Sunday, March 20, 2011

3DS review

Since getting back from GDC in San Francisco, it's been a busy two weeks for me. But now, the GDC special of the weekly technology program I work for has aired and so have our video diaries on Facebook. Why not watch all of it and pick up some German?

Right in the midst of all this work, on Friday 11th, I got a parcel which certainly sweetened my weekend (and subsequent days). I got a 3DS and have been playing around with it pretty much every waking moment I could spare, playing ´Nintendogs + Cats´, ´Pilotwings Resort´ and ´Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition´. It is a great console and it will take the market by storm, I am sure, but there are also indications of the device being rushed to market. Let me give you my impressions in detail.



The 3DS in comparison with the DSlite and the DSi XL
Hardware

While I have always felt that the 3DS lacks the high-class finish of the DSi XL, the retail unit feels better than the various prototypes I handled. It still lacks the satinized surface of the XL and it oddly lacks the minimalistic design of most of its predecessors which was highly reminiscent of Apple products, but you will not be disappointed by the look and feel of the hardware. Particularly the gradient in both the cosmos black and aqua blue (which really is a green turquoise colour) looks nice.

In-built software

Nintendo Germany were quite clever. They sent out the units a few days ahead of the games. So we were forced to play around with the software that comes with the system, which we might not have done with a number of proper games to try out. None of them, it must be said, do the hardware power of the device any justice. Then again, the 3DS channels are not meant to wow you graphically. There are some nice tools in there, though. The augmented reality channel works a treat and is not what you might immediately expect from a system whose main feature is 3D vision. Similarly, Face Raiders is a wonderfully quirky idea and will keep you busy for some time.

The Mii Maker is a sobering experience, though. You will have seen that advert where a guy takes a snapshot of himself which is turned into a Mii with a great likeness. This simply does not work in my experience. You have to tell the system a surprising amount of detail first. And still, most Miis will look nothing like the person in the photo. Sure, there are some additional facial features and options for crafting Miis by hand, above and beyond the Wii's Mii Channel. But the promise of turning photos into Miis did not materialise.

video
The channel home screens rotate faster depending on microphone input

There is one tiny, almost insignificant feature which I would like to spend some time on, though. Watch the video above and see how you can manipulate the rotation speed for the 3DS channel home screens. You blow, cough or whistle and the Mii Plaza, for example, turns quicker. Sweet, I thought at first. But there is something akin to a bug in there. If you take the system with you onto a bus or train (which is what you would do with a portable console, right?) the constant background noise will make all objects rotate constantly at a very high speed. Watching this in 3D made me extremely dizzy - and I almost never suffer any adverse effects when perceiving 3D visuals. It would have been fairly easy to teach the system to tell short noise bursts and constant background noise apart, to prevent the latter from manipulating the rotation speed. The fact that Nintendo did not makes me believe that the system was, at least slightly, rushed to market. There are other little details that might suggest this.

The 3D effect

Okay, but let us focus on the main feature of the device. You will remember that the gaming press who tested the 3DS at E3 last year were unanimously euphoric. And my various hands-on sessions prior to me actually receiving the console mirrored that. It is a very pronounced 3D effect,while extremely easy on the eyes. And coupled with the increased hardware power, there is an amazing amount of detail to discover in the 3D images.

What has been baffling me is the seemingly large variation in the viewing angles. As you tilt the device sideways while playing, you will reach a point at which the two images are no longer exclusively seen by the eye they are meant for. You will see a double image, two layers which are slightly off, until you bring the device back into a middle position in front of you. This tolerance varies greatly from game to game. The built-in software seems to have a large tolerance, as does ´Nintendogs + Cats´. ´Pilotwings Resort´ seems to be somewhere in the middle, while ´Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition´ is rather difficult to handle. And I believe the reason to be more than just the fact that you are more likely to tilt the console in a heated ´Street Fighter´ battle than you are when gently stroking a dog. It appears to also be related to the objects and depth portrayed on screen.

Do not get me wrong. In any game, you will find that sweet spot and be mesmerised by the visuals. But some games seem to be more suited to be actually played on the road than others.

