Nintendo 3DS review: Is the latest version of Nintendo's handheld games console worth buying?
- Solid build, 3D effect is fun (if not revolutionary), some neat little incentives to take it out and about
- Nintendo is still stuck in the '90s when it comes to online connectivity and socialising
Ultimately the quality of a console is the sum of its games. The Nintendo 3DS has all the potential in the world to do as well as the DS, but some irritating flaws have not been remedied.
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The Nintendo 3DS is not a revolutionary console, but with a sturdy design and a 3D effect that does indeed work, it's a gadget that will no doubt be hugely successful.
Out of the box, the 3DS feels study, and it is actually heavier than the previous Nintendo DSi model. This works to its favour — the DSi often felt like a toy, and the right and left shoulder buttons were prone to breaking. We'd be surprised if the 3DS suffers similar problems.
The buttons inside the console feel study, too, and click nicely as you tap them. The console features the same basic layout as the previous Nintendo DS hardware, with the obvious inclusions of a circle slide pad and a 'Home' button at the bottom of the second screen.
The circle pad is really comfortable, and it's great that Nintendo has finally woken up to the value of analog controls in handheld consoles. The downside to this is the traditional D-pad has been relegated to a very awkward position at the bottom of the frame. For those games that do control better with it (including many DS games, which the 3DS is backwards compatible with), it's a problem.
The Home button brings up the main hub of applications and games — even when you're in the middle of the game. This is something we're used to by now on the home consoles, but being able to check which friends are online, surf the Internet for FAQs and hints, and make notes without actually quitting the game is a nice development for handheld consoles.
Yet in other ways, the 3DS is remarkably backwards. Friend codes return. It's now just one friend code per console, rather than per game, which is more manageable but not as intuitive as simply trading screen names with friends.
And, once you have traded friend codes with someone there's very little you can actually do with them. You can check when they're online, and see what game they're playing, but otherwise communication is restricted to extremely short status messages. That's right: There are no game invites and no messaging. It's limited and frustrating, and unless some games down the track find some workarounds (none of the launch titles do), your 3DS friends list is going to be all but useless.
One nice little feature is StreetPass. In short it lets you trade Mii (your personal avatar) data with people that pass nearby you as you walk around. The 3DS just needs to be in sleep mode for this to work, so you'll pop the 3DS in your bag or pocket, head out for the day, and when you get back home you'll have made some new friends.
Those "friends" can help you complete a couple of minigames preinstalled on the 3DS hardware itself, and depending on which games you've got, can give you extra in-game goodies, ghost data to compete against in racing games, or characters to fight.
Unfortunately the feature was designed with Japan in mind, where large numbers of people tend to congregate in concentrated areas. In a city like Sydney, we're not sure how many 3DS owners you'll pass by on a regular basis.
The 3DS also features a pedometer which rewards steps with 3DS coins — a virtual currency that can be used for more in-game unlocks and rewards. It's more encouragement to get out and be active with the console, but you'll only need to walk 1000 steps to earn your maximum daily allotment of coins, and while it may sound like a lot, that's little more than a wander down to the local corner shop.
I've deliberately avoided mentioning the 3D top screen until the end of this review, because if we're being completely honest, it doesn't do a whole lot to add to the games the 3DS plays. It's a nice bit of visual magic, but the games still play like they would on anything else. It's also worth noting that the 3D technology is somewhat limited — the effect reaches into the screen nicely, but fails completely at 'popping' out at you.
That means that certain cut scenes where objects are heading towards you need to be edited to cut to the next scene quicker than they would otherwise. I'm sure as developers become accustomed to that limitation, it will be worked around, but for now some games feature cut scenes that look distinctly amateur.
It's also worth noting that for a console that's meant to be taken out and about, the battery life of about three hours (on optimal settings) is unforgivable.
So the 3DS is a mass of contradictions. It's a nice console with spectacular presentation and the upgrade in power will be something that DS developers will love to sink their teeth into, but Nintendo's failure to create a robust online and social experience will be an opportunity I don't anticipate Sony's NGP will miss out on.
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