I'll admit I was slightly concerned about the 3DS. As excited as I was to take my first plunge into 3D gaming, I was sceptical about what it would actually add. My other worry was that with the focus being on the hardware, the software itself would suffer and the launch line-up didn't exactly fill me with hope.
Nintendo wasn't coming out all guns blazing with the first batch of games and I suppose it didn't need to. The console sells itself and, in so doing, takes the attention away from the games launched alongside it. It’s better to leave the release of the big titles for when the buzz of the hardware itself has died down in order to convert those who didn’t feel the need to jump in on day one.
My cynicism and concerns soon melted away once I laid my eyes on the 3D screen. It's a wonderful moment and one that I'll remember for a long time. Even scanning through the menus was enough to make me let off a squeal of joy.
Many have been worried about the effects of 3D gaming and how damaging it could be to your eyesight and I can understand why. After my first hour with the device I could feel my eyes straining as they fell in and out of focus. Once the 3DS was turned off, they felt tired and slightly achy.
It was my own fault as I had been slightly ignorant as to what the 3D Slider on the side of the console was actually for. I assumed – as I'm sure many others did – that the higher it was, the better the effect. But I was wrong. The slider should be adjusted to suit each user. You need to find that sweet spot that lets your eyes relax so that you can seamlessly enjoy the effect. Since I found mine I’ve been able to game for hours on end without issue.
The 3D visuals may be stunning to look at but the console itself is not. At first glance the 3DS looks like a DS Lite’s ugly brother. It’s clear that symmetry is a word that Nintendo didn’t even consider during its design. The upper lid overhangs the base of the console by some way making it look cobbled together from old factory parts and is finished with a gradient effect that looks like it belongs in the early 90s. The base of the unit is made up of two layers of different coloured plastic, which again differ in size from each other, making everything look clunky and out of place.
Opening the 3DS doesn’t make things look any better either, with the 3D screen opting for more of a widescreen ratio while the touch screen remains square. The ‘Start’ ‘Select’ and ‘Home’ buttons look cheap and are stiff and unpleasant to use. They look like something you’ll see on a child’s toy as opposed to cutting edge technology.
Losing An Old Friend
This has always been the way with Nintendo handhelds: functionality before presentation. Thankfully, this is where the 3DS shines. Playing buttons feel solid and responsive, despite being small. The clicky shoulder buttons feel natural and easy to use and the D-Pad is as good as any Nintendo has produced.
The real innovation however, comes in the form of the circle thumb-pad. I was never a fan of the PSP’s nubs. They are too small, and they lack sufficient space for movement. Nintendo has taken the idea and improved it to perfection. Your thumb fits wonderfully into the crevice of the pad preventing unwanted slipping during tense gaming moments. It’s responsive, natural and is clearly designed with the likes of Mario 64 3D
To me, this addition is just as important as adding 3D - although admittedly the ‘Circle Pad DS’ isn’t quite as catchy.
The only negative is that it leaves little room for the D-pad, shunting it down the face of the console like a bully. You kind of feel sorry for it at times. While you’re having a blast controlling games with the precision of an analog stick, the D-Pad is forced to stare at the middle of your thumb.
“Remember me?” it says. “Of course you don’t.”
With the D-pad in its new position, it becomes harder to use. Being so close to the bottom of the console means that you’ll need to hold the device in an unnatural way, leading to hand cramp. My sorrow for my old gaming pal quickly passed and I was soon using the Circle Pad again.
A Lack of Life
Many have reported on the lack of battery life the 3DS is able to provide, but most have forgiven it for it. I can get about four hours of playtime out of it and that’s with shutting it down after every use. To me, this is something of a disappointment.
A games console like this needs to be at hand any time it’s needed. If I play for an hour or so then leave it in sleep mode for a day or two, I shouldn’t be expected to charge the thing up again when I return to it. It’s a frustration that only gets more irritating the longer you own the thing.
Nintendo has packed in a docking station with each unit making charging the console easier.