Review by halo12tpd
"Potentially great, Possibly not."
What did I expect to get when I opened my new 3DS handheld? 3D graphics and killer features. On one hand, I got what I payed for, on the other, I felt a distinct tinge of disappointment. In this review, I will elaborate my thoughts on three major aspects of Nintendo's latest product: Physical Design, User Interface, and Functionality as well as a scoreless 'Miscellaneous' section. While I'm aware there are some very key topics omitted, (such as game selection and hardware power) I'm sticking to these three point, as the system is so new, and these are the three basic areas I believe will change the least throughout the life of the system. I understand that the hardware is supposedly very powerful and that there are many publishers planning to release games, but as of this review, there really isn't enough information in these areas to warrant any accurate discussion.
Physical Design - - - - - - - - 8
The greatest thing about the 3DS to me is the physical design overhaul given to the old DSi platform, it is mostly for the better, though there is one very sticking issue I'll discuss which keeps it from being a 10 in this category. Most notably, the top screen (where the 3D graphics can be applied) is noticeably larger than the bottom (touch) screen, and is in 5:3 (widescreen) aspect ratio. This was, at first, strange to me, until I realized that not only does it conform to modern television standards more closely than the DS's original 4.3:3 screens, but it better utilizes the previously unused area on all older DS models. The D-pad is located on the lower left portion of the bottom half of the clam shell and feels very pleasant to use. The analog nub requires a bit more strain to use for extended periods with left bumper, as it is located above the D-pad, much closer to the joint connecting the two halves (where the left bumper is). The bumpers feel more responsive than previous incarnations as well. The standard 4 button face layout hasn't changed, and really doesn't need to. It's interesting to me that Nintendo reverted back to a slider for the volume control (located on the left side of the lower half) after ditching this in favor of (+/-) buttons on the DSi, however this is not good or bad to me. The 3d slider is in very easy reach on the right side of the top half of the system. BY FAR, the biggest problem I have with the design is the placement of the stylus holder. It has been moved to the rear of the bottom half, just left of the cartridge slot. This placement makes it incredibly difficult to pull the stylus out mid session, and often results in me leaving it in my lap or on a nearby table, as it is infinitely easier to grab than from the back of the system. The 2 point deduction in this category is based entirely on this placement point. It seems some what harsh, even to me, but the fact is DS games have traditionally had a tendency of asking the player to swap between standard game controls and touch screen controls far to often for the stylus to be so difficult to reach, and since the touch controls often require far more precision than my fingers can manage on the small touch screen (though I should note, I am an adult and have fairly large hands).
User Interface - - - - - - - - - 8
Most notable new interface feature, a hard home button, located under the touch screen mounted on either side with select and start buttons. This can be used at any time to return to the main menu of the 3DS and select other applications or enter camera mode. While I like the placement and overall idea of the scheme, the buttons are forgettable, and I often find myself looking around the rest of the lower console face for a start/select button (though I imagine this will remedy with time). The real catch is, all three buttons are laid out on a single glossy black strip, with no contour or lighted effects to speak of, and they require a small bit of concentration to effectively press, often taking a second or two before I can successfully register a press, which is about a second or two to long in my opinion. The main menu is mostly a carryover from the DSi with some slight tweaks, but largely unchanged. Applications exist in small squares on a linear line and options and information are located along the screen edges. This works fine, and makes it easy to find whatever application or option I'm searching for and really warrants no further discussion on my part. Its a capable OS. I'd like to point out that any time the main menu is open, either shoulder button opens the camera function, which some might find to be a great idea, I however could have done without two buttons to activate my camera, as I'm often accidentally taking pictures while putting the system down or picking it back up (the shoulder buttons also activate 'shutter').
