Quick Hits: Nintendo 3DS Hardware Impressions

by: Peter Skeritt -
More On: 3DS
The Nintendo 3DS is out in stores after months of waiting, accompanied by a software library largely comprised of familiar franchises. After spending some time with the hardware, here are some quick impressions to pass along. 
3DS Hardware:
I bought the Aqua Blue unit, and the finish is nice. The first thing that I came to grips with was finding the stylus, as it's no longer located on the side of the unit. It's now located in the rear and isn't really all that convenient to get to. The stylus telescopes, so older players can stretch it out to feel comfortable in-hand. The 3DS is considerably heavy, but slides in and out of my back pocket with ease. When powering up the 3DS for the first time, the 3D effects shown on the top screen really struck me. It's understood that there is a specific angle that the screen must be viewed at in order to really get the 3D effect, but the effect is legitimate. As you shift between menu items, the name of the selected app appears in the foreground while a visual representation of the app rotates in the background and the depth of the 3D effect is evident. The pedometer and StreetPass functions contained within the 3DS are great motivators for keeping the unit with you as much as possible. I accumulated over 1,700 steps while working and earned 10 coins, which I haven't used yet. Setting up my Mii was easy, and I used the Photo option to make Mii creation easy. Setting up my Internet connection was easy as well, and security options go up to WPA2-PSK. Unfortunately, legacy DS game connections don't use the advanced security and some may cause issues with newer routers, so beware.
Battery Life:
While individual users will have varying experiences, three hours of gameplay with 75% brightness and full 3D consumed half of my fully-charged battery. The initial charge out of the box is definitely a weak one, but a full 3 1/2 hour charge has been productive. I did take one break about 90 minutes in, and spent about 30 minutes with each of the five games I bought alongside the 3DS unit. The included charging dock is nice as it's less stress on the AC jack in the back of the 3DS unit due to constant charges. 
3D Visuals:
Playing games in 3D for too long will cause eye strain. That's the warning that Nintendo gives, and it's suggested that anyone who plays a 3DS heeds this warning. While the 3D effects can certainly impressive at times, it's possible that your eyes will get tired and start to lose focus after some time. This can carry over for a time after gameplay as your eyes attempt to adjust after a lengthy gameplay session. The 3D effect does take a toll on frame rates in many situations. Super Street Fighter IV is one example of this as the framerate dips to about 30 frames per second while in 3D mode. There are definitely games and situations where dialing back the depth of the 3D effect will generate better results; I played Ridge Racer 3D at about 50% but had it cranked to full for Samurai Warriors: Chronicles. Each game likely has its own 3D "sweet spot", and it will likely vary from user to user. 
AR Games:
The Augmented Reality (AR) cards are the keys to some impressive tech. By activating the AR Games app and laying one of the six included cards on a desk or tabletop, it's possible to create some unique experiences. The Chance Block card is the key to several different gameplay modes, including Archery and AR Shot. Watching objects and characters form in front of your eyes and seeing the surface of your desk or table deform into lava pits or statues is amazing. Archery challenges players to hit targets, and some of them can only be hit by actually moving around with the 3DS in hand. AR Shot is a mix of mini-golf and pool as players must hit the ball and try to aim it so it rolls into the hole at the end of the course. There are also Fishing and Graffiti modes to play with, as well. In addition to these games, character AR cards allow users to generate 3D characters like Kirby, Mario, and Link. These characters can be photographed in full 3D. It will be interesting to see what other cards that Nintendo or other publishers may try to distribute; these could be the keys to cheaper entertainment like we're seeing on smartphones today, despite Nintendo's39;s stance that they're bad for the industry. We'll see.
Face Raiders:
If you've ever wanted to shoot someone in the face--even yourself-- then this included game is right up your alley. Setting up is simple; users need to take a picture of someone's face. The face is then scanned for gender and age and then fixed to moving (and hostile) craft that users must shoot down. The attacks can come from anywhere, so sitting still won't get the job done as users are forced to swivel around and look up and down to find their attackers. A boss battle awaits at the end of game, complete with a devastating kissing attack (Really!), and high scores are recorded. It's a simple game, but fun. Attacking craft actually rip away parts of the room that you're sitting in and throw the pieces back at you, and it's a neat effect. Face Raiders isn't overly challenging, for for the low price of free, it's an amusing way to spend a couple of minutes. 
There is still a lot for me to see and do with the 3DS, so it's too early to appropriately review the hardware and give it some kind of grade or recommendation. I will say that there are times when I was stunned with what I saw. The first time I saw the 3D effect was remarkable, cutscenes in several games look outstanding in 3D, the sense of flight in Pilotwings Resort and seeing a lifelike pug in nintendogs + cats were memorable, and seeing the similarities between the 3DS version and console versions of Super Street Fighter IV convinced me that the 3DS has considerable power. There's definite potential here, as long as you're willing to pay the price of admission. 
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