You can forgive Nintendo for leaving 3D alone for more than a decade after the brain- and eye-breaking abomination that was the Virtual Boy. This time, they really have got it right. The 3DS needs to be played to be believed, and a post-E3 showcase this afternoon gave us the chance to have some hands-on time with the handheld's first playable demos.
Nintendogs and Cats
The addition of cats to Nintendo's wildly successful virtual pet simulator theoretically redeems it from being nothing more than a re-release, but sadly we're not allowed to play with kitties yet - only a beagle, a golden Lab and a terrier, gambolling around in a typically sparse Nintendo virtual living room.
I wonder, fleetingly, what on earth happened to my old Nintendog, Steven the black Labrador, in the several years since I last switched on his cartridge. Does he still sit in that virtual living room, flea-ridden, awaiting my return, or has he finally given up on me and run away? Thankfully the 3D effect in this update is breathtaking enough to distract my conscience.
The Nintendogs themselves always were profoundly adorable, but 3D multiplies the cute factor. Using a flat touch-screen to pet a 3D virtual animal feels strange at first, but you soon get used to it, and seeing a ball apparently disappear into the distance when you chuck it into the screen can't help but amaze. The doggies scamper in and out of the screen without screwing with your depth perception at all. When they're stood up on their hind legs with their paws up against the screen, the instinctive temptation is to reach out and try to touch their paws.
The 3D effect isn't the only addition. The camera allows for facial recognition, meaning that your puppy now recognises when you're holding the 3DS up to your face and leaps up for some enthusiastic licking. This didn't exactly delight me - I'm a cat person - but it reduced two grown men standing behind me to girlish giggling. It will be interesting to see how far the facial recognition goes: will Nintencats and dogs recognise their owners, or be able to tell the difference between new playmates and old ones?
At first it's difficult to decide which fact is most incredible: the eventual appearance of a brand-new Pilotwings years after most fans had given up the ghost, or the fact that it's magically in 3D in your hands. It feels made for this technology. A flying game is in many ways the ideal showcase for the 3DS - hillsides and buildings come gradually towards you and banking narrowly around corners feels absolutely instinctive when canyon walls come rearing out of the screen. The demo consists of two levels - a ring challenge in a biplane, and a jetpack challenge where the goal is to burst as many floating balloons as possible with your fast-zooming little form.