3D films were first around in the ‘roaring twenties’ – although they only really rose to prominence in the 1950s, with the likes of The House of Wax. Then stereoscopic movies fell out of favour, before making a comeback in the 1980s, when Jaws 3D put everyone off the idea for good. Or so we thought until Avatar rolled into town in all its alien three-dimensional glory. Sky jumped on the bandwagon, 3DTVs began appearing in living rooms across the country – so it wasn’t long before gaming pushed for an extra dimension.
No specs please, we’re gamers
The contemporary 3D revolution took another twist when Nintendo announced it was releasing a handheld that offered three dimensions without the need for any goofy glasses. And now the 3DS console has arrived, bringing with it a number of questions. Is the glasses-free 3D effect any good? Will it make me ill? How’s the battery life? And perhaps most importantly of all: why has the local games shop sold out of the aqua blue colour?
Our review model was this variant, and we can confirm that the metallic blue paint job is very aesthetically pleasing. The 3DS looks good and it’s well built too, compact but with a lovely solid feel to it. When you open the device, the hinge between the dual screens has what can only be described as a quality action to it. The 3DS doesn’t snap open, it glides like a well oiled machine.
The handheld’s lower display is a smaller touchscreen, and the upper screen is the primary 3.5in widescreen display where the 3D is implemented. So let’s get straight to the crux of this review and address the number one question – is the 3D effect any good? The short answer is yes.
Convincing 3D graphics
The rendering of three dimensions is crisp and convincing, with a real sense of depth generated. And that’s even when the 3D slider, which adjusts the intensity of the effect, is only pushed up a third of the way. There really is quite a wow factor when you first pick up the console and play.
We didn’t experience any ill effects from 3D gaming, either (as a certain tabloid controversially claimed that thousands of players were feeling just after the launch of the system). Then again, we weren’t playing with the 3D slider on maximum for five hours straight, jumping in both feet first as some kids (or adults) might. In fact, we found that having the slider positioned around a third to half way gave plenty of three dimensional oomph, and we’re not sure we’d particularly want to increase it beyond that level anyway.
While nausea or headaches weren’t an issue, we did find a slight downside to the striking three-dimensional wizardry here, namely the handheld’s unforgiving viewing angle. The screen must be held directly in front of you and level for the 3D graphics to work optimally. There’s some room for moving the display in the vertical plane, but very little on the horizontal. Tip the 3DS slightly to one side and the screen darkens, lessening the 3D effect.
When you’re playing a beat-’em-up, for example, furiously tapping buttons and involuntarily waving the 3DS about a bit in an effort to land a triple spinning dragon kick, the 3D effect and brightness can suffer a tad. Other games utilise the handheld’s nifty motion controls, whereby the player moves the device around to aim, and that too can have a slightly negative effect on the 3D. We didn’t find this a big issue by any means, but it’s something to bear in mind.
Plentiful control options
The secondary display, the touchscreen, is commendably responsive, and is used as the controller for some games (with a bundled stylus provided for extra precision). In terms of standard controls, there’s a solid D-pad and a flat analogue slide-pad which again makes for some very precise controlling (particularly when executing semi-circle moves in fighting games).
The obligatory four face buttons and two shoulder buttons are also present. Our only concern regarding the design of the basic controls is that the left shoulder button is a bit of an awkward stretch when using the D-pad, but you can always use the slide-pad instead (we preferred it anyway).
Nintendo has seen fit to equip the console with a 3D camera. The resulting snaps are again pretty impressive in terms of their extra-dimensional effect, although the image quality isn’t so great. It’s just about serviceable, though, and the camera is definitely a fun extra to play with. An SD card slot is built-in, complete with a bundled 2GB card, which is where the handheld saves your photos.
Be warned, however, that using the camera drains the battery more quickly – and battery life is already on the sparse side. Nintendo quotes the device’s battery life at between three and five hours, depending on the screen’s brightness setting.
Battery life blemish
With the brightness at 80 per cent and the 3D slider on about 30 per cent, we gamed for three and a half hours before the battery gave out. This power usage is something of a weak point, and if you’re going on a long trip you should consider turning the brightness level down while avoiding the use of anything truly sapping such as the camera.
Finally, the 3DS also sports integrated wi-fi along with something called StreetPass. When the console is closed without powering off it enters sleep mode, with StreetPass actively searching for other 3DS owners as you walk about town (or wherever) with it in your pocket/rucksack/handbag. If other devices are detected, their avatars are welcomed onto your hardware, bearing gifts such as a piece for a puzzle game. Other game-specific details can be transferred automatically between passers-by, for instance record lap times for driving games. Clever stuff.
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- Positively crammed with features and the 3D effect is very impressive.
- Battery life is on the short side.
The Nintendo 3DS is a marked step forward in portable gaming. With glasses-free 3D, built-in motion controls, a 3D camera and novel touches such as StreetPass, the device boasts innovation in spades. Most importantly, the 3D effect works really well, lending an impressive depth to the image while keeping it crisp and clean. The narrow 3D viewing angle is a slight niggle, as is the less-than-ideal battery life, but we certainly wouldn't let either issue prevent us from buying one.