The newest console on the market with a launch this March, Nintendo's 3DS continues the dual-screen and touch interface of its predecessor the DS, but adds optional 3D functionality on the top screen. With big name original titles finally being released for the format, the handheld is finally finding its legs.
The biggest distinction to make, and something Nintendo's own marketing has been keen to stress, is that this is not an upgraded DS system. The brand association and design may be similar, but the 3DS is an entirely new machine with much more horsepower under the hood (yet its just slightly bigger than the DS Lite). Though backwards compatability means you can play DS games on the 3DS.
The 3D aspect is one of the big selling points of the console and makes it distinct from any other console on the market. While PS3 may offer 3D, it's only under the condition of having already purchased a 3D-Ready TV and 3D glasses. 3DS offers shades-free 3D for under £150.
It's an impressive design inclusion, a moveable slider on the right of the top screen letting you adjust the subtlety of the 3D effect until its comfortable for your eyes, and many games take advantage of the extra dimension for both set-piece and gameplay uses.
The 3DS also expunges the D-Pad's prominence in favour of an analog nub, which is responsive and finely curved to rest your thumb on come long gameplay sessions.
The system benefits from Nintendo's continued slow transition into the online arena. In-built Wi-fi and a simple set up option lets you quickly and easily connect your 3DS online and access the likes of console exclusive content, such as Nintendo's eShop Store, StreetPass and SpotPass (letting you trade data with other players) as well as playing other gamers with online-enabled games.
A front-end Home screen upon turning the unit on accesses the various Software (Nintendo's version of Apps) at the touch of the screen (using thumb or the Stylus, stylishly housed in the machine's rear). The eShop that lets you purchase retro NES and Game Boy titles is the most prominent addition, but there's the option to watch 3D videos, record audio files, type up game notes and a camera for taking snaps and recording video.
One of the nicer aspects of the machine is the aforementioned StreetPass. By keeping the unit closed but not powered down on your travels, it'll trade data - such as time attack scores - with other 3DS consoles that come within its receiver radius. The exchange will also drop that person's Mii avatar into Mii Plaza, a meta-game that lets you use your new-found digital pals to unlock puzzles and fight their way through enemies in a light-RPG called StreetPass Quest.
The unit comes with an optional dock in which to rest the console when recharging, as well as an AC Adaptor to plug into the wall, letting you recharge the unit or play from the mains.
The Nintendo brand means quality first-party games exclusive to the machine, and the recent release of Super Mario 3D Land, and tomorrow's Mario Kart 7, are paving the way for titles created especially for the console that make use of both it's 3D and online options.
The other additions - such as the gyro-sensor - give developers the ability to use the machine as a camera in itself, as seen with the first-person views in Ocarina of Time 3D, Mario Kart 7, and the Augmented Reality Games that come as standard on the console's Home Screen, requiring you to move the handheld around to avoid attacks and line up shots against floating invaders.
The Wi-fi and online options make the console a fantastic all-in-one machine. With everything build into the machine there's no need for extra purchases, unless you count setting up a wi-fi hub at home. You can surf the internet with the web browser, check Friends List, purchase and download classic titles. And while other consoles' online aspects can open you up to a worldwide queue of abuse, Nintendo's tightly controlled implementation of Friends Lists, data swaps and StreetPass forcibly ensures you're only getting the better elements of online trading and playing.
A £250 RRP at launch was swiftly slashed months later, so currently the 3DS is at the best price you'll be able to get it at for some time; while price drops are an accepted norm during a console lifespan, there's likely not to be another for some time.
If Nintendo's previous handhelds' lifespans are anything to go by, then the 3DS has a long road ahead of it. Questions of third-party support aside, you only have to look at both DS (seven years running now) and Game Boy's various iterations to know that unless the company goes bankrupt, there'll be support for one of Nintendo's newest founding pillars for some time to come.
Its a handheld. A first-generation handheld with new tech. That means battery life is temperamental. With the 3D slider turned up fully, and Wi-fi on, you can expect to get only around three to four hours play time before the unit needs recharged. Turning either element off increases the time somewhat, but you're missing out on some of the machine's key features.
