Hands on: Nintendo 3DS – the public perspective

Dedicated to Gamers

‘Believe your eyes’ urges the side of the portacabin which is currently touring the UK with 30 3DS handsets and 14 ‘launch window’ titles (not including the built-in AR features). The 3DS is developing a reputation as the first gaming device that legitimately has to be seen to be believed, and so, on behalf of all the doubting Thomases who can’t attend these nationwide events, I joined the throng to see for myself.

The large white cabin appeared outside Norwich’s BBC studio 2 days ago, giving away nothing but a 48 hour countdown. I was there soon after the clock hit 0. Carrying nothing in the way of a press pass (other than the swipe card betraying my lunchbreak credentials and appearing to confuse several demonstrators) I was waved passed a surprisingly bouncer-sized queue supervisor – who had the unenviable job of turning away heart-broken under 7s – and into a clinical white corridor. “Here there’s a history of the DS” helped one of the – almost exclusively – female attendants, but since I’d seen a Game & Watch before and had somehow managed to beat the rush, I skirted past the antique handhelds and found myself in a gamer’s dream: a crowded room of roughly 10 demonstrators, 20 members of the public and a generous 30 operational demo devices.

“Would you like to try Street Fighter?” asked an attendant. Approaching the event, I hadn’t known whether to only expect a few handhelds presenting the AR card games – if there would be any hands-on play at all. To have one of the 3DS’ most hyped titles thrust upon me was fantastic. Lifting the device to my face, my first impression was of the subtlety of the 3D. This was not the overwhelming 3D of Avatar – I even checked the 3D slider and of course found it to be on full. Nevertheless, the images on the character screen popped and when I found myself in classic mode the 2.5D effect had an understated beauty. Hitting previously elaborate special combos with only a swipe of the touchpad felt cheap at first, but as they refilled with torturous reluctance the importance of responsible use of this great power became clear. The new over-the-shoulder perspective showcased the 3D in a more obvious way and the action felt more dynamic from this view, but it also felt more like the show-off-to-your-friends mode than a feasible alternative play-style.

Behind me were the AR cards and despite a mounting curiosity at the number of hot properties that would actually be playable in this cave of wonders I had to give them a try. As a fully 3D dragon emerged out of the table and I craned my neck to shoot at it from all angles it became clear this was the true ‘just play this, Mum’ game. Like Face Raiders, which also succinctly summarised what the AR technology was capable of. I awkwardly shuffled a full 360 as an uncanny spherical image of my face attacked from all angles. The demonstrator then showed me her Mii, which had been made using Mii Creator – a program which automatically produces them based on a photo. I asked her whether she’d touched hers up but this was unfortunately interpreted as me comparing her unfavourably to her avatar. I found out for myself, however, and after choosing my gender, hairstyle and hair, skin and eye colour I was met with a reasonable Mii approximation of my face. Trying it a second time met with different if not completely dissimilar results, giving the impression the whole feature is largely an exploitation of the ambiguity of Mii facial features.

Moving on I played Pilotwings, where I was helpfully advised by one demonstrator to “press up to go down” which had apparently taken her all day to get used to. The game itself played smoothly and was an attractive if not ground-breaking exercise. That said, nostalgia has its best chance of winning through in this game and the simplicity of the gameplay could draw me back. Nintendogs (+ Cats) was the only title in Japanese and after figuring out how to make each of the furry creatures reach out to me in impressive 3D and furnishing them with comical hats I’d largely dried out my Kanji-reading resources.

Ridge Racer didn’t work but I was told to come back. A kindly advisor started to tell me for the 10th time already about the miracle of Streetpass interaction between devices and the £200-£220 price-point while I nodded politely and inched towards Ocarina of Time. For the sake of journalistic integrity I should disclose that it was around this time I became, what I’m sure Nintendo would love me to call, a ‘believer’. The graphics have been subtly altered to appear less angular but the graphical style was still undeniably Ocarina and as I became aware that I was blinking as fireflies and motes of dust passed me I considered the achievement that was evident. On a different system, with different graphics and entirely different technology, Nintendo have recreated the magic I felt when playing blocky Zelda on a crappy old CRT TV 10 years ago.

