I finally got some real face-time with the 3DS last night at a nearby Best Buy. Given how much Nintendo’s been pushing the 3DS, I was really banking on having a full-blown demo tour come to my area so I could try out the AR games, Mii Creator, and the slick interface, but the closest pod was in Los Angeles which is about an hour away so I got stuck with a straight trial of Pilotwings Resort. Never fear, however – even a quick trip through a game I wasn’t even that interested in in the first place was enough to really sell everything about the 3DS.

I’ve got to admit, while I found the idea of glasses-free 3D pretty cool when I first heard about it, I was pretty skeptical that it’d really be something I’d care about. After all, I’ve never really had problems orienting myself in terms of depth in any of the 3D games I’ve played. Even hitting blocks in Mario was never an issue, although I’ve seen a couple people (who shall remain nameless) struggle quite a bit with such scenarios to this day, so I can definitely understand the concern.

The first thing I did when I picked up the demo 3DS was play with the 3D Slider a bit to try to get a feel for the 3D effect. I know you’ve all seen this from the screenshots and heard it all over the Internet, but the games look really really slick even without 3D turned on. The improved display impressed right off the bat. When I finally found a what seemed a good level of 3D intensity and closeness to the screen – and yes, it does take a little bit of fiddling at first – I went ahead and tried out the hang-glider mode.

I don’t feel enough justice has been done to how amazing the Circle Pad feels – much smoother and easier to handle than even the modern analog sticks on current-gen consoles. It’s particularly nice when you want to make subtle motions since the “sliding” design is much freer in terms of range of motion – no eight-point directional input like we see in previous generations of Nintendo analog control. Starting off by trying out the hang-glider was probably the best decision in terms of introducing myself to the Circle Pad. The way the face and shoulder buttons “click” as they press is also really satisfying – and I really noticed this when I switched over to the propeller plane and got to really test them out. No “loose” buttons here, folks! There’s also a jetpack of sorts – not my favorite way to fly from what I experienced, but then I only got about 15 minutes of playtime.


After a while I started getting a headache from the 3D effect, though, so I had to turn it down for awhile. Don’t get too worried, though – there are a lot of factors that go into this that really aren’t faults with the 3DS itself. Foremost among those is the fact that I had to hunch down a little bit to even play the demo in the first place. The unit was oriented pretty low to the ground, probably so the younger folk can try it out, too, and tethered to a pretty short leash. It also turns out that while I could initially make out the 3D effects, I hadn’t really found that “sweet spot” for my ideal 3D viewing. I tried re-engaging the 3D mode again a minute or two later, and while I had thought the 3D looked pretty decent before, this time around things seemed brilliantly clear and really popped out.

And while the 3D doesn’t make or break the system by any means, it makes a heck of a difference – enough of a difference that from that point on trying to play without the 3D on looked and felt strange. (I’m staring at my computer screen right now wondering why things aren’t popping out at me.) While I can only really speak for Pilotwings, I loved how the character and certain close-up environmental features seem to pop out of the screen – or at least the background looks like it recedes into the distance. It’s a very satisfying effect. Certain HUD elements also appear in the foreground, a subtle but neat touch that reminds you that, yes, the developers really did take everything into account when implementing the 3D feature.

I spent most of the remainder of my playtime checking out how well the 3D is implemented. As I flew over cliffs, they came into sharper focus and the 3D display made it look like it was really passing beneath my plane. Flying under or around other environmental features produced a similar effect. The information icons that appear throughout Wuhu Island also look to come closer as you fly towards them. Suffice to say that they’ve implemented 3D in such a way that it doesn’t rely too much on scenarios tailored to show off the effect in order to make good use of the feature.

In the end, though, it’s not really about the 3D effect – it’s more about how much potential for diversity the 3DS has as a handheld gaming platform. The Circle Pad allows for console-level complexity and the same control schemes we’ve grown used to in 3D games up to this point, but at the same time it doesn’t come at the expense of the D-pad that’s been a staple of Nintendo products past and present. From what I played of Pilotwings there wasn’t much need for the Touch Screen (well, it works as a navigation tool, but I didn’t want to take my eyes off the top screen!), but it’s still there for use with what will I’m sure be a wide palette of software that takes after what we saw on the original DS. I didn’t get a chance to try out the cameras or the motion and gyro sensors, but I get the feeling that 90% of gamers could live without those anyway.

As long as developers are willing to take advantage of this diverse potential, bringing the same kinds of experiences that made the original DS successful as well as a slew of new ones now possible with the upgraded tech, I’m really excited for the 3DS’s future. Still can’t pick one up on launch day, I’m afraid, but now I know that it’s something worth shooting for.

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