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First Look: Nintendo 3DS

nintendo 3ds
nintendo 3ds

nintendo_3ds3D is currently not so much the “third dimension” as the “print your own money dimension”. What with 3D movies mopping up and 3D televisions hitting shelves, it’s unsurprising that Nintendo, current king of videogaming, is getting in on the action with the successor to its quintillion-selling DS. But is it 3DS a lazy bandwagon-hop or a well-thought-out move? We ventured forth to a special press preview day to get our greasy hands on the new machine.

The machine

The console itself is a decent piece of kit. A little smaller than the original DS, it has a similar design to the DSi, and much of it will be familiar – the touchscreen, D-pad and buttons are all what DS owners will be used to.

The upper screen is where the 3D comes in (understandably, the touchscreen remains 2D so thumbprints and the like won’t break the 3D effect) and comes complete with a slider that allows you to alter the 3D at will. This means you can just play games in 2D if you want – handy for those who have trouble seeing 3D, as well as making the machine backwardly compatible with all previous DS games. (And no, putting a DS game into a 3DS won’t magically make it 3D, sadly.) It’s also widescreen, allowing for more visual loveliness.

The other big addition on the outside (on the inside there’s also a gyroscope and always-on Wi-Fi, but we didn’t get to try those out) is the thumb slider, which is essentially sort of a flattened analogue stick. It’s absolutely lovely. Pleasant to use, just the right size to cradle all but the fattest of thumbs – anyone who’s been frustrated by the PSP’s analogue nub will be delighted.

(Oh, there’s also a Wiimote-style Home button, whose function remains a mystery. Presumably it takes you to a Wii-style Home menu.)

Like the DSi, there are cameras on the inside and outside of the machine. On the outside, though, there are now two rather than one, which means, yes, 3D photos. Once you’ve taken a snapshot, you can fiddle with the result to make it 2D, into-the-screen 3D or out-of-the-screen 3D. The effect’s reasonably impressive and quite fun to mess around with.

We’re not sure how much processing grunt it packs, but from the games displayed we’d guess it’s not that far off the Wii. One machine was set up to display film clips – the video encoding was excellent, pretty much at DVD quality. Another was showing the trailer for forthcoming 3D kids’ adventure movie Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. Whether this means the 3DS will offer full movie capabilities or whether it was just an advert for the probably inevitable tie-in game wasn’t clear.

So what of the actual 3D effects? The into-the-screen stuff was fantastic, but on the occasion when something came out of the screen it didn’t look quite as impressive. These moments were mostly passable, but sometimes a bit odd. Also, you have to hold the console at a certain angle for the best effect, but it’s not hard to find and you’ll pretty much do it unconsciously. Still, you can always turn the 3D off if you want.

Overall, we’re impressed with the hardware. Without the 3D, it would be a worthy, well-designed successor to the DS, but with it the 3DS becomes a little something extra. It’ll be interesting to see games take advantage of the new format. And speaking of games, how’s about a breakdown of everything that was being shown?

Nintendogs + Cats

Yep, the pet sim is back. The demo only offered puppies to play with, but it looked a nice package. The 3DS’s interior camera is used for face recognition, so your virtual pets will know you when you pick the game up (and presumably react differently to strangers). Petting the dog gave a nice demonstration of how the 3D screen and touch screen can work well together.

PilotWings Resort

Nintendo’s long absent flight series (the last instalment was on the N64) finally pops up again, this time set around Wuhu Island from Wii Sports Resort. The demo offered two games – flying a plane through a series of rings, which was an absolute pleasure with the thumb slider, and popping balloons with a guy in a jetpack, which was a hassle to control (although that may just be a case of getting the hang of it). The 3D worked well in giving the background proper depth as you zoomed around.

Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D

The PlayStation 2 classic gets a spectacular overhaul. This was an unplayable demo, though you could manipulate the camera at certain moments. It looked fantastic, arguably better than the original, and when played through headphones showed off the 3DS’s robust surround-sound system very nicely. If they can get the controls down, this should be one to watch out for.

Kid Icarus: Uprising

Another long-lost Nintendo series returns – this hasn’t had an outing since 1991. Again an unplayable demo, this looked like a decent shooter, with nice chunky, cartoony graphics.

Hollywood 61

A film noir-ish puzzler, clearly owing a lot to both Hotel Dusk and Professor Layton. The enjoyably naff script provided some giggles, and the take-photos-and-animate-them graphics were distinctive and quite effective. Embarrassingly, we couldn’t do the first puzzle, involving lots of mirrors and a beam of light. Moving on…

Resident Evil: Revelations

Another unplayable demo, this one allowed you to zoom the camera in and out but that was it. Featuring Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine getting all Mexican-standoffy, this was one heck of a graphics showcase – Chris didn’t look far off his Resident Evil 5 model! We suspect it was a cutscene rather than in-game graphics, but it was still impressive.

