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Although we get to enjoy a delightful accent and the ability to spell colour correctly, when it comes to videogames we Brits are often at a disadvantage; of course there are the notable exceptions. The Minish Cap was released in the United Kingdom nearly two months before it cropped up on American shores, and now the 3DS has joined the Zelda classic in the category of ‘stuff what we got before the Americans’, and jolly glad am I that it has.

Thumbnail image for gamestation.bmpUnfortunately the store at which I pre-ordered the 3DS removed itself from the midnight opening list at the last minute, so I was forced to settle for the next best thing. Waiting outside my local Gamestation at half seven in the funking morning with all the others who had missed out on an all-nighter, I found myself as excited as I thought I would be. This would be the first Nintendo console launch at which I would find myself being the sole buying party; the N64, Gamecube, the various iterations of Gameboy and the original DS had been gifts from my family unto me over a plethora of Christmases and Birthdays, and while I had indulged myself personally in DSLite, that was a) not really a new console, and b) well after the launch date. As such it was with some degree of giddy child-like excitement that I watched the steel grating which kept me from my prize slowly open, revealing the displays inside.

Pre-order slip in hand, I pretended to listen as the sales attendant rattled out the obligatory list of discounts, various warranties and do-hickies that were on offer, and eventually left the shop two-hundred-and-fifty pounds poorer, but with a shiny new Cosmos Black 3DS. But hey, it’s payday, let’s live a little!

Almost as soon as the excitement had arrived, it vanished in a puff of Friday-is-not-quite-the-weekend-and-you-still-have-to-go-to-work Syndrome, but I managed to find time on the journey to open the box and have that all-important first fiddle. The machine itself is somewhere between the angular DS and the curvy DSLite/I in aesthetic, with a very funky colour scheme. Although labelled as black, the console is a series of greys making it look like a classy fill effect. The hardware itself consists of a not-much-bigger-than-a-DS touch screen, and a significantly improved top screen: being the 3D one, this is understandable. The D-pad and buttons are somewhere between the clicky DS and the softer DSLite, and although I would prefer slightly more resistance to the face buttons, a la the DSLite, they quickly became natural. The Circle Pad is a godsend; at first I tried using it as an analogue stick, and it confused my fingers and brain that it did not slant with my thumb, but as soon as you realise that it is its own unique control method, it becomes (in my opinion at least) a far superior control method for analogue movement. I would definitely like to see it experimented with on a home console pad some time in the not-too-distant future.

ar 005.JPGI had already seen the 3D effect on the in-store console, but turning it on for yourself is an awesomeness that doesn’t compare. I made the decision to switch on the console with the 3D off, and then slide that bad boy up a notch at the menu screen. A good decision I feel, as it meant I got to feel my eyes adjust and view the TARDIS-like wonder of a flat screen concertinaing backwards into the aether. At work I managed to find the excuse during lunch break to snap a photo of a co-workers face, and proceed to fire tennis balls into her mouth as she watched, as entranced as I was. I perused my way around the variety of in-built software at any break I could find in the day, shooting, fishing and playing billiards with as many dragons as I could find, while nearly giving myself a seizure with the Samus AR card. While they are nothing but a tech demo at present, the little character cards are a great ‘executive toy’, and having a bunch of friendly Pikmin on your own hand is something worth a console in itself. I spent a good amount of time making an invisible Link duel with my Bearded Dragon in his Dodongo-themed vivarium.

Face Raiders, as described earlier, involves shooting a number of yellow balls at any face you can surreptitiously snap, and it is bloody good fun at that. While I haven’t yet been able to experience it in the comfort of an office-chair, it is clear to see why people are heralding the rotating item of furniture as the true way to play, even without though it is a great way to pass the time before actually playing a ‘real’ game. There are a number of levels, and they are honestly challenging. I still have levels to unlock, and I am sure to revisit this in a spare five minutes, though dread playing on the loo only to attempt an office-chair spin on a not-quite-so forgiving toilet seat mid-excretion. I foresee many a bleach session.

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says the disembodied face of my father, followed by ‘or else
you are no longer my son, and your inheritance is going to your brother.’

The AR games are just as, if not more fun than the face game. The little yellow box dude who introduces the system gets annoying pretty fast, especially when you have to watch the same tutorial every time you play, but the fact to start the games you have to shoot him makes the situation bearable. Of the games, my favourite at first play is the billiards-cum-golf-cum-bowling amalgamation. Taking ‘augmented reality’ quite literally, the game turns your table, floor, leg etc. into a crazy golf-style putting green, and the results are often hilarious. There is also a decent target practice game and fishing which, although fiddly to begin with, was good fun once you get your hands around the movements. Besides, it’s always exciting to pull a flounder out of your crotch.

