Lower-resolution sensors often take higher-quality pictures than their mega-megapixel successors, but that's not the case here. Light sensitivity is poor, colors look muted, and needless to say you won't be using the 3DS to capture your next globe-trotting adventure -- unless it's trip to Murky Pixeland.
That said, the pair of cameras on the lid do
enable two interesting things. First is 3D picture taking, but the novelty of that will quickly wear off. Second, and rather more impressive, is the suite of augmented reality tricks. The system comes with six cards but not a single stick of bubblegum. Most of them let you look at boring 3D models of Mario, Samus, or other characters who must be counting the days to retirement at this point. But, it's the card with the unassuming "?" on it that'll really blow minds.
Whip that sucker out of your deck and the 3DS paints an amazing overlay on top of whatever table or surface you place it on. Then, a series of boxes appear to rise out of the ground, each one representing another fun AR title. Archery is probably the most involving, forcing you to move the 3DS around to find targets hidden behind obstructions that, like the targets themselves, aren't really there.
It's rather more intriguing than it sounds, so be sure to check out the video above if you can, but as genuinely impressive as that is these are little more than tech demos, games that will take you no more than a couple of minutes to best and get bored with. It remains to be seen whether other developers can pick up this tantalizing ball and really run with it or whether these demos will live on like Wii Sports
: the first, simplest, and still the most fun game for the Wii. We're hoping that's not the case here, as we really want an AR strategy game that will let us cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war across our dining room table.
Since spending time with many of the Japanese launch titles we've now been able to get to know a number of the American releases too. As ever we'll leave the detailed reviews to our pals at Joystiq
, but here are some brief impressions.
Face Raiders - For a game that's built into the 3DS, Face Raiders is surprisingly fun. You take a 3D picture of a friend's mug and it's layered over what can only be described as a disembodied head held aloft by a beanie. In an augmented-reality twist these heads are superimposed over whatever the cameras see, and as they hover about, winking and smiling at you, you're asked to shoot them. To aim you simply move the 3DS around, ensuring this is a game you won't be playing much of in public. It also ensures you won't be playing this game with the 3D effect turned on, but it is still good dumb fun.
Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars - Yet another excellent Lego game set in the Star Wars universe, this one offering some 3D fun that doesn't add anything to the gameplay but does help to spice up the game's graphical flare. Perhaps the most purely enjoyable to play of all the launch titles, but the lack of multiplayer is a baffling disappointment.
Madden NFL Football - It wouldn't be a console without a Madden game, but since this one comes about six months after Madden NFL 11 and, presumably, about six months before Madden NFL 12, it must make do without any annual designation. Still, it sports a full NFL license and all the teams, but mediocre graphics that don't make use of the 3DS's graphics performance nor, surprisingly, did it do much to tickle our 3D sense.
Nintendogs + Cats: Toy Poodle and New Friends - It's another Nintendogs game, again with cats and this time focusing on mostly foofy little pooches, only a couple of breeds in here having any chance of standing up to that bossy Cocker Spaniel at the dog park. Nothing revolutionary in terms of gameplay, though the 3D effect does work quite well in the simple environments, a good sense of depth acheived with your little buddy romping off to fetch a ball or frisbee or potted plant.
Pilotwings Resort - Probably the premier launch title for the 3DS and a proud, long-awaited return for the Pilotwings series. It is much like the games before, offering a suite challenges that start off easy and end up, well, challenging. The graphics are clean and the 3D effect reasonably good, but since most of the things you're looking at are rather far away there's honestly not that much immersion here provided by the fancy screen.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D - Depending on your proclivity for European sporting distractions the latest installment in the long-running Winning Eleven series may not have even hit your radar. But, if you're looking for a good exhibition of the console's 3D effect, this is it. Something about the flat green grass and the players rendered atop it results in the cleanest, most eye-friendly visual pop of any of the titles we sampled. It's also, quite simply, a great game of footie.
