Nintendo 3DS: the future in the palm of your hand

The battle over the next generation of handheld gaming is about to truly begin. Whilst mobile gaming has gained some momentum, the real heavy hitters of Nintendo and Sony have yet to make their mark in the next evolution of the arena in which they have become dominant: gaming on the go. The wait is almost over, and the battle almost decided. Nintendo’s latest innovation, the 3DS, is barely a month away from release while Sony’s ‘NGP’ is still without a release date nor concrete information beyond bluster and a few promo images. If Nintendo plays its cards right, the 3DS could win as decisively as the original DS system.

Nintendo have learnt a number of lessons from the DS years. The original Nintendo DS, released in 2004, was an ugly and heavy grey brick compared to Sony’s sleek black PSP console. Picking a few ideas from the book of its rival, not to mention almighty Apple, Nintendo redesigned its console (with the DS Lite and DSi models) into a rounded, smaller, and lighter version, with plenty of colours to choose from. A bigger shift from Nintendo came in its PR. The Wii is not the only console from Nintendo to experience a move from a ‘Gamer-Only’ market to the wider, potential goldmine of the general market. By making games more accessible and providing more features that could attract wider interest, the company has experienced astonishing rewards from its new market strategy. As of December 2010, Nintendo has sold around 144.59 million units worldwide, compared to Sony’s meagre 53.9 million. While later models of the console have added newer incremental hardware and software features – with the DSi giving gamers the chance to browse the internet and take photos on their console – the next big leap is yet to come.

The Nintendo 3DS is not just another version of the DS. While the dual screen format remains (hence the “DS”) the console is another leap further away from the simple chunky pixels of the old-school handheld consoles of the early 1990s. Both hardware and software have made the 3DS the harbinger of something new and fresh that will make gaming a grander experience than was achieved previously. The biggest feature of the device is its ability to present actual three-dimensional picture from the top-screen without those ridiculous glasses that we’ve had to endure at the cinema. The nice guys at Nintendo even give a slide control on the side of the device to adjust between 2D and 3D effects to whichever the user feels comfortable with (so even if you’re a 3D hater you can still enjoy the games). Meanwhile, the lower-screen retains the same touch capabilities as prior DS models.

Beyond the much-lauded 3D, there are a lot of interesting features that build on those already established in the Nintendo DS. While the DSi had two cameras, the 3DS console has three – two on the outside and one on the inside – which enable both photo and video capture; the two cameras on the outside give users the chance to capture their own 3D photographs. The console has an extra control pad: a round nub that can finally grant frustrated DS users a little more accuracy to their gaming experience. There is also an inbuilt gyroscope and accelerometer to increase the interactive experience. The operating system enables internet browsing (like the DSi) but there is also a 3DS messenger service, akin to the Blackberry Messenger, which replaces the tedious and pointless doodle-swapper _PictoChat_. Backward compatibility remains with respect to DS and DSi cartridges, but there will also be an online Nintendo store, called the Virtual Console, which promises the opportunity to purchase old-school Game Boy games (and short 3D games) to download onto the removable SD-card, which is great for those looking for old-school kicks.

The most impressive software feature is the use of background connectivity, which not only allows the console to hop onto the nearest wi-fi hotspot, but most importantly enables content swaps and special features to be achieved between other 3DS consoles. These features enhance the gaming experience whilst you are commuting, so that when you sit down to continue a gaming session you’ll have some pleasant surprises to enjoy. Nintendo also promise ‘Augmented Reality’ features on the console but details are still unclear with regards to their true potential.

The console is not without its flaws. The biggest issue with the 3DS is battery life. Current models of the Nintendo DSi can run up to 17 hours on the lowest volume and brightness settings, but the 3DS can only last up to five hours with the 3D games, and can only creak up to eight hours on regular DS games – and this is on the lowest settings.

The biggest source of uncertainty lies in the games likely to be on offer following release. Currently, there appears to be a multitude of games in development for the console; however the ones that stand out are ports or updates of classic games released on previous consoles, such as _Starfox 64_, _Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater_ and _Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time_. It seems that top-notch fresh content for the device that moves beyond simple gimmickry (which can be expected on initial release) – notably the hotly-anticipated third-person shooter _Kid Icarus: Uprising_ – will take a while to hit shelves.

Potentially the weakest aspect of the 3DS lies in the launch line up. Nintendo has persistently been trying to boost its widespread appeal through short, ‘pick up and play’, people-friendly software (like _Brain Training_) and that is obvious in what we’ll be fed on the day of the console’s release. A ridiculous example is the fact that not one, but three versions of _Nintendogs_ (in puppy-friendly 3D) will be available from 25th March 2011. That’s great for non-gamers, but horrifically disappointing for the rest of us looking for a meaty game fix. It also feels a little cynical, and acts as a bit of a downer to a hugely promising new format, especially for those of us salivating over the prospects of the classic _Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time_, or a _Resident Evil_ game in lush 3D. Could this be a sign that Nintendo will be denying investment in hardcore gaming even more with this new generation? Time will tell.

The Nintendo 3DS will be released on 25th March 2011, priced at £229.99, and will be available in two colours: Aqua Blue and Cosmos Black. Why Nintendo have decided to take their console colours from a Dulux paint chart we don’t know, but we have higher hopes for the originality of their new console and the games we expect to come along with it.


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