Nintendo's DS has seen no less than four guises since its initial launch as a bulky, silvery-grey touch-screen behemoth in 2004, first slimming down for the DS Lite, then adding camera functionality for the DSi before piling the pounds back on for the DSi XL. Enter DS mark V, and arguably, the most revolutionary of the bunch to date, the Nintendo 3DS.
Wait a minute! A 3D handheld? Who in their right mind would ever want to wear 3D glasses on a train, bus or in any public place for that matter? Well, Nintendo clearly knows this and have consequently created a miraculous little screen that produces the 3D effect without having to sport daft eye apparel. It's pretty remarkable stuff, which begs the question, why the hell aren't telly manufacturers making their sets in the same way?
Looking like the standard DSi XL at a glance, the 3DS has a funky new analogue nub that puts the comparatively dodgy PSP one to shame for 1) being in the right place, and 2) being all rubbery, concave and comfortable to use. Could this be an indication that the DS is growing up? Well if that isn't, then the line-up of games certainly is.
While games like Mario Kart are predictable DS fare, in 3D, it looks undeniably fantastic and indeed, some games manage to perform the 3D effect better than others. Mario Kart is one such game, conveying a pretty decent sense of depth as the demo we were shown had the rotund plumber bombing around a track, obstacles whizzing past, giving us our first taste of what 3DS is capable of. As we later discover during our circuit around a demo area at a London event held in Pimlico's Millbank Tower, occupied by helpful, impossibly gorgeous and smiley booth girls however, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Shuffling along to Resident Evil: Revelations, the effect is less impressive, but then that's probably because the demo in question is a static cut-scene showing Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine in a Mexican stand-off with a third sinister figure bound to a chair. Nudging the analogue stick to move the camera ever so slightly, added very little to the sequence, although cutaways to short snippets of action better showcase the 3D aspects of the game, but for now we'll put a pin in this one as a 'work in progress' that we hope will later be 'one to watch'.
Ubisoft's Hollywood 61 is probably the most subtle use of 3D we've seen thus far, the murder mystery game featuring rotoscoped live-action cut sequences, a brief playable mini-game that involves rotating mirrors to re-direct a beam of light and a hanging corpse that you can move the camera around. Again, 3D excels in adding extra depth and upon discovering a hidden message painted in the billowing folds of a stage curtain, we get another insight into how 3D can enhance the immersion in a game. Sort of.
The real potential in showcasing 3D fell to Metal Gear Solid 3D, a demo of which, entitled 'The Naked Sample' was easily the highlight of the show. Set during the 60s' period of MGS 3: Snake Eater, the sequence begins in a first-person perspective as Naked Snake crawls across the jungle floor, sweeping fronds of long grass and leaves out of the way, before a python unfurls itself from around a log, hissing at the screen with its maw wide open. Able to move the camera around freely, the real potential of the 3DS suddenly becomes abundantly clear. It's genuinely immersive handheld gaming and we can see ourselves losing hours getting caught up in MGS 3D's undergrowth.
As the demo unfolds, we come upon a crocodile that thrashes its tail, but Snake continues unabated until he comes upon a hole that provides an opportunity to peek through at an enemy patrol. A dropped cigarette packet drops through to the other side, and as Snake presses into cover, a guard thrusts his hand through the gap to feel for the lost pack of smokes. Snake carefully plucks the packet from the ground and places it within reach of the soldier's grasping hand. The arm retreats with the cigs, and Snake visibly breathes a sigh of relief as the camera smoothly zooms out to a third-person viewpoint. Then the genome troop shoves his head into the hole and has one last sniff around, while Snake can do nothing but sit perfectly still.
It's tense stuff, and we're already completely sold on MGS 3D, but there's still more to come. Naked Snake reaches a rope bridge next, where again we can spin the camera around fully, as a hornet flies into view, attracting a whole swarm that buzz around Snake's head, prompting him to leap haphazardly over the edge. Finally, the demo wraps up with Snake and The Boss re-enacting their climactic battle from Snake Eater in a field of white flowers, kicking up swirling petals as the two engage in close-quarters combat. If ever there were a proof of concept as far as the 3DS is concerned, Metal Gear Solid 3D is it. In short, it looks utterly breathtaking and is further proof that Hideo Kojima knows his onions when it comes to demonstrating what a new console can do.
It was also the perfect chance to fiddle with the 3DS slider switch, which enables you to adjust the level of the console's 3D. Slide it all the way down, and you can switch it off completely. Find that your eyes are going a bit weird? Nudge the slider down slightly, and you can make the effect more subtle and less-pronounced. And of course, you can tailor the setting on the fly to suit your eyes by fiddling with the little silver slider to your heart's content. We personally found leaving the slider at just above halfway to be preferable. Keep the slider at maximum level however, and you'll experience the full impact of 3D, with the flying mud splatter from the jungle floor in MGS to the subtleties of a leaf caught on a breeze. Things might not necessarily leap from the screen, but that's not the idea. 3DS manages to create an unprecedented sense of depth, which on its three and a half-inch screen is no mean feat.
Games like PilotWings Resort and Kid Icarus: Uprising reinforce just how much potential the 3DS has, with the latter briefly showing soaring flight through canyons and across picturesque landscapes, while the former let us get hands-on with a couple of short mini-games - Plane Ring Flight and Rocket Belt Balloon Flight. There was too little of Kid Icarus on show, but the largely on-rails shooter seems to lend itself perfectly to 3D. PilotWings meanwhile, looks charming and it's verdant green vistas pop in 3D, whether you're flying through checkpoints in a seaplane, or bursting bright orange balloons with the aid of a jetpack.
Last, but not least was Nintendogs + Cats, whose felines were absent from this particular demo, but still featured a trio of doggy breeds. While not exactly the same sort of flashy 3D showcase as the other 3DS titles on display, Nintendogs + Cats' Golden Retriever, Yorkshire Terrier and Beagle benefit from a 3D makeover, with the visual upgrade making the sweet little canines even more endearing. Essentially, it's the old DS favourite in 3D, but stroking your canine buddy with the stylus, throwing a ball around and dressing it in daft clothes like sunglasses and an Elvis pompadour haircut is still as strangely addictive as ever, for reasons we can't quite comprehend. Keep playing the game, and it'll even recognise your face, which means your pet will eventually bound towards you and lick the screen when you get up close.
We're almost entirely sold on the Nintendo 3DS then, and checking out a trailer of forthcoming CGI movie, Legend of the Guardians - The Owls of Ga'Hoole truly indicates the quality of the new screen, which does a great job of replicating the sharpness and clarity of the PSP display. A series of interactive videos showing static sculptures of Link, Samus Aran, Mario, Luigi and Bowser and things like popping champagne corks, party popper streamers, water droplets and a time lapse of a flower shoot blooming through soil is further evidence of this, again showcasing the 3DS and the level of increased depth it will bring to a game's visuals.
Add a 3D photo function that makes use of two cameras on the top of the 3DS to layer two images and form a 3D picture out of anything you snap with the device, and you have a worthwhile evolution of Nintendo's wildly successful handheld console. If you want, you can continue playing your Pub Games, Sudoku or Brain Training if you must, rather than getting lost in Metal Gear's jungle or Kid Icarus's beautiful blue skies. But for the more discerning gamer out there, there's a lot to be said for the 3DS and the innovation of its new screen. Perhaps, most surprising of all though, is Nintendo's willingness to let you turn off its 3D completely, giving you total control over the screen's output. It's a bold move, but it's one that will undoubtedly pay off.
Nintendo 3DS is set to be priced on September 29th, 2010 and will likely be available in Q1 2011.