The launch of Nintendo's next-generation portable console is nigh, and this week we were invited to Nintendo's Australian headquarters to go for one last one-on-one with the stereoscopic device itself, the Nintendo 3DS. While we plowed through a few of the upcoming games, we also got a look at the final 3DS retail unit itself, as we took the new home screen, camera and multi-tasking functionality for a bit of a spin as well. So, is this particular portable purely for presenting protruding pulchritudinous polygons in parallax, or does it have plenty of other properties? Let's take a peek.
At a glance, the home-screen does appear to be quite similar to the start-up screen found on the Nintendo DSi and DSi XL. However, the various icons for accessing the game cartridge, camera, and installed applications, can be zoomed in and out, giving an appearance that ranges from the side-by-side DSi view, to the channel view of the Nintendo Wii.
More revolutionary for DS users is that the home screen is accessible in-game. This means you can access settings such as brightness in-game without having to reset the console (whether there is another shortcut for brightness is unknown at this stage), as well as launching other games. Multi-tasking is allowed on the console, to an extent. Generally, you can't run two games simultaneously, although it does depend on the software. However, during a bout of Face Raiders, we were able to access the home screen, and then launch the 'notes' application, which allows you to take hand-written notes during any game. The screen pauses the game, runs smoothly, and overall is a useful and timely addition to Nintendo's portable firmware.
As you may be aware, the 3DS doesn't come with one camera, or two, but with three. Two of those cameras are on the outside, and are used to take 3D photos, viewable of course on the 3DS screen. As anyone who's used a Fujifilm W1 or W3 will tell you, framing and distance is everything when taking 3D photos, and you have to make sure you have objects in the foreground and background to achieve the full effect. While the cameras are low resolution (0.3MP), the images are decent, and certainly good enough for the AR games.
There are also a range of effects you can apply to images, just as with the DSi. The main effects we saw included a new incarnation of the 'merge' function, that takes a photo of two different people, and pastes one person's facial features onto another's. We also saw an effect that sprinkled confetti when you blew on the microphone, and a 'mystery' function that applies a random effect to the photo, with the possibility of mixing in faces from older photos as well. There are some truly hilarious and truly disturbing creations to be made with these effects, that are definitely good for a laugh.
We should also mention that the camera is used for the 3DS' Mii creator function. Wii gamers will be familiar with the range of Mii customisation options on offer, however the 3DS is also capable of analysing a photograph of your face, and translating that into facial features on the Mii. Although our attempt with this function met with a Mii whose face was imploding (we assure you that to our knowledge our face isn't actually imploding), it's easy enough to mess around with results to fix the Mii to your liking.
The 3DS comes with several built-in AR games, which make use of six small cards, AR referring to augmented reality games for the acronymically challenged (or AC) among you. If you've seen Invizimals or EyePet on PSP, then you've got the general gist of the technology. Placing a card on any surface and holding the 3DS in front of it will allow it to detect the position and angle of the card using its two cameras. Basically, this means that the 3DS can overlay 3D graphics onto the real world, and it does a pretty good job of it in the mini-games we played.
The mini-game we spent the most time with was a simple target-practice game, which uses the AR card to create a field of archery-style targets on whichever surface you place it. Your aim is to move the 3DS around to fire at these targets, and it actually requires you to stand up and move your whole body around to find them all. On one occasion, a target was sunk deep within the table we placed the card on, requiring us to move the 3DS all the way above the table to find it. It's not really something you're going to be playing on the bus, but it is a very cool novelty, that kids will definitely enjoy at home. The 3DS' extra graphical prowess means that it can render quite realistic effects to enhance the AR function, meaning that suddenly the table will grow mountains, or flip around in a surprisingly realistic fashion.
The other main AR game we played was Face Raiders, a game slightly reminiscent of the space shooter included with the Game Boy camera back in the day. You can take a photo of yourself, or anyone you dislike, and Face Raiders will paste it onto hovering enemies which attack you from al sides. You have to move the DS around yourself to both see your enemies and shoot them. It's a simple game, but has some great effects, including when your familiar opponents smash through the walls of your room to escape, and the holes stay in place even as you move the console around!
Obviously, what the 3DS is selling itself on is in the name - it's a DS, but with 3D. That means that using a technology known as a 'parallax barrier', the 3DS' top screen is able to allow images to appear to come out of the screen, as well as go far into it. In other words, it's adding that most voluminous of all dimensions, depth. The screen itself can be comfortably viewed in 3D during regular use, using the console on a table, or on our lap, allowed us to see the 3D effect just fine. That said, there did appear to be an increase in the effect when we held the console closer to our face.
