By Adam Stephen Kelly
We've had our hands on an Aqua Blue Nintendo 3DS for a couple of weeks now and naturally have been testing out all of the features on this one-of-a-kind new console. It's a PAL unit, too, so we haven't been playing around with an import from Japan, where it has been on sale since the end of February. What we have been doing however is getting ourselves familiar with this new handheld and glasses-free technology, all ready for when the first wave of compatible 3D games arrive on launch day at the end of the week.
First things first, once you open the box, you'll be greeted by a rather monstrous wad of paperwork. And by no means is that an understatement. Carefully placed in their own cardboard tray, you'll find no less than five “Quick-Start” guides, each in a different language, an expansive English operations manual (there's also a mammoth 500-page version in different languages), a longlist for the benefit of parents who may be concerned with their children using some of the options available on the 3DS, such as the internet browser, an introductory guide to StreetPass Mii Plaza, a Club Nintendo booklet, and a little cardboard wallet containing a set of Augmented Reality cards. That's quite a lot of reading material, no? But don't be perturbed, it's not all boring scribble about what precautions you must take when playing the console: the StreetPass Mii Plaza and Augmented Reality cards are all part of the 3DS fun, as I'll explain later.
Inside the package you'll also find the power cable (obviously) and a dock to allow you to charge your console on a countertop. The upside of the dock, apart from giving your 3DS some juice while it's not in use of course, is that it features a little shelf that you can pull down and place your stylus on, to save it getting lost, which as we all know is easily done. The only negatives to the charging station are its lack of strength – its made of very lightweight plastic and looks pretty fragile – and the fact that the 3DS is actually very loose once its been placed on the dock and is powering up, which is both a gift and a curse. The hazards of the 3DS being relatively insecure go without saying, while the loose pin-fit brings an element of convenience to plugging in and out, especially when the 3DS has a battery life of between two and five hours, depending on what you're doing with it.
So now that we've got the peripherals out of the way, it's on to the main event: the glittery Aqua Blue Nintendo 3DS itself.
From the outside it looks like your run-of-the-mill DS apart from two key differences: the 3D slider, which enables you to change the intensity of the three-dimensional effect – from 2D to the potentially headache-inducing maximum – and the precision movement-enabling Circle Pad joystick for gameplay.
Once you've turned on the console, you have access to the main and top menus just like when you power-up a standard DS. From the main menu you are able to slide along to select the game you've got inserted into the back of the unit, or use any of the built-in features of your Nintendo 3DS, such as the camera (which includes the ability to take actual 3D photos using the outer lenses), sound studio and Mii Maker.
If, like us at this particular moment, you haven't any games to play on your 3DS, have no fear, as there are a few pre-loaded on each and every console. First there's Face Raiders, a frantic shooter that makes use of the camera. Having yours or someone else's photo taken and then placed inside a flying helmet with a rotor blade attached within the actual game, it's your mission to then complete levels by blowing waves of them away and saving the faces of others. It's a peculiar little game, but a lot of fun with its quirky visuals and the 3D realisation of some familiar (and very silly) faces, complete with all kinds of amusing expressions.
Next up is Augmented Reality. For this you'll need the aforementioned six AR cards. The first on the small deck depicts a question mark above the Nintendo logo. This is the main card for usage in Augmented Reality. After placing it on a flat surface in a well-lit area and about 30 centimetres away from your 3DS, the console will read the card and help you gauge the distance from your device. From here you will see a box pop out of the ? Card (as long as you're looking through the 3D screen), inviting you to a series of mini games and features within this unique interactive environment, including another shooter which sees you blasting away targets on your living room table, and fun with the Nintendo favourites as you place down the Character Cards from your deck and bring to life the likes of Mario, Link, Kirby and Pikmin, again, on your living room table or whatever surface you may be playing on. You can pose and resize them as you move around and look at every inch of their three-dimensional forms. It's quite surreal, if a little gimmicky.
The third built-in game is StreetPass Mii Plaza, a WiFi-based addition that allows for interaction between you and others on the street who come in close proximity to your 3DS. Nintendo are marketing the console as a mobile technology that you should carry around with you everywhere you go, like you would your cell phone, but I'd say that's a bit of an overzealous expectation. Nevertheless, the intentions of StreetPass Mii Plaza are for your custom-made Mii character to party-up with those in your vicinity and collect Play Coins and puzzle pieces so that you can co-operatively complete quests and, obviously, puzzles. Unfortunately this is where we must draw the line on our coverage of StreetPass Mii Plaza, because there's no one to play with yet!
And so there you have it - the core features of the Nintendo 3DS. But what is our verdict on the world's first 3D handheld console for video games? We haven't yet had the chance to play the launch titles, but it's certainly a revolutionary movement for the industry. As is the problem with films however, some people simply are immune to the effect, while others are overwhelmed, suffering from nausea, light-headedness and headaches after being exposed to the visuals, especially at this strength. They do indeed look fantastic and it's great to finally enjoy the effect without those hideous spectacles, but it only took 20 minutes of looking at the screen with the 3D slider at the top to make me feel rather worse for wear, so I highly recommend that you start off somewhere in the middle and work your way either up or down, depending on how you're feeling after 20-30 minutes. The console actually carries a health warning that insists you take a break per hour of play, and unlike others, I would urge you to adhere to it.
We will be running full reviews of as many of the launch titles as possible, the line-up of which consists of:
nintendogs + cats: Golden Retriever & New Friends
nintendogs + cats: French Bulldog & New Friends
nintendogs + cats: Toy Poodle & New Friends
Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition
The Sims 3
PES 2011 3D
LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars
Ridge Racer 3D
Super Monkey Ball 3D
Samurai Warriors: Chronicles
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell 3D
The Nintendo 3DS will be available from March 25 across Europe in Cosmos Black and Aqua Blue.