Nintendo 3DS Buyer's Guide

We've played the games. We've shown you its most show-offy feature. We've been surprised how much we liked the 3DS. (And we expected we'd like it a lot.) So should you get your $250 out of your sock on March 27th and buy a Nintendo 3DS? Probably not.

Who should buy a Nintendo 3DS on launch day?

Devoted Nintendists, those for whom even less popular first-party titles like Pilotwings engender great affection. They'll be happy without a Mario, Zelda, or Metroid game-but will you?

Braggarts will have much to show off at fancy parties or to tipsy girls at bars with the Nintendo 3DS. Our favorite feature-the wondrous augmented reality games-are built right in. When South Park's Matt Stone visited the Kotaku offices a few days ago and wanted to play with the 3DS, the AR games were the first thing we laid on him. He spun around shooting a 3D version of his own face, taken with the 3DS's camera, and laughed. So will your friends.

Is making your friends giggle and coo worth $250? Then buy away. (You probably don't even need to buy any games if you don't find them interesting.)

Who shouldn't buy a Nintendo 3DS on launch day?

Everyone else. It's not that we don't think the Nintendo 3DS has a healthy life in front of it. The machine is good. Dozens of exciting titles will surely come from Nintendo alone. But the initial line-up of games for the Nintendo 3DS is feeble. Even the best aren't really system-sellers.

And with Sony's next portable game system on the horizon (riding shotgun in Santa's sleigh, probably), it seems like the rational choice would be to hold off, see what Sony's machine is going to cost or at least how it's shaping up when they show it at the E3 gaming show in June, and let Nintendo drop the price or bundle in a proper first-party game or something.

We like the Nintendo 3DS a lot, but nothing about the unit itself or its launch titles scream "Day One" purchase for most.

Okay, well, I'm buying it anyway. What games should I get?

Honestly, you could almost make do with buying none. The system is pre-loaded with the fun AR Games and the silly Face Raiders face-shooting game. Plus there's a cute (and very basic) role-playing game in each 3DS. But if you must, then buy:

-Ghost Recon Shadow Wars: This excellent turn-based strategy game is more than a little reminiscent of the best of games like X-COM. The only 3DS feature it makes use of is 3D, but you'll never notice that any other tech is missing with the deep campaign, skirmish mode and pass-and-play multiplayer.

-Pilotwings Resort: You'll be flying a plane, jetpack, hang-glider or other mystery vehicles through hoops, over an island and sometimes into a volcano, getting more points for skilled stunt-flying. No multiplayer, but nice graphics, good Nintendo surprises and decent 3D.

-Steel Diver: First of all, you probably don't have a tactical side-scrolling submarine game already, and that's a must. Second, you can spin around in a chair and pretend the 3DS is a periscope while you torpedo ships. What else is a gyro sensor for?

-Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition: This isn't just a very playable version of the fighter you've already gamed with on consoles, portables and even a phone, it's also packed with a few new neat features. 3D mode adds depth and a new perspective, while StreetPass lets you battle other players with collectible figures.

Isn't there just going to be another, better 3DS from Nintendo in six months?

Probably not within the next six months. Or even before Christmas. Unlike the first Nintendo DS (or the Game Boy Advance before that), there's no glaring hardware flaws in the launch version of the 3DS. Nintendo says they have no "short-term plans" for a new unit. But they will almost certainly release a lighter or smaller unit, or one with longer battery life or maybe even a modern capacitive touch screen, in the next year or two. It's the Nintendo way.

Are there any hidden costs?

The 3DS is actually quite a full-featured package, with some of our favorite games and software baked right into the unit. It comes with a dock for free. It's probably the first video game console in recent memory that comes with everything you really need to have a good time in the box. You can even re-use a DSi charge cable for a 3DS, though any old stylus will not fit in the 3DS stylus slot.

As fully-featured as this thing is, though, Nintendo is releasing an incomplete unit. The system's web-browser won't work until Nintendo activates it, maybe in May. At that time, the company will also turn on its online shop, which will sell Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Gear, Turbo GrafX 16 games as well as classic Nintendo games that have 3D added to them. The 3DS will also support Netflix streaming, if you have a Netflix plan. But none of that is available at launch.

How bad is the battery life?

It's pretty bad. We got between three and five hours, depending on how we were using the unit. Using the 3D depth effect takes even more battery life away. (We're pretty certain that's why Nintendo included a dock—so they'd encourage you to always keep the 3DS's battery topped off.)

Still, it's enough for a few hours of gaming away from a charger. Not a dealbreaker, then—but a bit of a surprise, especially when we've grown used to Nintendo handhelds getting battery times in the double digits.

What if you're left-handed?

There are several reputable clinics in North America that provide Warlock Reconditioning Therapy. (You'll probably be frustrated that the circle pad is only on the left-hand side, but surely you've already learned several coping mechanisms for fixing that already. Thankfully, Nintendo's top game designer happens to be left-handed.)

Are there any games I should avoid?

Well, do you really need another version of Nintendogs?

Nintendo 3DS Buyer's Guide

Essential Facts For The Nintendo 3DS

System launched in 2011

The Nintendo 3DS is, like the seven-year-old DS line preceding it, a two-screened portable system sold by Nintendo. Its distinguishing feature is its top screen, a 3D display that does not require special glasses. The 3D effect may be tuned to user preference or turned off completely.

The 3DS' lower screen is a resistive touch screen like its DS siblings, meant to be operated with a telescoping stylus sheathed in the base of the unit. Its control set features a "circle pad" that functions like an analog joystick, a DS first, and also the standard directional pad at left and four buttons at right. The unit includes a microphone and two cameras, one facing the user, the other on the back of the upper half.

The 3DS includes WiFi online access and, through its StreetPass feature, will automatically connect to wireless networks such as WiFi hotspots for both multiplayer gameplay, and the convenient background download of updated content. Beginning in late May, starting in Japan, 3DS users will be able to use AT&T wireless hotspots for free. StreetPass is meant to communicate with other nearby 3DS users, even passively, sharing information about games connected users may both own and passing along challenges to them. Games that include WiFi support are sold in boxes that include a circular blue Nintendo Wi-Fi connection logo.

The 3DS has a number of new features, chiefly the support of 3D movie and video playback capability. Nintendo will offer a channel serving a variety of video content for playback; the 3DS will eventually also stream movies from Netflix if the user has an account. The 3DS also comes with a set of six cards that are used to play augmented reality mini-games. In AR games, the 3DS' camera trains on the card, laid on a desktop for example, and the display shows a character or object on the desk, which the user battles, manipulates or otherwise interacts with.

The 3DS is fully backward compatible with all Nintendo DS software; it is not backward compatible with any DS game that requires a Game Boy Advance port, as it has none. DS games do not display in 3D.

Each 3DS system is powered by an internal, rechargable battery. It takes 3.5 hours for it to fully charge. Playing 3DS games with the 3D display enabled will drain the battery in 3 to 5 hours. Playing older DS games, turning down the backlighting or turning off the 3D effect will deliver longer battery life, up to eight hours.

Nintendo, as it has with the DS line throughout its life, offers the 3DS to a wide demographic, with software targeted to young and old alike. Its launch catalog of games features several tuned to appeal to core gaming audiences but nearly everything is rated E for Everyone, T for Teen at the most.

Currently available models: Nintendo 3DS ($249.95) in two colors: Aqua Blue and Cosmo Black.
Price of new games: $40 to $50
Discount line of games: None