USA TODAY US Edition
Nintendo 3DS fun, addicting, pricey
The 3-D element isn’t for everyone, but it’s still cool
Nintendo 3DS does some neat stuff, but the 3-D element isn’t for everyone.
Grown-ups and casual gamers aren’t typically the people you see glued to a portable game system from Nintendo. But having spent time with the handheld Nintendo 3DS, which goes on sale Sunday, I can envision kids wrestling Mom and Dad for the chance to have a go at Nintendo’s highly anticipated portable player. The 3DS is fun, addictive — and pricey at $250, especially when you consider that its portable predecessors, the Nintendo DS family, cost $130 to $170. Of course, DS devices (which remain in Nintendo’s lineup) lack the chief selling points of the 3DS, notably 3-D gaming without the sort of funky glasses you don to watch extra-dimension movies or 3-D TV.
Nintendo hopes such 3-D hocus-pocus will perform competitive magic. The 3DS arrives at a time when Nintendo not only faces competition in mobile gaming from traditional rivals such as Sony (with its handheld PSP) but also from many appealing and typically far less expensive games that work on smartphones as well as tablets such as the iPad. Smartphones that also do 3-D without glasses were on display at the CTIA trade show I’ve been attending this week and are promised relatively soon.
The 3DS player, at just over 8 ounces and with a 0.8-inch-deep clamshell, is a lot heavier and bulkier than the phone you’ve got in your pocket. It has two LCD screens. The top 3.5-inch display shows off 3-D. The bottom is a 3-inch touch-screen you manipulate with a finger or, in some instances, with the supplied stylus, especially when you have to type on a small virtual keyboard. You manipulate the action through a joystick-like circle pad, control pad and control buttons. Getting used to 3-D
It took meawhile to get accustomed to 3-D on the 3DS. The stereoscopic 3-D technology inside Nintendo’s new system is cool if imperfect. You are meant to view the 3-D screen at about 10 to 14 inches from your eyes. Simplified, here’s howthis “binocular parallax” technology works: An image is displayed that only your left eye can see, and a separate image is displayed that only your right eye can see. That tricks the mind into seeing 3-D.
You’ll have to view the 3-D screen head on and may have to tweak it with a depth slider control to get the proper effect. Getting dizzy is not out of the question.
In fact, Nintendo concedes that how you see the 3-D effect, if you can even see it at all, varies by person. If you have small children, you should pay attention to a warning in the manual that recommends restricting 3-D usage to kids 7 and older. Apparently, younger kids can suffer vision damage. You can use parental controls to turn off the 3-D effect.
In many respects, the 3DS is similar to the DS. Most DS cartridges play on the newer system, but in 2-D, of course. Nintendo says there’ll be 18 3DS games (from Nintendo and third parties) ready by Sunday’s launch, with about 30 expected to be available by early June. Pricing varies, but about $40 is typical — more expensive than games on the iPad.
I played five new 3DS titles, three of which — the Pilotwings Resort flying game, the Steel Diver submarine combat game and the Nintendogs + Cats game that has you nurturing cute realistic-looking puppies — are from Nintendo. I also played versions of the venerable Madden NFL Football from EA Sports, as well as Star Wars III: The Clone Wars from Lego and Lucasarts.
The 3DS has two outward-pointing cameras that let you capture pictures in 3-D, and a lone non-3-D camera that faces you. Among other clever effects, you can snap a photo of yourself that can be used as the basis for your Mii, or virtual alter ego character that Nintendo fans know from the Wii gaming console. Or, you can capture two faces at the same time (using the front and back cameras), then merge the images.
I was mostly blown away by augmented-reality, or AR, games that introduce a fire-breathing dragon and other animated characters superimposed on top of real-world objects, such as the coffee table. The 3DS device comes with AR cards that you place on a flat, well-lit surface. In one engaging archery game, you aim the camera at targets that appear on top of the AR card as you walk around the room looking through the screen. Once you’ve hit all the targets, other 3-D characters come after you. Neat stuff. Familiar targets
Your own mug (or that of friends) is the target in an appealing built-in game called Face Raiders. After my face was squeezed inside a propeller-head helmet or other goofy headgear, it became the game character I was shooting at.
An activity monitor can let you know how many steps you take while playing games, lest parents fret about video games being too sedentary. And if you walk by another person with a 3DS, you can exchange game data through a feature called StreetPass.
Still another activity, Nintendo 3DS sound, lets you play music stored on an SD card. You can also record and mix your voice with funky sound effects. In all, the 3DS makes good use of virtual surround sound.
Coming in May, through a wireless update, you’ll be able to connect a 3DS to AT&T Internet hot spots for free and take advantage of an Internet browser and Nintendo eShop store for downloading video game trailers, music videos, a virtual console for downloadable games that date back to Game Boy and Game Boy Color devices and more. Some classic video games will be remastered in 3-D.
Coming this summer: Netflix subscribers will be able to stream movies on the device.
Nintendo says you’ll get up to about five hours of battery life which seemed about right in my usage. I had a good time with the 3DS and expect your kids will, too. But the 3-D technology at its heart won’t appeal to every