Functionality - - - - - - - - - - 5
Here's where the 3DS really disappointed me, it does an ample amount of tasks, but few well enough to warrant a great score in the category. The camera is not great, though its not bad either, it competes in quality with mid tier cell phone cameras, however it does have the option of taking 3D pictures, which is neat, but so far fairly useless, as the only place I know of to display these pictures is the 3DS itself. The HUGE disappointment in this category for me are the built in AR (augmented reality) games. These require an included card to play, its used as a recognition point for perspective, which is an interesting idea, but fails on so many levels. Firstly, leave it to Nintendo to design a portable handheld system which requires me to find a table that's 5 feet high (I'm 6'4"; I know the system was designed primarily for smaller children, but it basically scorns my height) to stand around so that I can use my system. To elaborate: the card (standard sized playing card with a '?' block on it) must be placed on a flat, well lit (seriously BRIGHT) area that is also small enough to maneuver around, as the AR games use positional sensors to move around the objects created and play the game. The 'games' themselves are an interesting idea and graphically very novel, as they often morph the surface of the table to provide obstacles and targets, but mostly devolve into simple button presses to clear a few stages and that is it. The worst part about these AR games however, is recognition pattern of the 3DS cameras, the resolution is not great and there is a constant camera lag as the 3DS moves to change perspective. Any time the light source is even moderately obstructive a fuzzy screen appears and the game pauses while waiting for enough light to recognize the AR card again. The same thing happens if the card is even momentarily not in the viewfinder, which can actually be pretty hard to manage, as the 'optimal distance' from the card is a pretty strict 12"-14". The other 5 AR cards included with the system generate 3D models of popular Nintendo characters to arrange in real world photo shoots, and ends up being just as difficult to properly register, and far less rewarding as even the mediocre '?' block games. Moving on, the built in pedometer is fairly accurate, and rewards you with a Mario styled coin, which can be used as currency in both cartridge games and the built in "Find Mii" adventure game. Each coin is approximately 100 real life steps. However, there is a cap of 10 coins per day, meaning that if I walk more than 1000 steps in a day (which I often do) I cease to reap the rewards of this system, and that is capped even further at a maximum of 300 coins at any one time. The 'Face Shooter' built in applications is a high point, requiring a picture of a face to access each level, and then using whatever the environment around the user to create a level where small propeller headed balls with faces stretched across them assault the user in a classic shooter style. This is a unique experience as it requires you to stand since the faces come from all directions, and tends to result in sharing the console just to accumulate more faces for additional levels.
Miscellaneous - - - - - - - - - - a few side notes and comments
The 3D graphics are pretty impressive in all the titles I've played thus far, though generally do not enrich the experience, however I can't contribute this to the system, but the games themselves. I find the 3D effects to quickly become strenuous, and usually turn them off after 30 or 40 minutes of play.
The battery life varies greatly depending on brightness/3D. With both at maximum the low battery indicator turns on after less than 2 hours of use. With 3D off and brightness at minimum, I have yet to see the indicator, though I've not played for more than 4 hours before charging.
This is the first cartridge based system I have ever experienced monumental freezing on though I am remiss to mention game titles, I will. Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars freezes frequently, though I don't believe this to be a problem with the system, as I have yet to have any difficulty performing a hard reset.
The original system update (that was available at launch?) failed 3 times, and had to restart each time.
It was nice that Nintendo included a 'docking station' so for the 3DS, making it a far less conscious effort to charge my system, especially since it requires charging very often.
It is backwards compatible with original DS titles, and even allows you to reset screen aspect ratio to original size to avoid stretching!
2GB SD card was included in package, so there was no further 'out of box' expense.
That's my 2 cents on the Nintendo 3DS, I've probably spent about 80-100 hours with it so far, and am mostly satisfied and feel it is a worthy update to the DSi, time will really tell on that though. It definitely didn't blow me away, by any mean, and I'm still waiting for many games I assumed would be launch titles. The web browser has yet to be released, so there's no telling if there's any improvements to the old DSi's browser, though it was pretty good for a handheld console. I can't wait to see the console pushed to its limits, and really see what its capable of, so far its pretty much capable of being a DSi with 3D graphics and an analog nub.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 04/05/11
Game Release: Nintendo 3DS (US, 03/27/11)
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