Angling the 3DS away from your face causes the 3D effect to lose cohesion. However, at any time you can decrease the 3D effect, or turn it off completely, using the depth slider on the upper screen. Changing the depth produces a kind of concertina effect, where the depth becomes less and less pronounced. Turning the effect off causes the screen to go black for a fraction of a section, before re-asserting a crisp, 2D image.
The quality of the 3D depends on the game you're playing, and we'll be giving you a quick rundown of all the games we played at Nintendo.
This game takes place on the same island as Wii Fit Plus and Wii Sports Resort, so if you've already jogged around there a few times you'll be pleased to know that you can now fly, glide or hover over those very same tracks. Screw exercise! We only got to play a handful of levels with the plane, rocket pack and hang glider, which were all quite easy and bite-sized, no doubt for portable play. That said, the controls responded well, and it was certainly fun to play. This is definitely a game that benefits from the 3D effect, as you have a clear foreground with your pilot and HUD, as well as the background as you fly over it.
Nintendogs + Cats
If you could call any game on the DS a success, it would probably be Nintendogs. Worldwide, the games of the series have sold over a combined 22 million copies, which you think would be enough. But now Nintendo are making sure everyone in the world is going to own a copy of Nintendogs by going after the cat lovers too, with Nintendogs + Cats including both species to play with, cuddle and dress-up. The cats do behave differently to the dogs too, as you'd expect - the kitten we were playing with promptly fell asleep after a few minutes. The 3D effect here is mostly limited to the background appearing to be deeper in the screen, except when your pet comes up really close to you. Also, while we didn't get to test this function, there is an AR element as you're able to hold an AR card and have your photo taken with your pet, sitting on the card.
This submarine-based game includes three different play modes: Mission mode, where you view the submarine in a 2D side-scrolling fashion controlling it with the touchscreen, Periscope, which gives you a first-person view above water as you shoot at enemies approaching you, and a Strategy mode, where you maneuver your various forces around a Civilisation style grid. Of the three, Periscope definitely had the best 3D effect, as the ocean stretched into the horizon and the outline of the periscope was present in the foreground. You could even use the 3DS' in-built gyroscope to rotate your view in a 1:1 fashion, although obviously this is not the best choice of control on the train.
Super Street Fighter IV 3D
From our short time with this game, the main differences we could see were a new over-the-shoulder perspective which highlighted the 3D effect, and a new touch-screen interface that allowed you to access EX moves. This is known as a 'light' mode, but there's also a 'pro' mode that forces you to perform combos manually. Online, you can choose to filter opponents based on the control mode they're using.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Finally, our favourite title of the bunch was definitely the 3D remake of Ocarina of Time. This is the game that stood out with the best use of the 3D effect, as not only did you have a foreground (Link and the HUD) and background (the field), you also had several other elements interacting between the two. For example, in the Kokiri Forest, glowing particles drifted through the air and out of the screen in a very cool use of the technology.
The graphics are markedly improved over the Nintendo 64 version, with much more detail on the characters especially. The touchscreen of the 3DS has also been emphasised as an easier way to access the menu in Ocarina of Time. You can access all of your gear, items and the map using the touch-screen, while Link is controlled using the slide pad and face buttons (none of that touch-screen movement as seen in Phantom Hourglass). Even the gyroscope is used (optionally) to control the slingshot, giving a really cool twist to the Gohma boss fight, when you enter the room only to look directly above you and see the spider hanging there. And, as has been recently confirmed, the game even includes Master Quest, a re-arranging of dungeons from the original game.
Overall, we walked away impressed by the 3D technology of the 3DS, as well as some of the in-built features. The new home screen brings the 3DS' functionality up to speed with other devices, even if the browser is yet to be patched in with a later update, and the included AR games and camera effects are great fun. We can imagine the console hitting it off especially with kids, who'll love some of the cooler AR aspects of games like Nintendogs + Cats and Face Raiders.
For hardcore gamers, the increased graphical power of the 3DS certainly bodes well for future titles, and games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time show how the console can sensibly improve older games that may be ported to the system. Whether the 3D effect is used well, or hardly at all, is up to the developers, and we'll be interested to see what they come up with in the coming months.
While a lot of the built-in content comes down to novelty, and showing off the technology with friends, that's pretty much precisely what early punters will be buying the Nintendo 3DS for, anyway. And while the initial launch line up may be small, it's sure to grow with heavy hitters such as Ocarina of Time and Star Fox on the way. Whether you choose to pick the console up early on, or wait to see what games arrive (like the nerdgasm that is Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney), the 3DS is sure make waves when it arrives in Australia on 31 March.
Thanks again to Nintendo for letting us go hands-on with the 3DS one more time before launch!