Restless innovator Nintendo launched a dynamic new 3D handheld last night, but in a world going smartphone, tablet & app crazy will its latest dedicated gaming console succeed?
When Nintendo launched its first DS console in Australia almost exactly six years ago, it was an exciting, breakthrough moment for handheld gaming and portable devices generally. In a pre-iPhone and pre-Android world, the cutting-edge DS featured a host of innovations: two displays, a touchscreen, a microphone, Wi-Fi and dual cartridge slots. For a handheld gaming unit, this was fun, fresh technology, and together with the breakaway success of the motion-enabled Wii console in 2006, Nintendo pretty much owned
wacky innovation in the console gaming market for a few years there. And sales figures showed buyers liked the company's approach, with Nintendo's two platforms consistently outselling Microsoft and Sony's competing (and in many ways technically superior) devices.
Fast-forward six years though, and it's a pretty different scene. Sales of touch-enabled smartphones (and the iPod touch) are booming, and the availability of cheap, casual gaming (a la Angry Birds) due to the prevalence of multiple smartphone app stores means that Nintendo doesn't command the same authority or audience it once did. Further, the successors to the first DS model - the DS Lite, the DSi and the DSi XL - all brought new features in increasingly refined handsets, but no innovations that truly took the breath away like that first, chunky silver DS.
But all that could be set to change with Nintendo last night launching in Sydney its shiny new 3DS console. Yes, it's another DS revision, but this time it's a 3D-enabled version
, and the 3D doesn't require any glasses. Only the top widescreen display of the unit is 3D-enabled; the bottom screen doesn't have 3D but is touch-enabled as per earlier DS models. The top-right side of the unit features a "depth slider", which you can use to adjust the intensity of the 3D effect (at its lowest setting this negates the 3D and displays content in 2D). The depth effect is achieved with a parallax barrier
, which enables glasses-free 3D but limits the viewable angle significantly; look over the player's shoulder and you won't be able to accurately see the illusion.
At the launch we sampled a number of games and demos running in 3D and were impressed by the quality of the effect. Mario Kart's sense of speed and movement has never felt more real; Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D adds an extra layer of immersion to what was already an epic experience; while the sensation in LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars was more muted, due to the less intense top-down angle of the 3D gameplay. In short, the nature of the game itself will help determine how in-your-face the 3D is. One question which remains to be resolved will be the issue of eye fatigue: exactly how taxing will long 3D gameplay sessions be? In any case, users will have the option of turning the 3D off and resorting to conventional 2D gameplay.
Yuji Bando, Managing Director of Nintendo Australia, launches the world's first 3D gaming handheld in Sydney.
Other features of the 3DS include a (long-overdue) analog control pad for finer control in games, an embedded motion sensor, inner and outer-facing cameras, 3D photo-taking capability, built-in augmented reality games and capabilities, net connectivity to download games, and StreetPass, which exchanges data with other nearby 3DS units.
One interesting function hinted at by Greg Arthurton, Nintendo Australia's Head of Marketing, is that the 3DS will feature the ability to play movies. No details were forthcoming, and Nintendo devices are famously gaming-only (the Wii doesn't even natively playback DVDs), but we were assured at the launch that movie playback was "coming in the future".
Aside from the 3D capabilities of the 3DS, a high point of the launch was glimpsing the strong lineup of games slated for the device, especially seeing as significant DS releases have slowed to a crawl in recent times. Upcoming titles include: Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D Edition, The Sims 3, PES 2011 3D, Ridge Racer 3D, Super Monkey Ball 3D and many more, including new releases (and re-releases) across core Nintendo franchises such as Paper Mario, Mario Kart, Zelda, Animal Crossing and Star Fox.
One potential sticking point may be the cost. The 3DS launches March 31 and will retail for $349.95. That's $100 more than the US asking price (which isn't exactly a welcome excess in shoppers' minds in these times of parity) and not especially cheap for another DS revision, but then again: it's a world-first, movie playback is on the way, and there's not exactly any handheld 3D gaming alternatives on the market.