3DS System Review

(Note: This is a few months old, but I’m moving here from a previous blog.)

I’ve never done a hardware review; that’s something I want to get out of the way right now. Apart from the odd video game review, I’m content to passively accept what’s put before me by the powers that be, like every good little boy and girl. And while I may frequently occasionally have complaints, this method usually works pretty well for me. I guess the point that I’m trying to make here is that I’m probably not going to be very good at this.

So, the system itself. How about that bad boy? Well, if you’re expecting something as sleek as the DS Lite or the two iterations of the DSi, you should probably wait until the inevitable updated model comes out. No, the 3DS rests somewhere between the designs of the (quite sexy) DSi and the original DS (affectionately dubbed the DS Phat) in terms of  form. It’s not necessarily a bad design, but if you’re moving to it from something like the (sexy, sexy) DSi or its baby brother, the Lite, it’ll be something of a jarring transition.

It’s a more angular machine, with many of the sweeping curves of its predecessors gone in a series of somewhat bizarre design choices. I keep dancing around one in particular: The muffin top. The 3DS sports kind of a weird, tri-toned, three-layer muffin top design, and I can’t for the life of me figure out what person thought this was a good idea. Oh, sure, you can pop off the most pronounced of the outward-jutting panels (yeah, somebody’s already tried that), but it’ll look terrible. I’m sure you can find pictures, if you look hard enough. But hey, if you’re into case mods, the 3DS will probably present a fun side project.

Under the hood, it comes missing some of its bigger features. The eShop and Browser just aren’t there. It seems to me like these should have been available at launch, but it’s not a deal-breaker that they’re coming a little after.

The biggest flaw here is the battery. Hoo boy, is that thing quick to drain… You’re going to get about 3-5 hours with the 3D effect on. DS games fare a little bit better, around 5-8 hours. My advice to you, unless you’re playing at home (as some of you may well be doing, as I am): Turn down the brightness, turn off the wireless and 3D and turn on the power saver mode. That’ll give you a little more juice when you’re on the go, and every little bit counts.

With all this complaining, you might be thinking I hate the machine. Well, here’s a surprise: I love it. It’s not only the best handheld I’ve ever owned, but also the best I’ve ever played. (Though I guess Sony’s portable may be able to persuade me otherwise later in the year. Maybe.)

For everything the 3DS does wrong, it does so much more right that I can’t hate on it too much. First, and probably most obvious, the thing is made of Nintendium, which means you cannot destroy it with conventional weaponry. Indeed, long after this planet becomes Earth That Was, the 3DS will endure. There was an opportunity for a 40K reference in there, but I passed it up.

Second, the analog pad, formerly known (or maybe it still is and I’m really out of the loop) as the “slide pad.” Honestly, I won’t lament the loss of that name. Anyway, this thing is great. Using it feels so good that I’ve caught myself using it for plain, old DS games for which it really isn’t ideal. Without hyperbole, this is the best analog control method a handheld has ever featured. Considering how the PSP2 (or NGP, if you’re stupid) analog sticks look, I don’t think it’ll topple this one. It just somehow feels so “right” that I can’t fathom wanting to use anything else on a portable.

The software is really neat. It’s kind of like the Wii menu, except, well… Except good. You can tap or slide through it with your styles and adjust the icon size, fitting more or less icons onscreen at once—do you want it to look more like the DSi menu or more like the Wii menu, or do you want something in between? It allows for anywhere from one to 60 items onscreen at once, so you’re probably going to have no trouble finding an amount you like.

Nintendo’s also done a little bit to improve the whole Friend Code ordeal. You now have only one Friend Code for your whole system; every game you play is tied to that code. You can store up to 100 Friend Codes on your system, so you probably won’t run out of space, unless you really work at it. The new Friend Code system is a step in the right direction, but the problem is that it still exists at all. This works much better and I’d certainly never go back to the old way that existed on the Wii, but it’s just not quite there yet.

