Preview: 3DS 'Paddle Ball' tech demo

I know, I know -- a preview of a tech demo? In fairness, this one kind of blew my mind. Here's the skinny: outside of games we're assigned to play, there's rarely extra time while covering the controlled madness of E3 for Joystiq writers to check out something they're personally interested in ... other than the last day, that is. So, last Thursday, several of us who had yet to check out the Nintendo 3DS sneaked in a few personal moments with the device everyone was buzzing about.

Upon first entering the 3DS area of Nintendo's E3 2010 booth, Nintendogs + Cats was available to pet, and an array of 3DSes with 3D trailers weren't too far away -- these featured everything from Mario Kart 64, which looked stunning, to a new Pilotwings title (hooray!). What impressed me the most, though, didn't star Mario or Chris Redfield or Solid Snake -- it was Pong. Alright, so, the Nintendo rep walking around the area with a 3DS chained to her waist (no joke) referred to it as "Paddle Ball," but for all intents and purposes, it was 3D Pong.

Maybe you've played a 3D Pong game before -- the one embedded below this paragraph, for instance -- but I can assure you your mind was not sufficiently blown by those like mine was during this tech demo. For starters, rather than a background, the outer 3DS cameras capture the ground behind the handheld itself, displaying the image as if the ball were bouncing towards the ground below.

I was instructed to drag my stylus across the bottom screen to control the paddle in the foreground (my paddle), which, at first, didn't make sense. Then I realized that the ball was entering into the screen and bouncing back toward me ... and then I kinda freaked out a little bit. The trompe l'oeil effect of the 3D screen coupled with an intelligent use of the floor-facing camera instantly gave me a glimpse into one possible future for 3DS games.

The augmented reality twist of employing the camera alongside the 3D effect of the ball going in and out of the screen (depth-wise) shows off, in an admittedly basic way, how developers could use the upcoming handheld for new types of games. In so many words, this, coupled with the 3D effect of the screen, effectively proved to me that the 3DS works.

As JC and James detailed in earlier previews (not to mention Chris's first hands-on with the 3DS itself), the visuals of the system are shockingly impressive -- even with the 3D slider turned all the way off, graphics are crisper and more colorful than the current Nintendo handhelds (not to mention Sony's PSP). But the sharper visuals weren't what people kept returning to the press room raving about -- it was the glasses-less 3D effect and that, yes, it actually worked.

As the "game" was most certainly little more than a tech demo, we may never see "3D Paddle Ball" arrive on the 3DS. That said, it'd do Nintendo well to include the minigame on the system's OS at launch as a proof of concept. Heck, I'd even drop 100 DSi points on it ... whaddya say, Nintendo?