the system's dashboard and certain titles urge plaeyrs to take breaks periodically after 30 minutes or longer.

You mean you have to use your hands?!
The 3DS introduces a new analog pad that's well-suited for 3D titles like Pilotwings Resort and Ridge Racer 3D. The directional pad is, of course, still the default standby that's well-equipped for the classic 2D side-scrollers, RPGs, and shooters. Players who possess large hands, be warned: the control inputs are tiny (a situation that I find amusing, especially when you consider the device itself is quite a handful).

While the 3DS has retained the general format for the face and trigger buttons, Nintendo opted to embed the Select, Start, and Home buttons directly into the faceplate. Sadly, none of them are backlit. This won't make nighttime gaming any less enjoyable, but the absence of what's essentially become a conventional feature in electronic devices is impossible to ignore.

I know what you're thinking: there's a browser in this thing? Well, not quite. It's one of several features that Nintendo hints at becoming available at a later date. Whether the company's timetable falls around E3 2011 or later is anyone's guess, I'll be able to make do without it. After all, I already own an iPad and a Motorola Droid X, each of which offers me a favorable browsing experience. But let's stop and consider something. What type of features should we expect from the 3DS browser? If you look closely at the specs, the hardware doesn't appear to be set up to offer things like tabbed browsing, widgets, Java, or even Flash support. That makes this a lot less appealing for those of us who regularly engage in social networking or YouTube viewing. If you check out the selections offered by various nationwide wireless carriers, $250 can get you a 7" tablet that can offer all of above. The only catch is, of course, subscribing to a two-year contract and paying a monthly premium.

StreetPass Mii Plaza

Games, rectify!
It's important to listen to your inner voice of reason, especially since our economy is showing little signs of recovery. Cynicism notwithstanding, the ultimate reason to own a 3DS is the games, though even this poses a potential hurdle. On launch day, I purchased three titles: Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition, Pilotwings Resort, and Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars. They were $40 each. I have a difficult time as it is spending $60 for console-based titles, so you can probably guess I won't be going out of my way to pick up new 3DS releases until they hit the used bin.

Even though the 3DS is essentially a portable version of the Wii, it worries me that Nintendo feels confident this platform can stay competitive with Android and Apple games selling for anywhere from $0.99 to $10, capable of offering similar thrills and hours of enjoyment. (Angry Birds anyone? This is by far one of the most addicting, accessible games to come along in a long time, and it's free.)

Sorry, did I say hours? Excuse me for a second while I recharge my 3DS. Yeah, the battery life is terrible. With the 3D enabled, you'll be lucky to get three to four hours on a single charge, and roughly about five to eight playing standard DS titles. This is somewhat of a turn-off to anyone who has a long commute (i.e., video game editors, who are often frequent flyers). Looks like you'll still need to pack that novel after all.

End of line, man.
Without question, the Nintendo 3DS is a solid product featuring a modest variety of entertaining titles already available. However, consumers need to consciously think about making the investment, especially when there are other viable alternatives that can deliver a similar (if not better) overall experience. Not only is the fourth-generation iPod Touch more affordable, but the gaming selection is vast and easier on your wallet. It also offers a robot browser (powered by Safari), better battery life, and it can easily fit in your front pocket. Most of the younger generation couldn't care less about these things, and they are undoubtedly amazed by some of the 3DS features. The older demographic, however, is bound to be disheartened by the lack of aforementioned selling points.

Nintendo needs to realize that it's time look at the bigger picture here, take off the kid gloves, and introduce hardware that is truly cutting edge, without alienating its loyal user base. It certainly has the resources and potential to deliver something truly innovative (trust me, the 3D cool factor wears off rather quickly) but seems reluctant to raise the bar. I am eagerly looking forward to a future iteration of the 3DS that demonstrates it's cognizant of the ever-growing market trends and will keep the company in the game for years to come.


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