Delayed Reactions: Nintendo 3DS
Back when the PSP and the DS were both new I chose to buy the PSP. I preferred the PS2 style games being released for it, but the console’s size discouraged me from carrying it around with me on a regular basis, so I didn’t use it as much as I would have liked to. Not everyone was discouraged by its bulk, but it wasn’t until the PSPgo came out that I really started using the console more regularly, strictly because I could pocket it easily. I found I had certain unwritten requirements for a portable console that needed to be met before I would actually use it in my daily routine.
Now that it’s 2011, there is a new battle between portable consoles on the horizon, Sony’s NGP and Nintendo’s 3DS. The NGP’s size and price point make me nervous that I would buy it and never use it. I still might buy it when it comes out, but for now I decided the best route would be to try out the 3DS. Firstly I wanted to see the effect of the 3D on creativity in game design (and on my eyes) and secondly I wanted back track and play some of the old DS games I never got a chance to play. What I didn’t realize is that I would end up carrying it everywhere I go. I’ve altered some of my habits to include carrying it. Rather than the 3DS naturally fitting into my “unwritten requirements”, it actually encouraged me to adjust my habits in fun and interesting ways. I play the 3DS now more than my PSP not because I prefer the games but because I have (albeit trivial) purpose in having it with me.
Before I get into the 3DS features I’ll answer the biggest question about the console first; yes, the 3D works, and really well. It’s still a perspective based optical illusion, so there are restrictions in viewing, but I find that holding the console about 13 inches from my face provides the ideal perspective while allowing for comfortable playing. Everyone is different though, so check it out for yourself at a local kiosk to see if the illusion gives you a headache (I have no issues with this, even over long periods of use, but there are some that do). I generally find it to be less restrictive than viewing a 3D TV. I’ve found with 3D TVs slight movement of the head would degrade the illusion faster than the 3DS’s. The 3D does exactly what I say good 3D should do; you stop noticing anything is different until you turn the 3D off. While playing in 3D, I get the depth perception information that is useful for certain (but not all) games without it feeling like an unnatural display. It can suffer from ghosting (seeing the right eye image in the left eye and vice versa), but not as bad as with the 3D TVs or movie theatres.
The console itself, before any games are plugged in, has some features that let you to interact with it in interesting ways. The first thing it does is encourage the user to bring it out into the world with them because of its pedometer. For every 100 steps the player takes they earn Play Coins that they can use in various games, both from Nintendo and from third party developers. In bringing it with me I’m increasing the number of coins I have saved up which will allow me to unlock content and features for games I buy in the future faster. From there, it only gets more interesting. Here’s a synopsis for each preloaded game (the console can also take pictures, play videos and music as well. I’m only going to focus on the games for this review):
When you setup the console, you have the option to create a Mii that can travel between your console and someone else’s. If your console is in sleep mode (which is activated when the console is closed) and you pass someone also in sleep mode, your Miis will visit each other’s console in a “Street Pass”. The Miis then become participants in two different games on each other’s consoles, Puzzle Swap and Find Mii. In theory, both games can be played without this Street Pass feature, but they become much more difficult.
In Puzzle Swap, each 3DS comes with an image the player has to complete by acquiring tiles, 15 per image. Different consoles start with different images to complete (it’s unclear what criteria dictates which image you get). When you Street Pass someone you are presented with the ability to copy one of their tiles, bringing yourself one step closer to completing the image. If you copy a tile from an image you didn’t already have, you unlock the ability to acquire tiles for that new image. When you complete the image, you get a 3D diorama of the scene (which ranges from Super Mario Bros, Metroid, Zelda, etc). The only other way to get tiles is to buy one with the pedometer’s Play Coins. It’s far more difficult to complete a board by buying tiles because the player has no control on what tile is bought. You may end up buying tiles you already have. Street Pass is the only way a player can actively choose which tile to unlock. It also takes 2 Play Coins (200 steps) to unlock 1 tile and the player can only collect 10 Play Coins per day.
In Find Mii, your Mii has been captured and you must hire adventurers to free him. This is done by buying adventurers for 2 Play Coins each or by using the Miis you’ve collected through Street Pass. The Miis can get far more powerful than the purchased adventurers because the Miis can level up. I’ve only seen the purchased adventurers up to level 2 whereas I have Street Pass friends that are level 8. The Miis gain levels depending on how often you cross paths with them, so the people you see more often are more powerful within the game.
The game is played with an RPG style menu system. You’re given the option to use an attack, magic or switch between characters. The spell they cast depends solely on the color of the player’s shirt and they range from attack damage to status damage. There are some rooms that are too dark to fight in, so someone with a white shirt must cast a light spell to reveal the enemies. Each character is permitted one move (with bonuses and critical hits granted depending on status effects) before they run away. Some enemies can only be damaged by certain colors of character, so it’s useful to have a larger number of people to select from. The player unlocks hats through playing this game that will be visible to other 3DS users during Street Pass.
Overall these two games are fun for the sake of conversation between 3DS owners, but the games aren’t meant to be stand alone games. It’s fun to be able to tell your friends about how they single-handedly killed an evil ghost, or complain about how they don’t have any useful puzzle pieces. Jerks.
