Nintendo really screwed up when it named its new portable the 3DS. A better moniker would have the Nintendo Super DS, because thanks to its on board software, that's exactly what it is. The Nintendo 3DS hardware is only one part of the equation. It's a big, important part. But players also interact with Nintendo's handheld through its onboard software.
Out of the box, the 3DS comes with a handful of applications. There is a 3DS camera that can take 3D photos, a sound editor called Nintendo 3DS Sound, and a Mii Studio in which users can create their own Mii avatars. Activity Log is just that, a log of what games players are playing and for how long. It also doubles as a pedometer, tracking how many steps players take each day and giving them Play Coins that can be redeemed in games. Other apps include "Nintendo Zone", which finds 3DS content (playable demos or downloadables) on various WiFi spots located throughout Japan, and Download Play that allows players to wirelessly play 3DS or DS software against friends.
Why You Should Care
Planning on buying a 3DS? This is how you are going to interact with it. There might be slight differences between the Japanese version I purchased and one that will go on sale in the West later this month. The basic interface will be familiar to any gamers who own a DSi, but there are a few twists.
What We Liked
Menu List: The 3DS features a scrolling main menu like the Nintendo DSi, but with the ability to stack the apps into columns. A max of sixty apps can be displayed at one time. On the top screen, gamers can view the interface in 3D or 2D, depending on which setting they chose. It's very well-designed and makes selecting apps easy and intuitive.
Game Memo: In the main menu, there are small icons at the top touch screen. Players can stack the apps in the main scroll, but also check their Friend List or manage screen brightness. The small pencil icon is for the Game Memo, which enables to take notes while playing games and then save them for later reference. Sadly, it doesn't appear players can write on the gameplay screen image, but rather, are confined to a piece of "white paper". Game Memo, however, seems extremely useful.
On-Board Games: The Japanese 3DS comes with two games: AR Games and "Kao", or "Face" Shooting. AR Games uses the six bundled augmented reality cards that come with the 3DS. Using the 3DS's camera and the AR cards, players can created augmented reality versions of famous Nintendo characters like Mario and take pictures of them. It's neat, but the Question Box AR card is used to play games with, ultimately providing a more satisfying experience. Kao Shooting, which uses pictures of people's face, is even more interesting as miniature heads fly at players, trying to smooch them. Kao Shooting uses the gyroscope, and it's truly a good deal of fun. I also did enjoy AR Games immensely, but because the fact that it's tied to the AR cards makes it a drag sometimes. If Nintendo had released both these games as beefed up packaged titles, I'd certainly have purchased that game on day one. The fact that Nintendo didn't release these as boxed games make them great add-ons, allowing people who don't purchase package titles to still enjoy playing games on their 3DS.
The 3D Camera: In 2D or 3D, the 3D Camera can do all sorts of neat things, whether it be combine people's faces or offer different photographic effects like a pin-hole camera. It also has facial recognition software that tries to determine if someone is a male or a female, or if they are old or young. It doesn't always work right, but that's part of the fun. While image quality is not great, the ability to take 3D photos is one of the best uses of 3D on the system.
Play Coins: The concept of walking around with your 3DS, which is healthy, and then earning Play Coins, which can be used in games to get cool things is utterly brilliant. Play Coins is one of my favorite features on the 3DS. It not only encourages players to get up and move about, but then to spend those coins. And because you end up carrying your 3DS outside, you might run into other 3DS owners, who you can exchange info with. Play Coins is one of the best ideas Nintendo has come up with. Ever.
What We Didn't Like
Internet: Only because Nintendo hasn't launched it yet. Boo.
The Bottom Line
Glasses-free 3D is the main selling point for the 3DS. It's something that can easily be explained, but it's not what is impressing me most about the 3DS. In fact, it's not impressing me that much at all. What is impressing me is the software that powers the machine, the menus, the little and big tweaks Nintendo has made. These are nuances that are harder to convey to a wide audience, but perhaps better appreciated by a smaller, more niche crowd. The difference between the DSi and the 3DS isn't simply 2D and glasses-free 3D. No, the difference is akin to what separates the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The 3DS's software shows it for what it is, an upgrade — a welcomed and wonderful one at that.
The Nintendo 3DS was developed by Nintendo, released on February 26 in Japan. Retails for ¥25,000. A unit was purchased by Kotaku for review purposes. Played on-board apps as well as retail games.