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3DS an eye-opener and then some

Feb 14, 2011

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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The release of Nintendo's new 3DS handheld is quickly approaching, and believe it or not, Nintendo seems to be doing its best to sell the system short.

To explain: the name itself gives a clear indication of what the highlight of the system is. The games are presented in three dimensions, without the need for silly-looking (and possibly expensive) 3D glasses. It's without a doubt a cool feature, but after getting some hands-on time with the 3DS and several software titles, there's a whole lot more to be excited about than just an added dimension.

In terms of the hardware itself, the 3DS looks and feels a lot like previous iterations of the DS, though it only takes a moment to get the impression this handheld is ready to cater more to the 'serious' gamer (though it certainly isn't going to alienate the handheld crowd, which you'll see in a moment from our hands-on time with certain software titles).

3DSOpen the system up, and you'll notice the Circle Pad, which sits just above the d-pad and acts like an analog stick. This is sure to be a godsend for many game types, including fighting games and shooters of all sorts. The importance of the analog stick can't be stressed enough, so this addition is definitely welcome. That being said, who wants to bet how quickly people start complaining about the lack of a second Circle Pad? Remember the PSP when it first game out, with its single analog pad? Same thing applies.

There's also a new 'Home' button sitting in between the 'start' and 'select' buttons underneath the bottom screen. This is a very handy feature for the multitasking 21st century gamer. It allows you to quickly jump in and out of games, and will let you quickly write notes on games. For anyone who has jumped back into a session with a Zelda title after taking three weeks off, this should be extremely handy, as you can jot down your current objective or game focus before turning the system off. When you restart your adventure days or weeks down the road, you'll have only yourself to thank when you're not hopelessly confused and lost in the land of Hyrule (or wherever).

Besides the volume control, there's also a slider that controls how strong or subtle the 3D effect is. This is actually hugely important, because just like in movies, 3D isn't as useful or effective depending on what game you're playing. I end up using this slider at least once for every game I play.

Even the stylus is given the upgrade treatment, as it can telescope (that is, increase or decrease in length) depending on how large or small the hand is that's holding it.

As for the software itself, we dabble in several different games. Here's a rundown of the games we get a chance to try out:

Mii Maker
The new Mii Maker can create a Mii based on a picture taken of your face by one of the three cameras included on the 3DS. My virtual avatar is actually fairly close to what I would create from scratch. The too-big nose the 3DS gives me needs to be changed though, but that's no problem, as you can easily swap features as you see fit. For those 'old school' creative types, you can still make 3DS Mii's the old-fashioned way.

Face Raiders
Next up, it's time for some actual gaming in the form of the packaged-in software Face Raiders. With this game, you take a picture of yourself, and little versions of your face fly around the screen. You have to physically move the 3DS in every direction in order to aim the onscreen reticle at the evil little faces, which hilariously change expressions, regardless of what expression was on your face when you took your picture.

Interestingly, this first game I play also illustrates one of the problems with the 3D effect itself. You really have to be looking straight-on to get the full 3D effect, and when you're moving your entire body every which way to shoot at multiple onscreen targets, it quickly becomes disorienting focusing on the images projected and trying to focus. It's more forgivable in Face Raiders since it's a more casual, fun, but this could be very frustrating if you're in the middle of a firefight in something like Starfox or a first-person shooter.

It doesn't take long for me to reach for the 3D slider and turn it off completely.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) cards are placed on a surface, and the two cameras on the back of the 3DS read them and superimpose images and animations onto your kitchen table, computer desk, or wherever you place your AR card. I play another first-person shooter type game where a sea monster pops out of the AR card and starts taking aim at me.

Just like in Face Raiders, I have to physically move my body while holding the 3DS in order to hit different weak spots on his body, while dodging out of the way of his projectiles. It's another fun game, but the same problem as in Face Raiders persists, where I started becoming disoriented. With the 3D effect off, it becomes much easier to aim, dodge, and basically complete this minigame.

3DSNintendogs + cats

I have zero qualms admitting this is the first cartridge-based game I reach for. Nintendogs is still one of the best games to come out for the original DS, and this new version is just as endearing - especially for a cat lover like me. Though I choose to play with an adorable little feline, there's an equally-cute dog in the room as well. I instantly try to win the affections of the kitten by stroking it and scratching behind its ears - and it seems to work.

