Nintendo’s long-awaited 3DS makes its worldwide debut in Japan on Saturday, but we’ve managed to get our hands on one in Hong Kong a couple of days early. As the successor to the incredibly popular Nintendo DS it has a lot to live up to, but I’m willing to bet you just want to know one thing about it: Does it work? Does it really deliver 3D without glasses?
The short answer: Yes.
The long answer: Yes, but it can be frustrating.
Only the top screen on the 3DS is in 3D, and you need to position it in just the right spot for it to work. And when it works - it’s an astonishing sight. Suddenly the screen has depth. It looks like you’re peeking into a room beyond the screen. When it works, the 3D effect is remarkable.
Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to shatter the illusion.
Moving the 3DS out of the sweet spot turns the screen into a blurry mesh of two separate images laid on top of each other. That sweet spot is small enough that playing in a moving vehicle isn’t advised unless you turn 3D off entirely.
The 3DS has a slider that allows you to adjust the depth of the 3D image, and you’ll find yourself fiddling with it often because each game seems to work with a different setting. What looks great for one game is a dizzying mess for another. Even something as minor as dust on the screen can pull you out of the 3D effect pretty quickly.
It’s not for everyone though. One of my writers couldn’t take it; she recoiled in horror after looking at the screen and said it made her dizzy and nauseous.
Still, when it works, it’s amazing how much the effect brings to the table. The first round of Japanese 3DS games don’t really use 3D for anything too deep (no pun intended); seeing the track stretch away in front of you in Ridge Racer 3D is great, but hardly integral to the experience. Switch 3D off, and the limits of the hardware are revealed: It is an ugly game, but you’re too busy marvelling at the depth of the screen to notice.
Considering the 3DS costs less than Fujifilm’s dedicated 3D camera, that it includes a 3D camera of its own is a surprise. It’s not great; it can easily get confused if an object is too close or too far away, but as an added extra it’s nice to have.
What’s disappointing about the hardware is the legacy ties to the DS platform. The bottom touchscreen uses the same resistive technology as the original DS. Since then the iPhone has revolutionised the way we interact with a touchscreen, and using a stylus on the 3DS screen feels like using a PDA from the 1990s all over again. And that screen runs at a paltry resolution of 320×240, far less than most smartphones today.
But the touchscreen isn’t the point of the 3DS. You’re supposed to look at the 3D screen on top, not the little one at the bottom. I spent a lot of time watching people play with a 3DS for the first time today, and this stood out as a common reaction:
- Indifference/Skepticism: “What’s so cool about this thing? Let’s see it. Bet it doesn’t work.”
- Irritation: “I can’t see it. I have to adjust it until I get to the right spot? I guess I can do that, but I bet I don’t see...”
- Wonder: “Whoa. It’s really in 3D!”
In that simple sense, the Nintendo 3DS delivers. Now we wait for developers to take advantage of the 3D effect for more than just an added gimmick.