The Nintendo 3DS was undoubtedly the talk of the town when it was unveiled at E3 last month. Today, I was invited to a special event in London to get some hands-on time with several demonstrations that highlight the advantages of the new technology.
Well, it was more like 'eyes-on' time really (and not in a 'haw-haw, Svend's trying to be funny' kind of way either), because many of the demos consisted of videos and interactive trailers rather than actual gameplay. But it was interesting to see just how well Nintendo had managed to slap the technology into a portable console, when we're only just getting used to the idea of watching 3D movies in a cinema with dorky glasses.
And the general answer to how well Ninty's done is, 'rather well.' The more specific answer is 'it depends.' The intensity of the 3D was different for almost every title I saw, which means that the inclusion of the 3D slider on the side of the top screen was a godsend. This apparent lack of consistency could be explained by the intent of the developers involved and the nature of the game itself however.
The 3DS handheld itself is designed rather nicely, which is a good thing really considering Nintendo's not changing it before its launch date. Besides the 3D slider on the top half of the unit, changes to the system in comparison to the DSi include two cameras on the outside, a moving of the player-facing camera to a space above the top screen, and the Start and Select buttons sitting underneath the touchscreen alongside a Home button.
When I first saw the images of the console during E3, I thought that the shape of the top screen – and the abnormally large space above it that hosts one of the cameras – would be a bit odd in practice. Truth is, I didn't even notice that the 3DS had a slightly bigger-than-your-average 'forehead' (so to speak). The analogue nub that has been included is solid, ergonomically placed and feels great to use – essentially everything the PlayStation Portable's nub wishes it was.
I journeyed across a large table experiencing a variety of different demos. They were all rather short – mere minutes long, in fact – but they were a good indication as to what we could expect from the final product, save some 3D technology tweaking.
This was displayed in the form of an interactive trailer, which saw Mario and Luigi zoom around various circuits from the Mushroom Kingdom. This was perhaps one of the best indicator of the real graphical power of the 3DS – with plenty of action taking place in real time, I would bet that the handheld's clout lies somewhere between a PSP and a Gamecube.
The visuals were certainly very crisp, but the speed of the footage and the ability to manipulate the camera with the analogue stick meant that the 3D effects were quite jarring to the eyes on full power. Adjusting the slider to about halfway had the most comfortable result - warp pipes subtly popped up in front of me as Mario drove past them, and the scenery seemed somewhat more interesting as a result.
Legend of Guardians (Movie Trailer)
James Cameron's Avatar single-handedly thrust 3D into the limelight of the movie industry, so film studios have had time to perfect the technology into feature-length films, in a way that's comfortable to boot. So it was no surprise to see the owl-packed family adventure Legend of Guardians perform very well on a Nintendo 3DS. The stunning thing was that I was seeing this trailer without 3D glasses on a portable console. Sure, the 3D is much more subtle than in Avatar, but then that's the case with every other 3D film as well, so it's a bit of a moot point. It makes me wonder whether the 3DS is better suited to movies rather than games. Compared to the Mario Kart demo, I could enjoy the action here on the highest setting with maximum comfort.
Ubisoft's Hollywood 61 helped demonstrate the massive third-party support Nintendo has enjoyed since announcing the 3DS handheld, and it also serves as an interesting look into how a third-party might take advantage of its unique features. This mystery puzzler sets the scene in a foreboding city landscape, where a mass-murderer is roaming the streets. After being introduced to the story by my companion, my character is driven to a closed theatre, where the killer was reportedly spotted.
He had already left, but as reinforcement arrived I had to solve a puzzle to turn on the spotlights. This became a simple case of rebounding light off of mirrors to make a path. Professor Layton, it's not. The gameplay is told through a first-person storybook perspective too, with text that looks slightly awkward to read on the top screen amongst the 3D scenery. The 3D implementation here was also quite bad on the eyes – tilt your head even a little bit, and your vision would go wacky.
I wasn't able to turn off the 3D either via the slider, so that's something Ubisoft might want to work on. There was a cool effect that used the analogue stick to view a scene from different angles to see a hidden message, but I'm not sure if that was really a benefit of 3D or not.