Nintendo 3DS preview

By Bill posted on 2011-01-26, 10:26 AM

This preview comes from  by Ross Miller

Immediately following its big 3DS price and release date unveiling, Nintendo had on hand dozens of new titles playing on what we'd surmise is final hardware (or at least near-final, given its February 27th Japanese launch). Our first hands-on experience was just over six months ago during E3, at which point we were very impressed with what we saw. Did this playthrough garner the same excitement? Have our decidedly older but not much wiser selves become jaded by the novelty of it all? Venture on after the break to find out.

Hardware: the more things change...

The build quality of the 3DS units today were much more put-together than our last experience and definitely feel like a mass production unit. The Start / Select / Home buttons have just the right amount of clickiness, and the new analog nub was sturdy and comfortable against our thumb. The exterior is shiny but does look like it could take a beating (note: we didn't test this). We welcome the metallic stylus over the previous plastic ones, but after years of using smartphones with capacitive touchscreens to pinch-and-zoom our way around a virtual space, it's also a painful reminder of technology's past. Overall, it's the DS form factor (no surprise) that we've come to know since 2006's Lite model, for better and for worse. Familiar, yes, but perhaps just a bit too thick for our pockets.

As for the screen, in 2D mode the colors stand out and it's pretty crisp, but even a slight nudge on the 3D depth slider makes for a whole different experience. The viewing angle, which we actually commend during its two-dimensional presentation, drops to single-degree acceptability when the parallax display is put to use -- moving even just a little would cause the screen the flicker and the 3D effect to be lost or too muddled to enjoy. Expect to keep your arms locked in place while playing, and we'd advise against anyone trying to look over your shoulder to follow along. What's more, there's no instruction or guidance on how to adjust the depth slider for your eyes, and each game requires a seemingly different setting, so you end up fiddling with it a lot -- to what can be quite painful results. Our own Nilay Patel has had a headache since this morning's playing session, as has columnist-at-large Michael Gartenberg. We'd suggest Nintendo require each game to pop up a calibration screen with some saved settings that disable the slider -- otherwise we can see a lot of players just disabling 3D entirely.


Listening to Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime's talking points today, we couldn't help but think we were caught smack dab in between its two target demographics: schoolchildren and nostalgic parents. In some ways that feels analogous to 3DS as a device. It, too, is caught between two sides of the technological spectrum. On one end, the device is burdened by a resistive screen and its dependency on a stylus -- hard to stomach in a world where it's just as easy to take a smartphone from our pockets and thumb a few rounds of whathaveyou while sitting on a train or in the back of a car. On the other end, its parallax 3D display is pushing boundaries not yet optimized for consumer use, with a trick that's only effective under very strict conditions.

Make no mistake, the 3DS is a strong evolutionary step in the right direction and its catalog of titles already looking strong from the get-go -- taken as a 2D device, it's hands-down a very compelling piece. Is Nintendo pushing the 3D thing too hard? We can't wait to get some quality time on a review unit and really find out.



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