On Gimmicks and Gizmos, or 3DS First Impressions

You all knew this was coming, right? Well, I finally bought a 3DS, and my initial impression is that it’s pretty darn good, but there’s almost nothing to play on it. This actually isn’t as much of a problem as you might think. Although the Wii has a LOT of shovelware on it, and very little A-grade 3rd party support, I’m happy enough with the Nintendo titles that I don’t regret buying the system. I suspect it’s going to be the same with the 3DS (come on, Ocarina of Time and Link to the Past remake!). A few choice Mario and Zelda titles, and I’ll probably be all right. And here’s the tricky bit – there aren’t any Mario or Zelda titles yet. I think this makes it the first Nintendo console to launch without a Mario launch title (the Gamecube had a Luigi launch title, so that’s something, though I can’t remember if the Wii launched with Galaxy…). Anyway, I never would have bought it if Zelda wasn’t imminent (about 6 weeks?). I was going to wait until then but, well, you know how it goes…

So, what do I think of it? First, the 3D. It’s really the system’s main selling point, so I might as well deal with it right up front. The 3D is pretty awesome, and this is coming from someone who normally gets headaches from 3D films. I have a real problem with those reviewers who talk about the 3D being a gimmick and then complaining that the games don’t incorporate elements of 3D into the gameplay mechanics. My response: do they ever say the same thing about HD graphics? No, they don’t, and that’s really what we’re really talking about here – visuals. Just as 16-bit games look better than 8-bit games but play the same, and HD games look better than regular old D games but play the same, 3D is an enhancement of the look of a game, not of the gameplay mechanics themselves – that’s up to the game developers. I’ve tried three games so far: Super Street Fighter IV, The Sims, and Ghost Recon. I’ll get to the games themselves in a little bit, but the 3D was great in all of them. Each one uses it in slightly different ways. The Sims uses 3D models for the houses and terrain, as does GR, which also has sort of multiple-layered cut-scenes that look fantastic, and SF uses 3D character models within a 2D play space. Some people have complained that the backgrounds are too static in SF, but I was too busy playing the game to notice, and this doesn’t affect the gameplay one bit. So, overall I’m loving the 3D more than I was expecting to.

Okay, it’s not perfect technology. You have to hold your system at just the right spot, and although the effect doesn’t give me headaches it does strain my eyes (but then, I do play for more than the recommended 20min intervals). I’ll admit I do worry that this level of exposure, which is against Nintendo’s health warnings, I should add, may have some sort of long-term, negative effect on my eye-brain relationship, and I see why children should probably not use the 3D, but the effect really does bring something to the gaming experience – it’s not just a gimmick.

Besides, you can adjust the depth of the 3D to a more comfortable level (I usually just leave it on full as the effect on my eyes is basically the same) and you can also drop it down to full 2D if you need to, and though I’ve done this a bit I mostly keep the 3D on and live with the slight soreness in my eyes (otherwise I’d just play the DS, right?).

As for the games, well, it’s hard to give a definitive answer here as there just aren’t that many. I don’t like The Sims or fighting games, generally, but I do like turn-based strategy games, and although I usually play the fantasy ones, the ‘realistic’ battle sims in GR are quite fun. Essentially it comes down to mostly ranged assault combat (archers over knights) with your gunners and bombers, but I think Ubisoft have put together a really great game here. Of all the launch titles, I’d only really recommend this one (I’ve heard Nintendogs is also good, but it’s not my kind of game at all – I have a real cat who is demanding enough).

The ‘added extras’ are a conceptual step-up from the DS. You’re encouraged to take your system with you everywhere to build game coins (from your pedometer) and because of Street Pass, which is this cool tech that lets your 3DS talk to other systems you pass by. Your system exchanges Mii’s (which you can use in mini-games) and games make use of it in various forms, too. In SF, for example, you can build a team of ‘trophies’ that will fight other teams you pass by, and then you get the results when you next boot up the system. It’s passive gaming, but it does add a little extra to the concept of mobile gaming. [Here’s a tip if you live in smaller cities – hang out at video game stores. At the least the staff will probably have their 3DS’s on them.] I think it’s also worth noting that, given how light the machine is, it’s an amazing piece of technology, even if you never use the 3D elements. The battery life is pretty bad at full strength 3D, but not too bad at 2D, but I don’t actually play portable systems outside my home (that’s what my iPhone is for, right?), so this doesn’t bother me too much. If you’re a DS fan, you’ll probably love this, though I see both systems living comfortably side-by-side for a while (I have my suspicions it will be the same with the Wii and the new ‘Project Cafe’, but we’ll have to wait and see about that one).

Final thoughts? The 3DS is a great system in it’s own right, and a natural follow on from the DS. There’s new stuff here (not just the 3D) that makes it worthwhile, and the 3D is an awesome extra. If you’re not as big of a console-colletor as me, you might want to hold off until more games are released to get a feel for how the system will go long-term (and to await the findings of the studies on the 3D effects on your eyes).

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