Eventually I actually started playing one of them there games what you hear tales of, this being a games console and all, and the reaction to these couldn’t be more different from the reaction to the in-built software. Whereas the in-built stuff is understandably designed to showcase that same ‘good gracious Jeremy, come take a gander at my magic box’ feeling as in the commercials, the games are free from this need to be ‘3D games’ and are instead, wonderfully, ‘games which are 3D’. The games I got with the console were not the highest on my list, but they were the cheapest and made cheaper by the offers with the console. Mirroring my first purchases with my original DS, Rayman DS and Ridge Racer DS became Rayman 3D and Ridge Racer 3D. Imaginative marketing departments aside, it is playing these games that you really start to imagine 3D gaming as ‘the future’.

Two minutes into the same Rayman game I’d paid twenty-five pounds for in 2001 and 2005, I began regretting my decision, as it became clear that Ubisoft had done absolutely nothing outside 3D-ifying it for the tenth release of the game. Two minutes after those two minutes, however, I found myself sucked into Rayman’s world once more, and if ever there was a world worthy of 3D-ifying other than Hyrule (which we’ll be getting soon enough anyway), it is the world of Rayman 2: The Great Escape. Bzzits and butterflies will buzz and flutter in the foreground and around the hero as you navigate a pathway which stretches into the distance, feeling both exciting and completely natural. So too does it feel when climbing a rope ladder, facing up a tall shaft as barrels come hurtling down towards the screen. Little Dreamcast-era ‘paper’ flowers and mushrooms adorn the landscape giving the game a pop-up storybook feel, and makes me long for a Paper Mario or Yoshi’s Island to rear its head on the console. It really is the most natural, yet most exhilarating way to play. ar 010.JPGTurning the 3D off ‘just to see’ merely emphasises how futuristic the 3D element is. Sliding that slider to 2D just feels like taking a huge step backwards, because games simply shouldn’t be played in 2D anymore; it’s that simple. Of course the game itself is far from perfect, and that will be hit upon in the reviews I will be posting in the coming few days in an effort to aid the purchases of you across the pond, but suffice to say as far as the 3DS effect on the classic, it’s flawless.

Ridge Racer 3D trumps Rayman and its predecessor by being not a re-release, but a whole new game. I suppose, in that respect, it double-trumps Rayman: the re-release-of-the-re-release. Although thrashing the visuals of Ridge Racer DS/64, in 2D it is nothing special for a modern handheld, being similar graphically to the first PSP Ridge Racer title. Slide that bad boy up to 3D, however, and it’s a whole different kettle of ball games. The 3D doesn’t only seem to add depth, but also shadow and highlights, as presumably our brains and eyes are tricked into thinking this is a real tiny car in front of us. The textures liven up, the cars become shiny and new and the whole experience reeks of awesome. It’s then you realise, this is a launch title. Think of how Super Mario 64 looked compared to Banjo Tooie. Now think of how any early Gamecube game compares with Twilight Princess and Resident Evil 4. How about how Wii Sports looks compared to Super Mario Galaxy 2? My point is that this launch title is already the best looking racing game I’ve seen, and it isn’t even the best looking of the launch games! Sure, a lot of this effect may be the novelty of the 3D ranking higher than raw power, but even inclusive of this fact, games for the 3DS are going to get better and better graphics-wise. On top of this, the 3D in Ridge Racer is another example of it feeling just natural, like this is how we are supposed to play portable games now, and if it carries on like this I will most certainly not be going back! More about Ridge Racer 3D will come in its own review this weekend.

So there we have it. My 3DS is now taking a well deserved rest in its fancy included charging cradle. Without me knowing the in-built pedometer has earned me coins (whatever they do) and I’ve been given a limited sample video via the internet showing me some fancy 3D film footage. As soon as enough people get one, I imagine every train ride will result in a new Mii, race ghost, or otherwise fun little tidbit being street-passed into my new little toy. Sure, the launch line up isn’t all that, and there’s no technical ‘rush’ to get it, but I am so very glad I bought the 3DS today. It’s given me hours of fun already, the majority of which gimmick-less. And it didn’t even use up half the battery.

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I’ll be back later with reviews of Rayman 3DS and Ridge Racer 3DS as soon as I play enough of them to formulate a worthy opinion, and will be buying Super Street Fighter IV, Pilotwings Resort and Nintendogs+Cats as soon as I find the money/games to trade in/a drifter from whom to harvest organs for the black market.

Yours truly, a very satisfied 3DS owner.

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