Hands on with the Nintendo 3DS

We get to try out Nintendo’s 3DS for the first time, but are its 3D capabilities as impressive as we’d hoped?

Nintendo 3DS

I’m rarely the kind of person to get excited by new gadgets, and I’ve never been the kind of person to queue up for the latest electronic device on release day. But as I get to hold Nintendo’s 3DS in my clammy hands for the first time, I’m almost breathless with anticipation.

The latest in a long line of handheld consoles, a lineage that Nintendo began way back in the 80s with its Game & Watch range of LCD games, before conquering the world with the multi-million selling Gameboy at the end of the decade, the 3DS sounds like a remarkable proposition on paper. Not only does it possess infinitely better technology at its core than its predecessor, the DS, but it now features a new analogue controller and, most fascinatingly of all, the ability to display 3D without the need for cumbersome glasses.

Forget Microsoft and Sony’s hand flapping peripherals, Kinect and Move. It was Nintendo who stealthily stole the show at this year’s E3, with a presentation that contained a quite staggering number of potentially excellent launch titles including Kid Icarus Uprising, Resident Evil Revelations and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, as well as reports from journalists who’d tried it that the 3DS really was a stunning piece of technology.

And as I finally get my hands on a 3DS for myself, I wonder whether Nintendo’s handheld could possibly be as good as I’d hoped. Incredibly, it is.

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Only slightly larger than the current DS or DSi, the first thing that struck me about the 3DS was its stunning picture quality. Both crisp and colourful, it’s a huge improvement on its forebears. The 3D effect, meanwhile, is remarkable. Watching a demonstration video of both live-action and CG footage, the sense of depth is clear in every frame, and even when objects are moving rapidly around the screen, there’s only the slightest hint of the motion blur that often blights 3D footage seen in cinemas.

The quality of the 3D becomes particularly apparent in another demonstration video, where moving the analogue stick allows you to move the camera around CG models of popular Nintendo characters. In one scene, you’re looking down on the radish-like creatures from Gamecube classic Pikmin, who stare up from a beautifully rendered backdrop of foliage and dandelions.

I was then shown a demo of Metal Gear Solid 3, in which Hideo Kojima, clearly relishing the new capabilities Nintendo has given him, throws everything he can think of at the screen. As Snake creeps stealthily through a lush jungle, the screen is assaulted by vipers, bees, helicopters and, in one slightly bizarre moment, what I assumed to be a family of woodpeckers.

The demo’s eagerness to impress is rather bemusing and reminded me of Friday The 13th Part III‘s constant need to have characters poke at the audience with sticks to remind them the film’s in 3D, but there’s no denying that it shows off Nintendo’s hardware in a highly positive light, proving yet again that the handheld’s 3D capabilities are, indeed, everything we were hoping, and that its graphics are also light years ahead of the DS.

But while the 3DS is undoubtedly a remarkable device, there was one thing sorely missing from Nintendo’s press day: the ability to actually play anything. We were shown trailers of Kid Icarus and Resident Evil Revelations, as well as the promo for Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga’Hoole (which I couldn’t give two hoots about), and even shown how well its 3D camera works, but the only playable games available were Pilot Wings Resort, Nintendogs and Ubisoft puzzle adventure Hollywood 61.

Of these, Pilot Wings was arguably the most convincing. Only two Wii Sports-like mini-games were available to play. In the first, you flew a biplane through a series of hoops, while in the second you burst balloons with a Mii character wearing a jetpack. Not only does the game show off the 3DS’s analogue controller, which is responsive and precise, but it also demonstrates the handheld’s unique ability to convey depth. Gliding around Pilot Wings‘ azure skies is made all the more engrossing thanks to the console’s additional dimension.

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Sadly, the demo was over all too quickly, and while Nintendogs once again demonstrated the 3DS’s ability to simulate genuinely three-dimensional objects, as opposed to the flat, pop-up book 3D more commonly seen, it wasn’t one of the games I wanted to play. Nor, for that matter, was Ubisoft’s Professor Layton-like Hollywood 61, which used the handheld’s 3D capabilities far less convincingly than the other games demonstrated earlier.

In the run up to the event, I was genuinely relishing the thought of getting to try out a preview build of Kid Icarus, Star Fox, Super Street Fighter IV, or Ocarina Of Time, but these were nowhere to be seen, and their absence was nothing short of mystifying.

Nevertheless, it’s clear from the brief hands-on time that Nintendo has created something very special, and perhaps even revolutionary with the 3DS, a handheld that is sure to have Sony quietly biting their nails, and will almost certainly prove a colossal success when it ultimately appears.

When the 3DS will show up on UK shelves is still unclear. One representative I spoke to said Nintendo wanted the console out “before the end of the financial year”, but hinted that it may be ready in time for Christmas.

Whenever it appears, Nintendo’s 3DS is definitely one gadget I’ll be queuing up on its release day to buy.