I forget that the 3DS can track players' faces and their movements, and one of the Nintendo reps suggests I move my face close to the screen. As I do, the kitten hops up on its hind legs and puts its front paws on the screen, giving me a virtual nuzzle. It's all I can do to keep myself from saying "Awwww!" in a room full of adults.

I throw a ball the cat's way, and as expected, the dog makes a beeline for it, stealing it away. I also dress it up in some ridiculous accessories, and finally realize just how good the game looks. Viewing the cat up close again, it really does look soft and fluffy, adding an even greater level of immersion compared to the first game.

Needless to say, I'm hooked already.

3DSResident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D

Now it's time to get into the nitty gritty violence of the first third party title on my list. I'm a massive fan of the Resident Evil series and have been a huge proponent of the Mercenaries game mode that debuted in Resident Evil 4 and made its return inResident Evil 5.

Though it looks like there will be little - if any - actual story in Mercenaries 3D, there's no denying it's an extremely fun romp, just like the console versions. It plays like Gears of War's Horde Mode, where you run around a map and have to take out enemies. In Mercenaries, though, the enemies never stop spawning; you play until time runs out or you die.

It plays pretty much identically to the versions we enjoyed in Resident Evil 4 and 5, but that's not a bad thing. I choose to play the opening village in Resident Evil 4 and opt to use Hunk, and I'm instantly transported back to 2004, with all the heart-pounding terror of up-close battles.

The game looks absolutely amazing and though I'm thrown in the fire and have to learn the controls quickly, it's all quite intuitive. I never do figure out if there's a 360-degree turn, but here's hoping there is. Having the touch screen helps a lot, as you can quickly switch weapons or spray on some health when the going gets rough.

Though the 3D works well in the game, it almost seems like there is no 'in between' setting when I move the 3D slider. That is to say, it looks as though you can only either play in full 3D, or no 3D.

Though the final product will support co-op play, I go it alone and have an absolute blast. I can only imagine how fun it will be playing alongside Wesker, Krauser or Chris Redfield.

3DSPilotwings Resort

Compared to Mario, Zelda, and Metroid games, Pilotwings has always been a slightly lesser-talked about but still very popular Nintendo franchise. It makes its return on the 3DS and once again, I don't have a ton of time with it, but come away very impressed with what I do play.

Of the three flying contraptions available, I unknowningly choose what one Nintendo rep says is the toughest one to control, the jet pack. That may be the case, but I actually find the controls quite intuitive, and though it's a challenge flying my character through rings and getting him to land accurately and safely onto several landing pads, I have to force myself to put the game down and move on.

The game isn't a graphical powerhouse, but that's not to say it looks bad in any way. The 3D effect really adds to how you aim when you land; I'm tempted to say this is the best use of the 3D of all the games I play.

Madden NFL Football

My time with the 3DS is mere days after my team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, loses to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV, and though the emotional wounds are still fresh, I decide to do a virtual rematch on Nintendo's handheld and hope for a better outcome.

It's apparent right from the opening kickoff that football is a sport that is made for 3D gaming. My virtual kicker boots the ball, and as the perspective changes to the receiving Packers, the pigskin flies toward the screen, adding a neat level of immersion.

Like so many other games I've already played, Madden NFL Football looks fantastic on its own merits, even without the 3D. Player models look great and have none of the blockiness seen on past DS football games.

Like other recent Madden games, you can either choose specific plays based on your level of football understanding, or just let the computer choose based on the flow of the game and the situation you're in. I let the computer choose a few plays and there's plenty of running. Being the armchair quarterback I am, I decide it's time to call a few myself, and three plays in a row are throws to Hines Ward. Despite the small screen, it's still quite easy to follow everything that's going on and adjust on the fly, like any good football player has to do.

I use the Circle Pad exclusively for this game and it works wonderfully, allowing for fluid movement, especially during the run.

I march toward the red zone and as badly as I want to avenge that Super Bowl loss, I know there's no way I'll be able to finish the game, so once again I tear myself away, very impressed with the experience.

And there you have it. As mentioned earlier, the 3D stuff is quite cool, but there is a lot more to love about the 3DS. The Circle Pad, universal friend codes, wi-fi communications, Mii Maker, and much more make this a compelling package coming up to its launch.

It's important to remember that every gaming system still lives and dies by its software. The original DS started off extremely strong, but in recent years, the AAA titles have fallen by the wayside. The 3DS looks to swing momentum back to Nintendo's handheld side in a huge way.

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