Mario Kart

Another unplayable offering, this was a clip of Mario and Luigi racing round various locales, chucking the occasional weapon. Of all the games, it was the best 3D showcase – both into-the-screen and out-of-the-screen looked brilliant.

So that’s the 3DS. Impressive, basically. We look forward to the release, even if our wallets don’t.

But wait!

Nintendo also had a bunch of DS and Wii games that are lined up for release later this year. Since you’ve read this far, why not go on? We’ll take a peek at the DS titles on display first.

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future

The puzzling prof’s third outing looks much the same as the first two. Other than a slight cleaning up of the general presentation and gor-blimey Cockernee sidekick Luke suddenly gaining an inexplicably plummy voice, this doesn’t reinvent the wheel. But hey, when you’ve sold this many copies, why bother?


Ōkami was a PS2 and Wii game back in 2006. Essentially The Legend of Zelda except with a wolf who was also the Japanese sun goddess and could paint onto the screen to perform magic, it was brilliant and no-one bought it. Regardless, here’s a sequel – it seems to play much the same to its prequel except with some co-op puzzles along the lines of last year’s Zelda instalment, Spirit Tracks. Nothing that new, but fans of the original (like us) should be happy.

Super Scribblenauts

Last year’s write-anything-you-like puzzler was almost great, but tripped up by awkward controls. This sequel adds in adjectives (we tested it out by spawning an “angry goat”, who was indeed angry) but we were under the impression that it was going to give protagonist Maxwell D-pad controls. Unless we were doing something wrong, said controls were absent. Worrying.

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

The latest from the man who made the cult-classic Ace Attorney series casts you as a ghost who possesses various objects to save people from the same hitman who killed you. Gorgeous graphics and a witty script, but the gameplay seemed quite basic – although it was the tutorial level we played. Definitely worth keeping an eye on, in any case.

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn

Yet another revival, for a series that’s been dormant since 2003. An RPG in the old-fashioned mould, the major change from the two previous games is that your “psynergy” – telekinesis, fireballs, that sort of thing – is now controlled with the touchscreen. And to be honest, this was a bit fiddly, especially the fireballs. Still, those who liked the prequels (like us, again) should be satisfied.

There were a couple of other DS titles we didn’t get a go with (the latest Pokémon spin-off, the already-in-the-shops Dragon Quest IX), but let’s move on to the Wii.

Wii Party

Yep, it’s like Mario Party except with your Miis. Playing this in single-player was a bit self-defeating, but it looks like the sort of thing that’ll go down well with a 2.4 family, or possibly the post-pub crowd seeking to make fools of themselves.

Donkey Kong County Returns

This was delightful. Old-school platforming done like Mamma used to make (or something). Graphically decent if uninspiring, the feel was what this was about – the lovely, almost rhythmic way DK moves, with levels set up to encourage smooth, show-offy platforming. A little bit of waggle showed how to incorporate motion-sensing in an understated way.

Metroid: Other M

After going first-person for a few years, Nintendo’s alien-blasting bounty hunter returns to her side-on roots. The general level of polish by developers Team Ninja (the guys behind the Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive series) was impressive, with a good use of dramatic camera angles. The Wiimote is held sideways for this one, and it’s surprising how well the D-pad handled both going left to right and the occasional in-and-out of the screen. However, some sections required you to enter first-person view by pointing the Wiimote at the screen, which was fiddly and irritating. We’re a little unsure about this one, frankly.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn

We’ve saved the best for last. Yes, the best game we played there, including all the 3DS stuff, was this utterly brilliant platformer starring the Nintendo mascot that no-one really cares about. Reinventing the little pink blob as a length of wool, the whole game has a hand-made aesthetic with levels made out of felt and fabric, studded with buttons that Kirby can swing off. His usual swallow-enemies-and-take-their-powers move has been abandoned for a woolly whip and some built-in transforming – hit right twice to turn into a car, hold jump in mid-air to become a parachute, etcetera. Like the Paper Mario games, Kirby can interact with certain bits of the scenery to his advantage, pulling platforms towards him, stepping into the background with a lovely bulging effect, and so on. The whole thing was like the best SNES game you’ve never played, and was an absolute delight from the first jump to the boss fight (a screen-filling dragon). It’s on our Christmas list already.

There were a couple of others we didn’t get round to – Disney platformer Epic Mickey looked decent, the much-hyped remake of GoldenEye was always filled with players, which indicates good things – so, overall, we predict that Nintendo will continue to rub its vast amounts of delicious cashmoney in everyone’s face for quite a while.