Software

Now, let us briefly talk about the software titles Nintendo has kindly supplied. My expectations of which game would be the best were surprisingly overturned. I expected ´Nintendogs + Cats´ to not really interest me a lot. I had played the first version silly, or rather various versions, to be honest. And I expected to be finished with virtual pets for life. But this title will become the top seller, I am sure. When you see those beautifully rendered puppies put their little feet up on the frame of the screen, your heart will melt. This is nothing like the original games, I tell you.

Similarly with ´Pilotwings Resort´, I expected to be turned off by the fact that we all know Wuhu island by now and the gameplay is not exactly what a hardcore gamer has in mind. But there are amazing moments in the game which really play out the whole 3D experience: closely brushing past a tower or plummeting towards the ground from great height just feel awesome.

´Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition´ is another matter, unfortunately. The game itself is absolutely great. The visuals clearly illustrate the hardware power of the device. But the implementation of almost all menus into the game is rubbish. When you finish a battle, a window may just pop up out of nowhere above the layers that you had adjusted to, which feels very uncomfortable. In fact, in some camera angles, the character will actually slice through a status window. Also, the story sequences are entirely in 2D and the animated sequences just before and after each match are barely 3D. I realise it is a port, but it shows. It is still a great game, but I am shaking my head in disbelief at the little blemishes. After all, this game is distributed by Nintendo. Again, I get the feeling that the title just had to ship regardless.



Kiss my shiny, metal console: The 3DS surface has a metallic touch to it

Summary

I think that you will see some evidence here and there that the system may have been rushed out the door. Luckily, none of these details matter all too much. The menu rotation aspect will surely be addressed in upcoming firmware updates. Little flaws in a ported game will be forgotten about once the exclusive titles like ´Resident Evil´ and ´Metal Gear Solid´ start rolling in. (On that note: do not expect MGS to come out this year) The 3DS is, for the most parts or certainly all the parts that really matter, a great system and sure to be the first 3D entertainment device the public will eat up. I certainly will.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

i want ngp

Falafelkid said...

I love writing articles like this one and getting comments like yours. You might want to try a little harder in the brain department, matey.

Anyway, we all want the NGP, I guess. But at what price?

True Believer said...

Nice review. With the 3ds and some phone/pads coming with 3d screens, I wonder wether Sony can afford it to bring out the ngp without a 3d screen. Some people will say that the 3d of the 3ds is just a gimmick, but I can remember similar comments about the ds. At first people called the touchscreen just a gimmick, then a hype that soon would fade away and now 6 years down the road after it's release, it is the bestselling handheld console in the history. Nobody could even imagine a handheld gaming device without touchscreen functionality.

I reckon it will be very difficult for Sony to put in a 3d screen in the ngp, because it would make the ngp too expensive but without an option like 3d, Sony misses a feature that could sell the system to the masses.

jerry said...

Great article, I'm holding out on getting a 3DS at launch. I want to see a few more games first and I'm hoping for a revised model release during the holidays. If you can, have a friend who has poor eye sight play it. I don't wear glasses but my right eye is pretty weak and 3D tends to not work for me. It isn't a deal breaker with the 3DS but I'm curious if it works for people who have less than stellar vision.

Any word on the Sadness article?

Grandmaster B said...

It wont drop in price for a long time I am sure but I think I will import it when a 'cart' is released if you get my drift. I am ok with DS for the meantime so no need to jump into it (I am sure when I see it though I will not have the same view)

Thanks for the good write up. It is good to see a honest review on the machine than a biased fanboy or a anti Nintendo reviewer.

Anonymous said...

3ds graphics are simply not good enough

Falafelkid said...

Hi Anonymous.

3ds graphics are simply not good enough

How can you say that when you have never held one in your hand?

Anonymous said...

It is easy to tell from the screens and vids. Doesn't look as good as it should look. It's very disillusioning.

Grandmaster B said...

PSP graphics are better than DS....so whats your point?

And thats like saying 3D movies are crap if you havent seen one to make any conclusion.

Frankie said...

Love your review. Can't wait to hold the 3DS in my hands, but might not be able to have it from day one.

I'm not a big design fanatic, but the picture of the 3DS surface really amazed me ;-)

What about the German practice part you wrote about? Is it still possible to change the language to English? You are able to do so with all other DS and the Wii. As I play most of my games rather in English than my mother-tongue German this would be kind of a disappointment to me.

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