Review by discoinferno84

"Could you take my picture?"

One of the most prominent features of the 3DS is its cameras. They let you take both 2D and 3D pictures, thus providing a way to demonstrate the system's graphical capabilities. They're nowhere near as good as the iPhone's renderings, but at least you're given a decent variety of ways to edit your shots. You can adjust the settings for timers, a slide show, brightness, contrast, zoom, and all of the other stuff you take for granted on the average digital camera. You can even tweak your photos with hazy lighting, sparkles, bubbles, stamps, and stylus-drawn graffiti. It works well if you're just killing time and showing off the 3DS to your friends, but it won't be long before you're wondering what else the handheld can do besides impromptu photo sessions. That's when you'll scroll over to Face Raiders, and you'll realize that these cameras can do more than just snap pictures.

It'll start off innocently enough. It'll ask you to move around and level the 3DS's screens until they line up with a face. It doesn't matter if there's an actual face involved - you could take pictures of anything and the game would still accept it – but there's a good reason why the game asks for it. Once you've gotten someone's mug in sight, it'll briefly try to determine the facial structure and gender of the subject, snap the photo, and reshape the image until it resembles a three-dimensional head. The face will promptly fling itself out of the picture, lock into a comically over-sized helmet, and morph into some hideous, sinister mockery. That once-familiar face will be glaring at you, sneering and laughing with utter malice. Then it'll float away into the outer reaches of the top screen, which operates as both the main camera and portal into the game's alternate reality. Then it'll vanish completely, leaving you to wonder if your new game system has, in fact, been possessed by demonic forces.

You won't be thinking long, though. Your evil face will return with a whole army of clones. They'll attack in small gangs, rushing up to the screen in an attempt to annihilate you with steel projectiles and poisonous kisses. Your only line of defense is a small gun (and occasionally a bomb) that can only fire a single bullet with each press of a button. Depending on your timing and accuracy, you'll be able to rack up bonus point multipliers for the post-level rankings. Rather than aiming with the stylus, you have to start moving in order to see everything through the lens of the 3DS's top screen. You can't just sit down and play this, either. Those freaks are coming from every direction, which means you'll be constantly turning around, backing up, and holding the system at occasionally awkward angles. It's an interesting twist on interactive gaming; since you can only see your enemies through the screen, you're going to be wondering where the next attack will come from. While the gameplay is involving, it hinders the sense of immersion as well. With all the fast movements and sheer chaos, it's easy for you to lose focus on the 3D effects. Your enemies will start to blur, and you'll struggle to keep your eyes focused on the screen. By the time you reach the end of a given level, you'll probably have to take a second to regain your bearings.

While the game is undoubtedly hilarious for anyone watching, playing it can be a surprisingly difficult experience. Rather than being content with a simple shooting game, Nintendo designed the enemies with just enough variety to keep things interesting. They're all wearing these cheesy-looking helmets with helicopter hats or horns. Despite the boring costume designs, however, your enemies will keep you on your toes. You'll get heads that take multiple shots, others that can only be hurt at specific times, and some that bounce and ricochet depending on how they're struck. There are even some that, should you fail to slaughter them, will dive back into the virtual space of the screen and smash through the fabric of reality Langoliers-style. They'll lurk behind that onscreen curtain, occasionally peeking out just long enough to be hit. It's surreal to see familiar objects like your laptop or books being ripped apart; chunks of that digital reality will come crashing back into the screen, cracking the in-game cameras and damaging your overall health. Not to mention the bosses, which are quite capable of kicking your ass if you're not paying attention. Those faces are far less goofy when they're frying you with laser cannons. But if you manage to survive (a defeated boss instantly grows a scorched afro to add to their humiliation), you'll likely be hooked enough to try again for a higher score.

It's not like you'll have to go it alone, either. The Show A Friend mode exists solely for the purpose of passing the 3DS onto someone else (it literally instructs you to do so) in the room and sharing in the absurd fun. The more people you get involved, the more faces you'll collect, and the more enemies you'll have to take down. Its in-game UFO character even searches for any faces in the pictures you've already taken outside of the game. There's a whole set of levels that can only be unlocked by having multiple players and reading hints to uncover other content. Face Raiders also places emphasis on learning various options on the 3DS's cameras; you probably won't learn how to combine different pictures until you reach a certain stage. By the time you've found everything, you'll have a good sense of what the system can really do. Not only does the game provide a surprisingly fun and addictive distraction, but it gives you the chance to learn more about the various features in the process.

It's kind of funny, in a way. One of the biggest issues with the 3DS's launch is its utter lack of interesting titles. Those that buy the system are at a loss as to what to play on it; it's easy to fall back on the DS's vast library until something compelling arrives. But if you take the time to explore the options and features, you'll find that one of the best games for the system is already packaged with it. Face Raiders not only serves as a way to demonstrate the cameras' 3D capabilities, but turns it a fun and engaging experience as well. It takes your pictures and turns them against you, forcing you to fight through hordes of misshapen mug shot copies. The decent variety of enemies, bosses, and challenges make it more than some kind of tech demo. It's not the deepest or most finely-crafted game you'll ever play, and the inherent awkwardness of moving around with a handheld might be a turnoff to some. But if you give it a shot, you might be surprised by how much fun it can be.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 04/04/11

Game Release: Face Raiders (US, 03/27/11)

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