Earlier this month Nintendo invited two competition winners to join the games industry in Amsterdam for the announcement of the European 3DS launch date and software. Eurogamer reader Richard Horne was one of them, and as soon as he got back he wrote up his epic impressions of the hardware and software. Read on to see what he made of them.
Last week saw the official unveiling of the Nintendo 3DS at a press conference hosted by the surprisingly knowledgeable Johnathan Ross in Amsterdam. With a confirmed release date of 25th March, it's tantalisingly close. And so, after Eurogamer was good enough to send me, on behalf of you the vociferous community, with a whole day's hands-on behind me, what follows is an honest and objective appraisal of the 3DS's merits and flaws.
It would be remiss of me not to begin by talking about the 3DS's key unique selling point – its 3D capabilities. Going into this event I was quite sceptical. 3D movies and television are yet to convince me that they're anything but a gimmick and a fad, and I expected to go home with my pessimism intact. So you can imagine my surprise when the 3DS – with its glasses-free 3D – turns out to be a magical device. Surely Nintendo has flogged Shigeru Miyamoto's soul to the devil in exchange for this unholy witchcraft.
I'd previously heard people wax on about how the images pop right out of the screen and how objects appear to float in midair like something out of science-fiction, but I'd put such grand claims down to fawning excitement and hyperbole. But you know what? They were right on the money. Seeing Link almost protruding from the screen for the first time in the Ocarina of Time remake is a spellbinding moment. I felt like I can reach out and touch him, or that I can peer over his shoulder; that he's somehow and suddenly a real physical being with tangible weight and presence.
What's even more mesmerising is the 3D slider – a switch that lets you control the level of and even disable 3D. For every game I play I find myself repeatedly turning it off and then on again, hoping it will give up its secrets and let me in on its alchemy. Watching a game come to life as it transitions from traditional flattened 3D to revolutionary authentic 3D bewitches me every time. Resident Evil Mercenaries 3D is a prime example – with the 3D switched off, it just looks like any other dull brown third-person shooter, but with a quick wave of that Nintendo wand, the whole game surges bewilderingly and spectacularly to life. This is a special kind of voodoo.
But then as quickly as the 3D blows my mind, it's equally quick to shatter the illusion, because the 3D works if and only if you find that magical sweet spot. The 3DS has to be held perfectly square on and at the optimal angle. Move just a few degrees to either side, or up and down, and the effect is shattered completely and the visuals become a distorted mess as your vision is blurred and you see two of everything.
Of course, the more you experience the 3DS you more you get a feel for how you should be holding and viewing it, and no doubt after a couple of hours' extended play you'll be able to find the optimal position and intuit the boundaries quickly. And again, I must stress, when it works, it's beyond compare. It's like peering into another world, another dimension.
This leads me nicely onto another issue I have to get my head around. The fact the 3D can so easily be switched off demonstrates two things: firstly, that the extra dimension is applied and controlled by the hardware as opposed to the software. This is an important distinction to make, because games never suffer from having to process the effect, and developers can't use it as an excuse for developing sub-par games while they figure out ways to optimise their code. But secondly, disappointingly, the 3D effect is just that – an effect, and one which, at this juncture, has zero impact on how the games actually play, other than to give you an added appreciation for the depth and perspective of the environments.
It's also apparent early on that, similar to the DS, developers are going to take time figuring out how best to utilise 3DS' unique abilities, which means we're going to be paying for their mistakes while they find their feet and figure out what works and what doesn't.
This is evident in the repeated overuse of 3D.
It appears to work on three planes: the background, the middle distance and the foreground. And the majority of games I play follow a similar trend: the HUD and on-screen display elements are in the foreground, your main character sits in the middle distance and the surrounding environments and backdrops are set in the background. But in-game engines throw too much, often literally, into the foreground, and while I can only speak for my own experiences with the handheld, it's when things unexpectedly hit the foreground and my eyes have to adjust their focus that the illusion is shattered. Having to refocus and rediscover that sweet spot is often to the detriment of whatever I happen to be playing. Namco's Ridge Racer seems particularly guilty of this, as it frequently kicks up dust and confetti in the foreground.