Report: The Nintendo 3DS at Tokyo
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We've seen the future of gaming, and it's in 3D...
Since Nintendo announced their 3DS, critics and consumers alike have been flummoxed by the proposition Nintendo seem to be offering: real 3D, without the glasses. Even in an age of ever-increasing marvels, this is a bold promise indeed and Nintendo have reached for the stars. Only a little over a year ago did James Cameron’s sci-fi epic Avatar hit theatres and make the first valid, full-throttle effort to legitimise 3D. Since then, it’s become an industry in itself, one increasingly prominent throughout popular culture.
After their phenomenally successful DS, many were stumped as to where Nintendo might go next. The DS2 seemed likely, but it would have lacked a significant punch. In an age where all three of the current generation consoles now have motion-control games, the next logical step is to take the Kinect, Move and Wii out of the living room and into the palm of your hand. Well, Nintendo aren’t quite there yet (matter of time), but the inclusion of no-glasses-required 3D has certainly earned them the curiosity of the gaming world, not to mention a few sceptical, raised eyebrows.
In an attempt to quash the cynics and generate interest (surely unnecessary), Nintendo held a conference in Tokyo this weekend where they invited the public to come in and try the 3DS for themselves, for free. Despite a surprisingly quiet turnout, the excitement was palpable. Throughout the day, several presentations ran, showcasing both the tech of the 3DS and some of the upcoming games. Among the presentations was a jazz band that played seriously delightfully nostalgic theme tunes from some of the Nintendo classics, including Super Mario, Donkey Kong Country, and several pieces from The Legend of Zelda, most notably the highly evocative theme from Gerudo’s Valley. Few of the senses stir memory as well as music, and golden memories they are.
Yours truly was lucky enough to get his hands on several of the most anticipated; Icarus Kid, Pilotwings Resort, Resident Evil (Biohazard in Japan) Revelations, Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and last and almost certainly most excitingly, The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina Of Time 3D. As exciting as those sound, the burning question most likely at the forefront of your mind is this: Does the 3D work?
The simple answer is, yes. What you see IS in 3D, though a great deal of how well you see the 3D is variable. I often found myself having to adjust my head position to see the 3D effects properly without getting the double-vision effect that you see when you look at a 3D movie without the glasses. You have to have your head aligned the way the console wants you to, and this also dictates a certain distance between yourself and the screen, one which I found surprisingly close considering the health and safety warnings Nintendo have already issued for the 3DS. This can be quite frustrating at times, particularly if at a crucial moment you move your head slightly and suddenly there are two Jill Valentines on the screen rather than one, and two zombies to match. However, that said, the effectiveness of the 3D is variable from game to game. This is a little bizarre, as one would imagine the 3D tech deriving from the hardware and not the software, but I can say with no hesitation that the 3D in some of the games vastly outdoes the others.
The 3DS itself looks and handles almost exactly like the DS Lite. Same size, same feel, same weight. The volume adjustment slide has moved from the bottom to the left, the power switch is now a button, and on the side of the upper screen is another slide-bar, much like the volume, which adjusts the 3D. This bar allows you to slide the 3D in and out; curiously, it works a little like a light-dimmer, in that you can actually reduce the 3D effects rather than simply flick a switch between having them on and off. That may sound hard to comprehend without having tried it, but it’s a clever way of allowing your eyes some respite from the somewhat straining 3D. Another key addition is an analogue stick, so crucially missing from the original DS. This analogue stick now seems to take precedence over the traditional D-pad.
The first game I played was Resident Evil Revelations. Set before RE5, what little we know about the story follows Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine. For the duration of the demo, you play as Jill, on board what seems to be a kind of research ship way out at sea. Thankfully, it appears that Capcom have heeded the voices of the fans and brought back the scare factor a little. There seems to be some of the atmosphere here that RE5 so sorely lacked. The controls flow very much like its predecessor, the over-the-shoulder camera once again returning. This does well to create a sense of claustrophobia within the game and compounds the absolute belief that there’s something behind you. In third-person view for the most part, the action switches to first-person view when you’re aiming your gun. This is a curious change from the more recent franchise additions, but it handled pretty effectively, even if it does jar and take you “out of the game” a little. You can also move while aiming your gun, something not available in previous instalments.
The 3D effects in Revelations are pretty good, and they certainly make you feel like you’re interacting more with the game, enhancing the experience rather than diminishing it, as the 3D could easily have done. While the 3D itself is great, it’s also worth noting how good-looking the game itself is - no kidding, I felt like I was playing an HD game whether it was on 3D or not. From a handheld console, that’s quite remarkable.
Next up was Kid Icarus. This can be seen as something of a reinvention for a long-gestating franchise, and I think Nintendo have brought it back at just the right time. There’s a great platforming aspect to Kid Icarus, as well as combat, dodging, and all the elements that make up a classic adventure game. It also has a bright, colourful aesthetic which is easy on the eyes. That said, the controls felt a little awkward, with particular regard to the camera - trying to push the left shoulder button, direct main character Pit with the analogue stick and use the stylus to direct the camera at the same time is a thumb-twister that’s going to take some getting used to.