Ridge Racer 3D - Yet another entry in the storied sideways racing series. Little is new here, including recycled tracks, but polished graphics and visual effects make it a bit of a looker. It's not necessarily the best at exhibiting the system's 3D effects, however, something about the speed of the visuals forcing us to keep the 3D slider a little lower than usual.
Steel Diver - The submarine genre is still sadly underutilized, though even more sadly Steel Diver doesn't do much of anything to fulfill that potential. It's a slow, plodding, side-view strategy game with unnecessarily clumsy touchscreen controls occasionally interrupted by fun but brainless turret sections. In these sections you must spin about as if you were looking through the periscope, which is great fun -- particularly for anyone watching you play. The 3D effect here is reasonably good, better than the game itself.
Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition - Lots of fighters are collected, some of which you'll have long-since forgotten about since the endless SF releases of yore, and all rendered in 3D and presented in 3D too. The extra depth does serve to make the highly polished graphics look even better, and the way the status bars and round timer hover over the action is a neat effect. There's also a new, over-the-shoulder view to help augment the illusion of depth, but it won't take long for serious gamers to revert to the traditional side-view.
Samurai Warriors: Chronicles - Somehow the feudal lords at Koei keep finding more brainless goons to fill their armies, so yet another Warriors game is needed to manage their population. It's hack and slashery galore here, as ever, and the 3D effect doesn't do much to make the gameplay more striking than it has in the past eleventy iterations.
Before closing we should mention that, according to Nintendo, this is just the beginning. The company has yet to exactly clarify exactly how its new 3D downloadable offerings will be consolidated in with the existing DSiWare stuff, but we're expecting a healthy amount of downloadable content, including 3Dified versions of retro classics from the TurboGrafx 16 and Game Gear. Right now, though, you can't download anything
except for Download Play multiplayer levels.
Intriguingly Nintendo is promising Netflix support
for the 3DS as well, which could be quite compelling -- particularly should Netflix start offering 3D content. Finally, there's a web browser built-in to the 3DS, sitting right there in the Home menu and taunting you from behind its icon. But, tap all you want and you won't get a bit of WWW, just a message that the browser will be enabled in a later software update.
Oh, and sadly the 3DS is indeed region-locked. American games won't work in the Japanese system, Japanese games won't work in the American system, though we didn't have a problem playing American DS titles in our Japanese system. So, there is at least hope for the older games.
Now it's time for the big question: is the 3DS worth the $249.99 that Nintendo is currently offering? That's a tough sell, especially knowing that in roughly 18 months we'll probably be looking at a thinner, lighter, prettier 3DS that offers better battery life and could be yours for a cheaper price. But, that's not here yet, and you have to ask yourself whether those 18 or so months of gameplay are worth whatever cash you'd potentially save by waiting a whole year and a half -- or thereabouts.
For cutting-edge gamers, particularly for big fans of Pilotwings
, the 3DS is not a bad investments. The AR games are a lot of fun, for a little while at least, and the 3D effect is
genuinely interesting. Some people recoil in horror long before their eyes have adjusted, but most folks who've tried the system really like it once they find their own personal sweet spot.
But still, it's a lot of money for a handheld gaming system with just over three hours of battery life, especially when you can get a brand new DS Lite for $130 that will last three times as long in a charge -- and that comes in a rather more appealing set of colors. None of the launch titles are good enough to make the 3DS a must-buy for casual gamers, but if Nintendo can get Netflix lined up and, more importantly, if it can get third party publishers to really make use of the system's assets and not just release crummy ports, by the time this holiday season rolls around the 3DS could be a genuinely hot property -- much, much
hotter than Nintendo's last attempt at 3D domination
: We made a slight tweak in the text above as we've had a chance to compare the two consoles and it seems like the US version has a slightly different hinge. The Japanese one was virtually silent and smooth but the US one is a bit more jarring and has a louder click with popping into place. It's a very minor point, but FYI just the same.