Face Raiders actually promotes passing the game around to other people, showing off the game. The game starts with the player taking a picture of someone’s face. That face is then placed inside floating helmets which make up the enemies and final boss in the game. The game is played in augmented reality, meaning that the player is looking through the 3D cameras on the back of the 3DS into the environment physically around them. The game then places the enemies and HUD within that space making it feel like the foes are actually in the room with you. As the console (like a camcorder) is moved around the player reveals the location of the enemies and can shoot them with pellets.
Every single time the player wants to play the game, it prompts them to take a picture, so ideally you’re not taking pictures of your own face all the time and rather going around to snap pictures of other people. The more faces you collect, the more faces you can interact with in the game. On top of that there’s an abbreviated version of each level designed to be handed off to friends. When choosing the “Show a Friend” mode, the console will prompt the player to setup a level, then hand it to a friend. They snap a picture (presumedly of their own face) and play as normal. Once the level is finished, it prompts the friend to pass the console back to the owner. The more you share the game, the more faces you’ll end up with.
Face Raiders is really fun to play too. It’s simple and short, but there’s variety even within the simple idea. The first level starts with a simple gallery shooter and later levels bring in some additional goals and gameplay, like matching and puzzle elements.
The console’s most interesting feature is definitely the augmented reality cards. The game starts by placing a card with a question mark block on the table. The player points the 3D camera at the card and a user interface climbs out of it. The player has the option to play archery, AR shot (which is a small golfing/billiards game) and fishing. There are also some doodle and snapshot applications, but I’ll just discuss the games. You don’t start out with access to everything, some you have to buy with the Play Coins and some are unlocked by completing the games.
The tech really works well and the games are a lot of fun, though very short. There’s really only two level sets to each game and once you’ve played both through to their end bosses, then you’ll have to replay. Still though, it’s a lot of fun.
For archery, the player has to physically move around the card to find all the targets. With the 3D camera and the 3D screen, the game can create a number of effects ranging from digging a hole into the table where it can hide targets, or raise platforms out of the table you’ll have to look underneath. It’s quite amusing exploring the augmented table in front of you.
AR shot asks you to roll a ball through an obstacle course and attempt to land it in a hole on the other side. It morphs the table to create the contour of the course, and sometimes you can’t be sure of where you’re going until you’ve looked at the course from all sides.
Fishing is fishing. I think you get the idea.
Other cards are included with the console, but their sole purpose is to be virtual models on the table so you can take snapshots of them. I wish there was more to do with the cards because I could see myself playing with these a lot, but it certainly shows the potential for some really amusing applications of the system.
As I said earlier, I used to think I had unwritten requirements for my portable consoles, but what I really needed was greater incentive to carry the console other than just its games. I used to only carry around the PSP if I was certain I’d have the down time to play something, and the PSPgo only slightly more than that (I already had my phone, my wallet, and my keys. Carrying the PSP just became a bit much). Because of this, when I did have time unexpected spare time I would end up playing games on my crappy phone more often than on my PSP. The 3DS with all its applications encourages me to go outside with it, to show it off and to find other people who have the console. Most importantly, the applications’ uniqueness makes me want to go out and share people with people. Carrying the console when I don’t necessarily intend to play it also serves a purpose now, it earns me points that will be relevant to the games I get in the future. I carry the 3DS in a belt holster along with my phone, keys and wallet, and I’m ok with that. The disappointment that bogs down all that’s great with the console for me is that I wasn’t really excited about playing any of the launch titles.
I have Super Monkey Ball 3D (courtesy of Sega), Rayman 3D and Pilotwings. Each of these are fun games, I enjoy them, but nothing in the 3DS launch line up really stood out as console defining “must haves”. People really enjoy Street Fighter, but it doesn’t actually use the 3DS for any greater purpose (also, I’m not big into Street Fighter). All the games I own have some depth or motion related gameplay, so they gain something from being on the 3DS. In order to adopt a new console though, I usually need a better reason than what this launch line up gave me. So why buy the console?
I haven’t owned a DS before the 3DS. There have been plenty of games I’ve wanted to play, like Professor Layton, Scribblenauts, Legend of Zelda and others, but never enough to warrant the purchase of a DS. It’s odd, but my reason for early adoption was so I could go back and play the old games while I waited for the new games without having to buy the any of the earlier DS consoles. The 3DS can do graphics that are close to console quality, and I know the 3DS will deliver the full spectrum of what I want to play with new and innovative possibilities (I’d be more excited about Metal Gear or Resident Evil if they weren’t versions of things I’ve played already).
If you already own a DS, maybe the value of the 3DS isn’t quite there yet. All I can say is that the console has a lot of potential. It’s a fascinating device that I’m certain will go on to have some amazing games. Like any new console purchase though, you need to do your research. If there’s something you really want to play, get the console. If there isn’t, you should wait until there is. Personally, I can’t wait to see what comes out in the next year or two. There has been a very limited number of games announced so far, but already I know I’ll be picking up the Bit.Trip Saga (and maybe Resident Evil). The game I’m most excited for is definitely on its way, I just don’t know what or when yet. Even so, with what the console can do, I am really excited to see what it will be.