The Nintendo 3DS has been properly unveiled and it's a fascinating little beast. There's a whole bunch of interesting stuff going on within the console's shiny black (or slightly nasty green) case. From glasses-free 3D technology, to augmented-reality capabilities, as well as some perhaps less interesting features like StreetPass, you couldn't accuse Nintendo of playing it safe. But is it any good? Read on to find out.
Unsurprisingly, the 3DS' most interesting feature is its 3D tech. Allowing you to play three-dimensional games without those funny, geeky glasses, it's pretty remarkable in that it actually works. Rather impressively too. But there are some drawbacks. Foremost among these is that you have to hold the machine ultra-still. Just a few degrees in any direction and the screen is reduced to a blurry, headache-inducing mess.
However, despite having to handle the 3DS a bit like my Nan reading a shopping list, it's a pretty comfortable position. Of course, whether that's true after extended periods remains to be seen.
But when everything is in place, it works terrifically well. Did you ever play Batman: Arkham Asylum with the old-fashioned 3D glasses on? It's far, far better than that. The 3DS doesn't just offer a couple of different dimensional planes - there's a real, tangible depth to the visuals. Character models pop out into the foreground and environments swoop off into the distance.
The real question mark is whether developers can leverage the tech to create new gameplay experiences.
So how do the inputs shape up? The 3DS offers plenty of them. There's face buttons, shoulder buttons, a touch screen and a new analogue nub, called the circle pad. While most of these operate as you would expect, there are a few note-worthy things worth mentioning.
Chief amount these is the circle pad. For those that are used to the thumb-cramping PSP nub, it'll be a revelation. Not only is it relatively flat, therefore reducing the chance of damage while it's bouncing around in your bag, it also feels and plays really well. It's loose and flexible and responsive to the degree that it's the preferred method of input even for games as exacting as Super Street Fighter IV 3DS.
Which is probably a good thing as the D-pad is awkwardly positioned. Like the Xbox 360 pad, you'll want to use it for accessing menus or swapping weapons, but little else.
Pretty self-explanatory, the gyroscope senses the movement of the 3DS and allows you to use it as a control method. In Zelda, for example, you can switch to a special first-person view and use the gyroscope to swoop the camera around. Similarly, in the submarine simulator Steel Diver, you use it to control your periscope.
It works flawlessly, while offering the added benefit of making you look like a plonker. Perfect for Nintendo's brand of family funtime, rubbish if you're at the bus stop.
Packed in with the handheld are a couple of games that take advantage of the 3DS's AR tech. The first of these is the wonderfully demented Face Raiders, which turns a picture of you or your friend's face into a enemy that appears to fly around the room. Yes, you literally shoot your own face off. Even better, if you continue to miss your targets, your face will start ripping the room apart. Bonkers.
The other packed-in AR game comes in the form of an Invisimals-esque experience. Pop one of six cards (found in the 3DS box) onto a surface, point the camera at it and it comes to life. The card starts out as a little Mario question mark block, but quickly grows legs and totters around, allowing you to shoot it until it falls over. Then it transforms into an island, sprinkling the surface with targets. And finally, it erupts into a flame-spewing dragon complete with glowing weak spots.
Nether of these little experiments are going to win game of the year awards, but for the business of introducing the console's capabilities they're pretty fantastic. Brilliantly inventive stuff.
Now, we all know that the 3DS has a 3D camera. It was one of the first things announced about the handheld. So when I tell you that it takes 3D pictures, you'll probably stifle a yawn. But wait! It takes 3D pictures! Actual, three-dimensional pictures. Think about that for a sec. Or maybe it's better if you just try it for yourself, but it really is rather cool. Ever-so-slightly gimmicky, of course, and it won't make Super Mario Bros. 3DS arrive any quicker, but cool nevertheless.
StreetPass is more of a feature of some of the 3DS's games, rather than of the handheld itself. But seeing as it's facilitated by 3DS tech, it has a place here. Put simply, StreetPass allows you to challenge passers by while your 3DS is in your pocket.
This works across all kinds of games, including Super Street Fighter IV 3D and Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D. It's left many of us a bit nonplussed. Sure, it's another example of Nintendo's seemingly boundless innovation, but it's also a bit pointless. I'd like to be proved wrong on this one.
So there you have it, a look at all of the 3DS's main features. It's a genuinely fascinating - if rather expensive - console. There's more toys for developers to play with than any console since... well, Nintendo's last console. With the camera, the 3D, the augmented reality and the gyroscope, there's plenty to get stuck into.
If the 3DS proves to be a breeding ground for creativity, instead of a wasteland of shovelware like many Nintendo platforms of late, we could be seeing some genuinely interesting experiences in the coming years. That's a big if though.
Ultimately, it's the games that matter. But we've got you covered. Keep an eye on the site for a whole bunch of previews in the next few days.
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