First Impressions Of The Nintendo 3DS: 3D Done Right

I’ll be the first to admit that I thought the 3DS would be a gimmicky also-ran. I followed the handheld console from E3 to a hands-on at CES and now with the device in my hands I can report that Nintendo will have a hit on their hands.

The 3DS is the DSi grown up. The UI is highly polished and there are a number of interesting features including a “suspend mode” for games that allows you to drop into Nintendo’s communication and photo interface to take pictures and send notes. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say Nintendo was trying to create a lifestyle device a la the iPod Touch, a path they’ve hinted at in the past with the DSi.

The biggest question on everyone’s minds is obviously the quality and value of 3D play. The 3D play is immersive and exciting. It is, in short, revolutionary. To be able to “feel” you are in an environment – or at least that your little plane or Jedi is in an environment – makes my jaded old reviewer’s heart tremble. I played Pilotwings and Lego Star Wars III and both titles were improved using 3D.

Pilotwings, for example, really shone simply because you felt as if the little plane was “there” in 3D space. I’m reminded of Willam Gibson’s Dogfight as the closest fictional analog, about a man who beats the reigning champion at a game of holographic bi-plane fighting :

He could see a crowd of the local kickers clustered around a pool table.
Aimless, his boredom following him like a cloud, he stuck his head in. And saw a biplane, wings no longer than his thumb, blossom bright orange flame. Corkscrewing, trailing smoke, it vanished the instant it struck the green-felt field of the table.

Other features include a pedometer as well as a unique StreetPass system that lets the 3DS interact with other consoles as you walk by them in the street. That’s right: the 3DS plays with other 3DSes. It also takes 3D photos thanks to the dual front cameras.

My concern is that 3D may be too much for little eyes. My son turned the 3D all the way down immediately and played the games in 2D mode and I also worry about eye-strain related with the odd need to focus “inside” the game console. When I lift my head away from the 3DS I actually feel a bit of an blurring after effect when focusing on distant objects, something that may alarm optometrists down the road.

I’m not one to make pronouncements of glorious fanboyery. However, given my experience over the past few days and barring some concerns about 3D for younger children, I think Nintendo has changed the landscape when it comes to handheld gaming. I rarely heap encomiums on any device but this one deserves all the praise we can muster for breaking the stale paradigms thus far foisted upon us by handheld console manufacturers.