Fresh with convert fervour I ran into Lego Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean. Their 2.5D antics were endearing but unimpressive and I began to wonder at the shifty politics involved in launching a system with these games when the event (like the device itself) was strictly 7+. Likewise with Rabbids, still as humourous for adults as ever, but given the simple platforming mechanics it’s not hard to see it being opened on someone’s 6th birthday. Behind me was Kid Icarus, arguably one of the only original titles on display, which played like Sin & Punishment and looked like the dreams people had when Pit first appeared in Super Smash Brothers. Suffice to say, it controlled great, popped out of the screen in wonderful style and its general appeal was entirely too simple to express here.

Moving on, Pro Evolution Soccer had nice layering of players but looked and played like Pro Evo has for too long now. Steel Diver was a nigh-on incoherent 2.0D submarine scroller that seemed to have no place on the machine and its spin-the-wheel-to-descend and plug-the-leak-with-your-thumb touch-screen antics seemed a relic of the DS’s most gimmick-obsessed early years. Ridge Racer was finally working and had the same weakness as Pro Evo in being both proficient and entirely dull. Perhaps, I will go back to regret those words as the gaming press is currently fawning over Ridge Racer but for immediate gratification, fellow racer Asphalt offered more 3D racing bang-for-buck. Its neon visuals and boost-based mechanics demoed really well in the first impressions environment, but whether there will be any life in the two racing titles over an extended play-times remains to be seen.

So far I’d experienced little of the notorious 3DS headache and while I was curious to know whether the kindly booth babes had felt any playing these games all day they were, as expected, perfectly on message when I asked. I was pointed towards the 3D slider for comfort’s sake and told how the game’s still looked great in 2D, which they did. I utilised this the most in the fish-eye perspective racing games which definitely had the potential for evoking motion-sickness, but where this feeling was worst was in Super Monkey Ball. As the camera swung around with the ball and up and down became relative in the game’s fixed view-point I found myself getting queasy. For this reason I didn’t try the motion-control option, but before the videogame press try me for heresy I can only say that I’ve heard – as I experienced with the AR cards – that moving the handheld to play Super Monkey Ball upsets the 3D effect and so seems that little thought was put in to helping the two features exist in harmony.

I approached the last two games, tucked away in what in hindsight I realise must have been the age-restricted area. Resident Evil Mercenaries was there, and pulling a great crowd. I’d heard from many of the demonstrators that their favourite game there was Mercenaries, which had surprised me as the mode of the same name in Resi 4 and 5 was a largely throw-away experiences that rejected the strategic chaos of the main game in favour of an all-out horde mode. And yet, Mercenaries was immediately apparent as the greatest experience being demoed there. Somehow an impossible alchemy had taken place, and the tank controls that should only have been exasperated by the (otherwise accommodating) sliding thumbstick created a tense, blinkered perspective as zombies swarmed all around you and could unexpectedly grab you and leap out of the screen.

Shaken from Mercenaries, I picked up Dead or Alive and was equally surprised to find enjoyed it far more than Street Fighter – the dynamic and interactive environments offering an appropriate level of novelty. The fight began on a rope bridge but ended with my incredibly attractive character blind-siding the other incredibly attractive character with a devastating head-kick sending her flying off of the bridge, only to be quickly joined on the scorched earth with my finishing blow.

It was then that I decided to leave. An hour after arriving, I stepped blinking in to the day light. I was aware of a dull headache and some dizziness, but since I’d been under neon lights in a loud room, hopping between 16 different 3D experiences with liberal experimentation of each’s 3D slider, I can’t imagine that’s a legitimate criticism of the technology.

Will I buy a 3DS? Possibly. Will I buy one on release? I doubt it. Seven hours after leaving the event I’m still nursing what I’m tentatively coining the ‘DSigraine’. Besides, I’m gradually coming to the conclusion that they’re best experienced in short doses and at somebody else’s expense.

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