Nintendo 3DS preview — the next dimension in gaming?

At the E3 expo, Nintendo finally unveiled its Nintendo 3DS. But can its 3D capability make it as successful as its predecessor?

Nintendo 3DS

In the interests of full disclosure, let’s get one fact out of the way right off the bat: I’m not a fan of the current 3D craze currently sweeping the entertainment industry. I enjoyed Avatar as a brainless visual binge, but became frustrated with the need to wear another, heavier pair of glasses over my own, which became increasingly uncomfortable during the movie’s lengthy running time. Then there was the eye strain, and the terrible headaches that quickly set in after even a few minutes’ use.

The announcement of Nintendo’s 3DS, – the successor to 2005’s colossally successful DS, with added 3D capability – didn’t exactly fill me with enthusiasm, and the slightly half-hearted way in which Nintendo disclosed the news implied that they weren’t particularly fired up about the device either.

After the DS Lite, the DSi, and its fatter cousin the DSi XL, there was no suggestion, to the casual observer, that the 3DS would be much more than yet another iteration of Nintendo’s ageing tech with added 3D functionality, a slightly desperate attempt to latch onto the coat tails of a passing fad. Even the news that the handheld’s three-dimensional display wouldn’t require glasses was greeted with a shrug.

It’s only at last week’s E3 Expo in Los Angeles, however, that the true possibilities of the 3DS have properly been demonstrated – and while we weren’t lucky enough to be there to try Nintendo’s new device for ourselves, its possible that the 3DS could be the most important piece of hardware that the Kyoto-based company has released for several years.

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So what is it?

At first glance, the 3DS is much the same as its four-year-old predecessor, the DS Lite, with a 3.5 inch top screen and a 3 inch, touch-sensitive lower screen, the same cross-shaped four-way controller on the left, and four face buttons on the right – only the addition of an analogue stick not unlike the one found on Sony’s PSP breaks the illusion that this new handheld is a direct descendant of the DS.

These similarities to the DS are only cosmetic, however, for under the 3DS’s plastic shell some very different components lurk. According to Bit Tech, the 3DS will have an “expected performance somewhere around that of the original Xbox console,” and uses the Japanese PICA200 graphics chip, not the AMD components rumoured a few months ago.

This added processing grunt will be used to power the top screen’s 3D capability, and will offer graphics far closer in quality to that of the PSP – indeed, hands-on reports from E3 suggest that the 3DS’s graphics are actually more smooth than Sony’s rival handheld.

But despite the improved graphics capabilities, the 3DS will remain backwards compatible with earlier DSi and DS games, and like the DSi, will include both front and rearward facing digital cameras, but with one notable difference – the 3DS will be capable of taking 3D pictures.

3D without glasses?

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It’s impossible to say for sure just how well Nintendo has pulled off its glasses-free 3D technology without trying the 3DS for ourselves, but the word is that the effect works extremely well – a slider on the side of the handheld allows the 3D effect to be fine-tuned or turned off altogether, and while 3D gaming could be seen as just another marketing gimmick, the handheld console could actually prove to be the ideal home for it.

The 3D effect is achieved by placing what’s called a parallax barrier over the LCD screen, meaning that the user has to view the image from a very particular angle to appreciate it – a distinct drawback if used on a full-size television in a living room, but perfect for a miniature screen held in your hand.

But what about the games?

For most of us, this is the most important question of all. While Nintendo’s Sotaru Iwata proudly announced that the 3DS would be capable of displaying movies in 3D (DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon has already been announced) the console will stand and fall on the quality of its games.

Nintendo attempted to break into the realms of 3D gaming before with the migraine-inducing Virtual Boy, which managed to garner a library of just 22 games before it was discontinued in March 1996, just six months after its North American release.

Looking down the roster of games lined up for the launch of the 3DS, it doesn’t look as though history is likely to repeat itself – indeed, Nintendo has clearly been working hard to rope in plenty of developer support, and the result is one of the strongest third-party release line-ups in the company’s history.

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So far, it’s been revealed that Capcom is working on an instalment of Resident Evil called Revelations, as well as a 3D port of Super Street Fighter IV. Square Enix is bringing Kingdom Hearts and an instalment of the Final Fantasy franchise to the 3DS, and 3D remake of Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater was announced to rapturous applause at E3.

As for Nintendo’s own output for the 3DS, the list is truly impressive: updated versions of Star Fox, Paper Mario and the superlative Legend Of Zelda: The Ocarina Of Time are all scheduled to appear, and if Pilot Wings Resort sounds like a questionable enterprise – apparently, it’s a mash-up of the much-loved SNES classic and, of all things, Wii Sports Resort – the E3 trailer for Kid Icarus: Uprising should be enough to get long-time Nintendo devotees chortling with delight.

A mixture of Panzer Dragoon-style aerial shooting and ground-based combat, Uprising is Pit’s first solo adventure in 19 years, and judging by the trailer, it’ll be worth the wait:

The bottom line

If Nintendo’s 3DS announcement back in March seemed strangely muted, its presentation at E3 has certainly got everyone’s attention this time around. And even if the thought of a 3D handheld doesn’t impress – and I have to admit, Nintendo’s demonstrations have swayed even me – the prospect of a more powerful DS is a tempting one.

Then, of course, there’s the impressive roster of games on the horizon, which caters for the core gamer in a manner that hasn’t been seen from Nintendo in quite some time – game design genius Shigeru Miyamoto may still be fraternising with pets for a 3D version of Nintendogs, but the return of such names as Paper Mario, Star Fox and, of course, Kid Icarus are sure to win the hearts of a core audience growing increasingly weary of licensed games and shovelware.

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The word is the 3DS is due for release in Europe next March. We’ll keep you posted on the console’s developments and its games as they appear. In the meantime, why not enjoy the handheld’s E3 trailer, which features some toe-curling acting from Nintendo CEO Reggie Fils-Aime, and Shigeru Miyamoto sporting a decidedly fetching pink jacket…