Kid Icarus definitely shows promise and has the potential to fill a hole in the handheld platforming market, providing gamers can handle the somewhat demanding controls. The 3D was a little more finicky here, and because of the amount of action on the screen, I found myself turning the 3D down for the majority of the demo so as to be able to focus on the gameplay itself. A little disappointing given the otherwise brilliant aesthetic of the game, but when I did find myself at the correct angle for the 3D to work in full splendour, it was a visual feast to behold. Here’s hoping Nintendo can iron out these minor infractions before launch.
"Of all the games I played at the expo, Pilotwings was far and away the most difficult to get comfortable with in terms of the 3D"
By contrast, Pilotwings Resort is quite a disappointment. This plays very much like one of those Wii games that all the family play collectively at Christmas for one day, then put aside and never touch again. It’s full of gimmicky challenges, trials and mini-stages, lacking any coherent direction or focus, let alone a story. The controls are easy enough to use, but it’s almost patronisingly simplistic - “hold A to take off, fly through the air, then press B to brake, now land on this airstrip. Well done!” The 3D is also a real letdown. Of all the games I played at the expo, Pilotwings was far and away the most difficult to get comfortable with in terms of the 3D. Throughout the eight minutes of play, I found myself constantly having to adjust my head position, even closing one eye or the other to try and see the 3D as intended, but I just couldn’t get it right. A friend with me said the same thing, reassuring me that it wasn’t just me being dim or cack-handed. It’s a real shame, because as someone who always wanted to play Pilotwings 64 but never did, I was hoping for a lot more.
Super Street Fighter IV 3D is now the third incarnation of a game that has two separate editions (super and regular) across the PS3, Xbox 360 and even the iPhone and iPad. Now, it’s come to the 3DS. To get straight to the point, there is nothing here that you haven’t seen before if you’ve played the game on any of the other consoles. This is simply an effective port, filling in a gap for a decent beat ‘em up with the additional bonus of 3D. And none of that is criticism. SSFIV does what it does very well - Capcom have even utilised the DS’ lower screen to provide assistance in executing fiddly combos with a few simple icons you can push to unleash your characters more damaging attacks. The 3D also works very well, and I can’t recall once having to fiddle with it to get it right. The only other addition is that of a ‘3D camera’. In actual fact, all this does is reposition the camera of the game so that you see the action from an over-the-shoulder style position, looking at your opponent from a 45 degree angle instead of a 2D one. It’s an interesting addition, but nothing to write home about.
"After playing Ocarina Of Time, I am champing at the bit to get my hands on a 3DS"
And finally, after an hour and a half of queuing, I grasped eight precious minutes of beautiful gameplay with a stone-cold classic, the once undisputed Best Game Ever Made (seriously, they trade-marked it). Yes, the Ocarina of Time has returned, and it’s never looked better. I’m happy to report that of all the games I played today, The Ocarina of Time is far and away the most exciting, and that’s truly saying something considering the original was released way back in 1998 (OMG!). It also has the best 3D support, making the action genuinely feel like it’s coming out at you. This game absolutely is still the classic Nintendo made thirteen years ago, but that’s not to say it hasn’t been graphically enhanced. Everything just flows better; Link climbs vines with much greater fluidity than he did in the original, swords attacks are fast and on-time, the water effects are much better, even the cobwebs and fire look greatly improved upon. Simply put, it’s The Ocarina of Time - just better. Everything looks and feels sharper, responds more quickly and handles exactly how you want it to. When you pick this game up, it’s like coming home. Z-targeting is now L-targeting and the lower screen shows the dungeon map at all times, while the C-buttons have been reassigned to X and Y. Other than that, little has changed and this is a very good thing. Before I played Ocarina of Time 3D, I was quietly impressed with the 3DS, but by no means buying one on launch day. After playing the game, I am champing at the bit to get my hands on one. Pending Ocarina of Time 3D’s inevitable success, we can only live in hope that Nintendo will give their other much-loved but less-celebrated classic Majora’s Mask the second spin it absolutely deserves.
So there you have it! The 3DS really does give you real 3D - depending on the game and on your angle. Nintendo have already (cleverly) issued a warning that children should limit the time they play in 3D, and that everyone should not play in 3D of excess of thirty minutes without a fifteen minute break. Such guidelines are almost universally ignored, but with the 3DS it may be best to follow Nintendo’s advice -how many of us have had post-3D headaches? Health issues aside, Nintendo have done it, and while the 3DS may be the prototype for many incarnations of improved hardware to come (remember the evolution of the DS to DS Lite to DSi to DSi LL?) , it is nonetheless a very significant step in the evolution of gaming.
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