Review of the Nintendo 3DS

March 27, 2011. The day my son had waited in baited breath for had arrived. The Nintendo 3DS had finally arrived. Ever since the announcement late last year, he’s been saving his allowance, birthday and Christmas money and today was the day he would spend it. Cash in hand we entered Best Buy, and out we walked with his Black 3DS, some accessories and 2 games.

My son picked Lego Star Wars III Clone Wars, and Tom Clancey’s Ghost Recon as his starter games, Star Wars was an expected choice, since we’re both Clone Wars fans, but Ghost Recon was surprising. I would have picked Pilot Wings, which probably would have been a better game to show off the 3D display, since you would be flying around an island. But the box art of the soldiers and guns sucked him in. For accessories, we had to get the essentials, a set of screen protectors and a car charger. The car charger is a necessity, since Nintendo has already warned the public about the limited 3 hour battery life, and the screen protectors are obviously to avoid scuffing up the bottom screen with the stylus.

Upon getting home and unboxing it, we hooked up the charging cradle to juice it up (the charger is actually the same one that comes with the Nintendo DSiXL – Yay!). It’s important to mention that the included charging dock isn’t required for charging the 3DS, you can just plug the cable to the back of the unit. The charging dock only offers a nice place to drop the 3DS, if you have a dedicated spot reserved for it. The build quality of the 3DS is good, as expected with all Nintendo handhelds. It has a glossy coating all around the device, giving it that Apple-like appeal. I still plan on looking for a nice crystal case for my son, so the handheld doesn’t get too roughed up on its travels. Included in the box along with the usual array of documentation was a curious envelope contains some cards (more on these later), and the unit apparently has a 2GB SD card already pre-plugged into the SD card slot.

Size

To my surprise, the 3DS is the same physical size to the DS Lite and DSi. The bottom portion of the 3DS is a hair taller than the DS Lite, so it can almost use the protective cases I have for the DS Lite, but the size difference and placement of the new controls along the outer frame won’t allow that. The bottom screen is the same size as the DS Lite, and the top screen is a slightly wider version of the bottom screen. In my opinion the screens are a bit too small for my liking, and I’m sort of spoiled by the larger screens that come on the DSiXL.

I did some additional size comparisons of the 3DS to my DSiXL and iPhone 3G, take a look at the images and video below:

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Performance and Impressions

Once powered on, the 3DS ran through a gambit of setup options and intro material. I was happy to find that the setup for my wireless network was easy and the 3DS found my network without any problems. After the setup was complete, your left at the Nintendo 3DS menu at the bottom screen. So, now the big question is how well does it work? I’m happy to say for my son and I, the 3D screen worked well, but I suspect results will vary from person to person. The 3D screen takes a little getting used to though. What I mean by that is the 3D effect is only visible in a small viewing area of the screen, looking outside this “sweet spot” you lose the 3D effect and are left with hard to see images. But once you adjust to viewing the screen and getting into that “sweet spot”, the 3D effect can be quite impressive. But alas, because of the limited viewing angle, the 3DS is a solo experience, anyone attempting to look over your shoulder while you game won’t be treated to any 3D effects. Also, it’s important to note that the 3D is not out toward you, it’s actually depth, so things go into the screen. It has been reported on the web that some people have experienced headaches after using the 3DS, and my son did experience this after about an hour of play. I think this may have been his initial inexperience with the 3DS display, because he no longer has problems. Nintendo has however, given you the ability to toggle down or completely turn off the 3D display with a slider on the right side of the 3D display.

Now that I knew how the 3D display worked, it was time to test the games and the controls. The two games my son picked were Lego Star Wars III Clone Wars and Tom Clancey’s Ghost Recon. Opening the box, I noticed that the 3DS games are white cartridges, instead of the black used for other Nintendo DS games. The white 3DS cartridges also have a little tab jutting out of the right corner, so they won’t fit into a legacy DS unit. Lego Star Wars works and plays as any Lego Star Wars game, you blow up bricks and collect them, but now the game was in 3D, which was interesting to experience. All the Lego games let you move into the distance and behind objects, now that the game is 3D, it makes that effect better.  The Analog Pad on the unit works well for the Lego game, but I did see my son occasionally switch back to the old D-Pad, which now is not in as comfortable position to use long term, since it’s down near the lower left edge, with much less gripping space.

Ghost Recon was the next. I didn’t know a thing about the game, since I didn’t read up on it. I was expecting a First Person Shooter, like all other Ghost Recon games, but to my surprise this was a grid-oriented turn-based strategy game. I wasn’t overly impressed with the game itself, but once again the 3D effect was a nice addition to the game place. There were levels where your troops were situated on platforms of various depth, so the 3D effect was put to good use to give you feel of looking into a multi-level building. Neither game really needed 3D, just like most movies don’t need to be in 3D either. The use of 3D just gives it that extra something to make the experience more interesting. Lego Star Wars and Ghost Recon are more traditional old school games, and neither made use of the motion sensing capabilities of the 3DS.

In addition to the games we bought, the 3DS does come with some interesting games. Two in particular we played with uses the 3D camera on the lid of the 3DS. The games are what are called “Augmented Reality” (AR) games, where they use the real world video input of the camera as a backdrop for the game. One had you fit your face onto a monster that popped in and out of your surroundings for you to shoot at, and the other made use of those cards that came in the box. Placing a card on a table allowed the 3D camera to position a character or monster on the surface of the card for you to play and interact with, a rather impressive use of the 3D camera.

The Bad Things

For all that they did right in the 3DS, there are a few negatives that must be brought up. First off, the cameras, there are 3, two in front for 3D and one in back for looking at yourself. The cameras do the job, but the overall quality of the images is pretty poor. The resolution of the images are very low (not even a megapixel), and are pretty grainy. Although 3D pictures are novel, they don’t have much practicality, since you can’t really share them (unless the other person has a 3DS).

The next thing is the stylus positioning. The old stylus was thin, and positioned on the right side of the unit, which was easy to get to. The new one, however, is a thicker collapsable stylus, which is good, but Nintendo positioned it in the back of the unit, near the cartridge slot, which makes it much hard to pull out without fumbling around for it.

Lastly, older NDS game performance, seems slow. Now, I’m not entirely sure if the games themselves run slower, but they definitely load slower. This area will need a bit ore research to determine if the games run poorly or not.

Conclusion

So what do I think? Well, I think the price is a bit high for what you’re getting, which is 3D. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is very cool, but you’re going to pay for the privilege of playing in 3D. The games I’ve tried really didn’t need to be in 3D, and they each command an extra $10. Also consider that a DSiXL costs $190, you will get more bang for the buck and will put less strain on your eyes. But the 3DS does come with nifty apps that make use of the 3D capabilities, but unless there’s any real compelling games you want to play, it may be better to wait a little for the price to come down and those games to appear. An even better idea would be if Nintendo came out with a 3DSiXL, that would probably change my opinion.

As a parting thought, my son prefers to play Pokemon Black and White on my DSiXL.

Thanks for reading, hopefully you found this review useful.