But what kind of software is in it? Well… lots of kinds. The Mii system has been brought over from the Wii, and you can use the inward-facing camera to make a Mii of yourself—this usually yields hilarious results and I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone. You can use that Mii for the Mii Plaza, which is a nice distraction: You earn puzzle pieces to make 3D pictures of your favorite Nintendo characters and Metroid: Other M’s Samus Aran. In a move that resembles Valve’s ongoing efforts with Team Fortress 2, you can also, with the Miis of people you meet on the street in Sleep Mode, earn hats for your Miis in a turn-based minigame called Find Mii.

Coming back to the camera for a minute, you can also use the cameras to play a game called Face Raiders—it’s more fun than it probably sounds. You take a picture of someone’s face, then it’s ripped off of their body and attacks you in a shooting gallery-style game. It’s kind of like House of the Dead, except there are no zombies and you’re not running down a series of hallways. You’d think a 2D image of someone’s face being plastered onto a 3D model flying at you (also potentially in 3D) would look really awkward, but it manages to not only make the faces look fairly normal on the 3D models but also make them emote in acceptable (if hilarious) ways. Want a stony-faced Epic Mealtime Guy to laugh maniacally as he carries a bomb at you? Done.

In a similar vein is the inclusion of the AR Games card (there are some other cards that allow you to manipulate models of Nintendo characters and make 3D pictures that way, but honestly, who cares, AR Games!). Plop the AR card on a flat, well-lit surface and let the fun begin: 3D environments spring to life on your table and you can use your system to interact with them.

There’s an archery game, wherein you… well, shoot targets and dragons, of course. There’s a sort of ball-rolling game where you shoot a ball and try to get it into a safe zone, occasionally over lava or water (this also has a dragon). You can go fishing and make graffiti, too, but seriously. Dragons.

These games and more are enhanced through the use of Play Coins. You earn Play Coins by taking your 3DS on the go in Sleep Mode. Earn up to 10 per day just by walking around and you can spend them on unlocking new things in the AR Games and Mii Plaza, as well as in proper 3DS games. The bonus of unlocking new games and items in your system might even get some of you lazy people to go out walking every now and again.

Finally, I’ve put this one off long enough. The 3D: How the heck is it? Well, it works, and that’s impressive enough in itself. Oh, right, and it’s actually pretty good. I had difficulty believing it, myself, until the system first prompted me to perform a 3D test and that text floated off the screen and then plunged deep into it. It was one of those rare, truly remarkable experiences in gaming, and it’s not something I’m likely to forget.

So, what about the games? Well, there really aren’t many. Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition is definitely worth a look, if only to see how well Capcom managed to transfer the game to 3DS. Ghost Recon is a surprisingly good tactical RPG, if you’re into that sort of thing, though its difficulty can be pretty unforgiving for novice players. And hey, there’s always Pilotwings Resort; while it’s not a very lengthy experience, there’s a lot to unlock and a decent amount of variety between vehicles. Beyond that, it’s also probably the most impressive in terms of 3D.

What’s the verdict?

Form: The analog pad is really nice. The system’s pretty ugly when you put it next to its predecessors, but there’s something endearing about that. If you’re looking for form and function, wait about two years for a revamped model.

Tech: The 3D is impressive as hell, first off. The speakers are impressively loud and clear, and the AR cards go a long way in demonstrating the 3DS’s capabilities. Wireless and online functionality have seen a considerable boost from the DS line. The battery sucks.

Software: The AR games and Face Raiders are fantastic. Play Coins offer a nice incentive to be a little more active and open up new opportunities for unlockables in games. Menus are smooth and offer a good range of customization. Would have been nice if the Internet and shop had been ready to go at launch.

Games: It’s about as big as any other launch, but the launch window isn’t looking much better. Street Fighter, Pilotwings and Ghost Recon are good, but the real goodies, like Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil and Zelda have yet to hit. Summer’s looking good for the 3DS.

Rating: 7/10

This is going to be something great, but all the pieces haven’t quite fallen into place yet.

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About Aaron Kinney

I don't wanna think anymore.
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