That factors somewhat into the rub of future redesigns. Even more than Apple, Nintendo has deftly produced multiple redesigns of Game Boy and DS through both formats' life cycles, and there's little doubt 3DS will fall under the same tinkering. Expect newer iterations to weigh less, be sleeker, and have better battery life. Then there's the extra analog nub.
Introduced a few months ago was the seperately-sold analog nub add-on, a rectangular frame in which the 3DS would sit, with the right side of the frame incorporating an extra analog nub to mimic home console controllers, as well as the upcoming PS Vita. It'll offer developers the option to map the likes of camera control to the second nub, rather than being stuck with stylus/touch-screen combos.
Future games, such as Resident Evil: Revelations will offer the optional control method, with retail boxes indicating compatible software with an icon. Not only will the case make the 3DS more bulky to manage, but its widely thought that the next redesign of the console will incorporate the dual stick control as standard.
While handheld predecessors allowed you to purchase and play games worldwide for your machine, the 3DS incorporates a regional lock out system, disabling all but resident country games to run on it.
There's been a distinct lack of titles since the hardware's launch past the initial line up, an issue that's only now started to be addressed with a healthier winter release schedule.
Yet the biggest releases over the past few months have been remakes of N64 titles, while third-party support has been weak at best, likely due to the short amount of development time between the unit's reveal (E3 2010) and launch (March this year). Strong exclusives will be some time coming, as everyone but Nintendo bring out the best of the hardware in the system's early days; a problem that's dogged the Wii as well.
With the console only entering its ninth month, the game catalogue is a small bag of solid titles intermixed with great ones. If this guide had been written even a fortnight ago, the empty release schedule in the time since launch would have paid its toll.
As it is, releases in the last fortnight make up the majority of the essential titles. As you'd expect from a Nintendo console, the company's iconic plumber takes starring role with both Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 delivering the goods. Interestingly expectation was that both titles would be good-not-great renditions of their home console cousins: yet both have proven to be some of the best entries in Nintendo's long-running series.
For longevity you're looking at The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, a remastered port of the N64 original released to (yet more) critical acclaim. For faster-paced arcade flair you can't go wrong with Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition, letting you combat challengers online, or Star Fox 64 3D, another N64 port with intense space battle dog-fights and a Star Wars-style plot. Missing this guide but out in a couple of weeks is F1 2011, the 3DS version of the recent racing sim that scored highly in both critical acclaim and sales charts.
Buying a 3DS: The Deals
Another thing Nintendo likes doing is releasing multiple colours of its consoles.
There's also a Limited Edition Zelda version, with black and gold trim that comes bundled with Ocarina of Time 3D.
However, like all of GAME Nintendo bundles recently, it bizarrely will cost you more than you if bought console and game separately.
While we understand the extra five quid for this version (its a limited edition tying in with the Zelda 25th Anniversary after all), there's no reason for this Red 3DS and Mario 3D Land bundle being five pounds more than a separate purchase.
If you do want to go the bundle route, Mario Kart's imminent release can get you a Red 3DS and copy of the game from GAME for ten quid less at £159.99, at least giving you some vague sense of saving.
Since its impressive build-up pre-launch, 3DS has adopted a slow-burn potential as an essential games console due to the lack of killer app titles in the months since release.
Its fortunes may change in regards to third-party heavy hitters making their way to the handheld in future, but for now, much like the Wii, it is its creator that has shown how best to utilise the hardware and its capabilities: first-party titles like Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 are experiences you'll get nowhere else, and prove that the 3D is not just a gimmick, but a gameplay enhancer.
With this second wave of titles finally hitting, It feels like the unit's fortunes are changing for the better. Be you looking for a proper handheld gaming experience to either compliment your existing home consoles or you're a time-sensitive gamer who can only play in short spurts, or you're trying to introduce a younger family member into the joys of gaming, then the 3DS offers a gaming lifestyle completely unique and full of that Nintendo charm that's now something worth investing in.