I counted myself pretty lucky today, as I’d managed to apply online for tickets to the launch event in Glasgow for Nintendo’s newest portable console: the 3DS.
An update to the current DS line, this new console adds, you guessed it, that latest fad sweeping home entertainment, 3D. Now, I’m pretty cynical about 3D as a whole. The majority of movies I’ve seen that used it, it added nothing too, other than upping the ticket price and forcing me to wear a silly pair of glasses. It also required me to sit in an optimal (bang on centre, back from the front) seating position in the cinema. As for 3D TV, seriously? The need to go through finding the best position, and wearing the glasses at home, for the same “doesn’t add much to the quality of the film” effect? Sorry, I’m not impressed.
However, unlike all of these, the 3DS boasts the ability to view the 3D effect in games without the need for the silly glasses. Interesting. And obviously, as a handheld, needing to find the right position to appreciate the effect should be less of an issue. So I went along, hoping Nintendo would impress me in the same way they did with the Wii’s motion control.
On entering, the event was split into a variety of rooms, each designed to sell the immersive experience before you actually got your hands on the console. The first room offered a visualisation of the data transfer capabilities, allowing you to share items between games and the like, but to be honest, I was standing up the back of the crowd and couldn’t really see much. The next room however was much more entertaining.
Going through, they started to sell the immersion aspect, with two actors playing the roles of Ryu and Ken in a live action round of Street Fighter. This was definitely one of the high points of the event, with both actors looking the part, and managing to mimic the styles and postures of their computer game counterparts. The part when Ken managed to hit Ryu with the Shoryuken got a big round of applause, and the round timing out just as both went to launch the hadoken got a chuckle 🙂
From there, there was a more survival-horror type environment, where actors in military costumes ushered you out of a village as other actors played the part of monsters, snarling from the sidelines, rattling the scenery and occasionally grabbing those poor souls that start to lag behind a little (like yours truely).
From there the action switched to the console itself. A large video was played showcasing the launch range of games (which seems pretty extensive, with many familiar names like Zelda, Pilot Wings, Mario Kart, DOA, Ridge Racer), before a brief segment with Jonathan Ross where he talked about how impressed he was with the new handheld. However, after that it was the main event, as we were all ushered into a room with loads of podiums, all with a 3DS on them running a different game, and we were invited to wander around, trying them all out.
I played a variety of games while I was there, Kid Icarus, DOA, Street Fighter, Ridge Racer, Lego Star Wars, and I have to say I was blown away. The console itself has the same small form factor we’re used to in the later iterations of the DS, and retains the twin screen appearance. The lower screen is still a touchscreen for use in games, however the upper screen is where the 3D happens. My first game was Lego Star Wars III: Clone Wars, and with even a brief time trying the game out, I was really blown away by how well the 3D worked. As I said above, I’m pretty sceptical about 3D as a whole, but here, without the glasses, and in a neat handheld, it really worked wonderfully and grabbed me from the outset.
The emphasis, unlike a lot of 3D film, is not in things flying out of the screen towards you. Instead, the 3D simply adds depth to the game. So while your character remains at the front of the screen, the scenery and other characters all get pushed away from you. Its very effective in adding a feeling on depth to the graphics, and worked especially well in games like DOA, and Kid Icarus. I didn’t see the effect as much in Ridge Racer, but overall I was impressed at how well it worked without the need for the (sometimes expensive) glasses needed by 3D cinema and TV. I think this has definitely helped sell me on the idea of 3D gaming in the home. A really nice addition though is a 3D slider to the right of the screen. This allows the gamer to increase or decrease the 3D effect until they find a level they’re comfortable with, right down to traditional 2D, a feature I can see being a big help for those who usually find themselves getting headaches from 3D films.
Another nice little addition to the hardware, is a new thumbstick on the left hand side as an alternative to the usual D-pad (which is still there). The worked well and felt quite natural (although I admit I reverted to the faithful D-pad when playing Street Fighter).
The graphics as well (3D aside) are great. Playing DOA for example, didn’t feel any different to playing it on my old PS2 or X-Box. The games were all nippy and responsive with no sign of any lag, so I safely assume the 3DS’s hardware is more than up to the kinds of game its being asked to run.
The final room, after all the game demos, allowed you to ask some questions, and also demo the console’s various AR (augmented reality) features. The console is going to come with various AR games, and again I was very impressed. Face Raiders for example was a fun little game that allowed you to take a picture of one of your friends. Their face would then be mapped to targets, which float around the room you’re in (with the backdrop being provided by a real time feed from the console’s cameras). Its necessary to physically turn around with the console in your hand to find where the targets are, and then you can shoot them for points. Another series of games involved AR cards, which would be detected by the console, so the picture would change to show a monster bursting out of whatever surface the card was sitting on that you’d have to shoot, again sometimes having to walk around the table to get the right angle to hit the monster’s weak spots. This was a great demonstration of immersive technology, using the real world in games and I was very impressed.
So, unsurprisingly for Nintendo, I was really blown away by the console. Despite being a 3D sceptic the new effect works very well, and being freed from glasses, or correct places to sit, opens up 3D while on the move, be it in a cafe or on the train or wherever. The various AR features built into the console were a big surprise and really impressed me and the friend I was with. To be honest, that kind of thing could sell a console on its own, even without the 3D stuff, and its nice to see Nintendo’s usual thought going into the hardware to offer the gamer something new to their gaming experience and a genuine leap forward in what to expect from games.
Overall the console and the event itself really impressed. The whole thing showed a nice attention to detail, and the various live action portions with the actors were a nice surprise. However its all about the console, and even ignoring all the current buzz around 3D, Nintendo have a great little piece of hardware on their hands here, and I’m especially curious to see how the AR functionality gets explored once the console is released.