Game of the Week: Nintendo 3DS
New hardware! New hardware!
As much as we at Eurogamer firmly believe that it's all about the games, man – as much as we like to nod in sober agreement with the business brains that the games industry's manic technology development cycle needs to calm down, allow us all to catch a breath and get our bank accounts (corporate or private) into the black – well, there's nothing more exciting than a new games machine.
Yes, iPad 2 is here! Seriously, millions will buy and play games on this device, but it's also fair to say that it's not a pure games machine (although what is, these days?). It's just as fair to say that it doesn't really change the games landscape; with the huge numbers of the first-generation tablet out in the wild, developers will probably be slow to use iPad 2's extra processing power and features.
However, if you are picking yours up as I type, you could do worse than christen it with the dreamy (slightly too dreamy) hipster adventure, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. "The game is filled with scenes that ought to be framed and hung on the wall," wrote John Teti in our review (a must-read for the captions alone). But "the saccharine prose, the frequent swells in the music, the infinite cheerful orbs of glowing light – all of it gets poured on thick, as if every tiny detail of this game absolutely must fill your belly with sparkles of childlike wonder, or else something bad will happen, like some baby animals will die, probably."
It is ever so pretty, though.
So, in a very different way, is this week's big, bad, blockbusting shooter, Crysis 2. Digital Foundry found that the consoles coped well enough with the latest graphical bar-raiser and enveloper-pusher from those technocrats at Crytek, but they couldn't help showing their age in places. Look out for Rich's appraisal of the PC version tomorrow; NVIDIA shareholders must be on tenterhooks.
Reviewer Simon, though, had stars in his eyes (doesn't he always). "It is a world whose intricacy and realism will cause you to stop and stare long after the first drop of the jaw," he said. Perhaps more to the point: "Crysis 2 is a hell of a video game about shooting stuff."
But the really big gasps this week are achieved by far less potent silicon.
Is it cheating to name a games console Game of the Week? In most cases it would be; Microsoft, Sony and in particular Apple present their systems as sleek, frictionless conduits for content. That's not and has never been Nintendo's way, though.
3DS is a toy, a game in itself. Across Europe this weekend, people will be spinning round in office chairs, craning necks, circling desks, cruising shopping malls and photographing unmentionables while giggling with sheer giddy wonder, as 3DS, with its extraordinary screen and family pack of bizarre features, turns the world around them into a playground.
Despite much disinterested shrugging about the launch games, I could have picked several as this week's best: the lovely Pilotwings Resort, thrilling Ridge Racer 3D or Super Street Fighter IV 3D, a mighty achievement, even if it is just Street Fighter IV again.
But none of these games is as exciting, funny or just plain new as the software you get preloaded on to the machine itself. The amazing Augmented Reality feature is more tech demo than game – until you decide to use it to create a Mii the size of a giant robot (see video above).
StreetPass Mii Plaza, meanwhile, captures the Miis of other 3DS owners you happen to pass and recasts them as dungeoneers in StreetPass Quest: collect as many friends and strangers as you can to advance to the end of the story and free yourself. It's a stunningly basic turn-based RPG, but the metagame is in plotting your routes and your social life to maximise your advancement.
And then there's the accomplished Face Raiders, which belies its "shoot your friends in the face" novelty with mischievous attack patterns and crafty mechanics.
It was Face Raiders which made me realise what Nintendo had achieved with 3DS. While waiting for an interview slot at this month's Game Developers Conference, I showed my then-exclusive 3DS to a room full of game designers, artists, journalists and bored PR girls – not an easy audience to impress. I chose Face Raiders to demonstrate it and every one of them was enthralled; only politeness kept them from fighting over it like kids.
"In the serious world of productivity and multimedia and cutting-edge entertainment technology, gimmickry is a dirty world," I'd written in my hardware review a few days earlier. "For a toymaker – and that's what Nintendo still is – it's the difference between yesterday's plastic tat and tomorrow's must-have sensation.
"With its 3D screen – and cameras, and StreetPass, and AR capabilities, and all the rest – 3DS is an almost irresistible toy."