The Nintendo 3DS was just released in Japan, and after a bit of searching, I managed to find an unpopulated kiosk to thoroughly test the device.
Simply put, the 3D parallax screen works well. Using the 3D adjustment slider, the image pops from 2D to 3D in a single step. Then, as you push the slider ever higher, the depth of the picture seemingly deepens.
The depth effect is very similar to what you see when watching 3D content on TV, but of course without having to wear annoying glasses. On the downside, the viewing range to maintain this illusion is extremely narrow — you probably couldn’t use the 3D mode while traveling in a car or balancing the device in your hands for long periods of time. On the plus side, the 3D effect doesn’t appear to degrade image quality or cause any screen flickering. Screen brightness also remains decent.
Racing games are quite suitable for the 3D effect, allowing roads to seemingly stretch far past the back of the screen. In Ridge Racer 3D, the depth level can be pushed quite far. However, doing this had an immediate effect on the well being of my eyes.
After a short duration of gaming, Ridge Racer 3D stressed my eyes to a point where I simply felt it unwise to continue playing with the 3D depth jacked all the way up. Despite my concerns, the deepness of the 3D was quite impressive to experience.
Comparatively, Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition offers less depth and fewer reasons to use 3D in the first place. In this game, fighters compete on a 2D plane, but are separated from the background (and some distracting foreground objects) with the 3D effect enabled.
With Street Fighter, playing in 3D does make for a more interesting visual experience, but adds little to the gameplay. I imagine hardcore Street Fighter fans will probably play in 2D mode and concentrate more on winning than on pretty visuals. A real 3D fighting game, like Sega’s Virtua Fighter, might have more use for a 3D-capable display. Sega, are you listening?
Having felt eye stress after using the device for a short period of time, I am a bit concerned that the 3D mode will go largely unused by 3DS owners after its novelty has worn off. Nintendo has seemingly recognized this challenge by allowing users to adjust 3D depth independent of whatever software is running.
After a little experimentation, I found the lowest 3D depth setting most comfortable to my eyes. This is where I believe most people will leave the slider adjustment when they want to game in three dimensions, but I also imagine that a fair chunk of gamers will not use 3D at all because their eyes are too sensitive or weak to use the 3D mode comfortably.
The three launch titles I tried (the other being a Japanese-only game that isn’t worth mentioning) made it quite apparent that the graphics delivered by the Nintendo 3DS are seriously lacking in detail. Ridge Racer 3D looked especially dated and reminded me of Ridge Racer on the PSP back in 2004. We all know that Nintendo offers unique features to offset its often-dated graphics hardware, but can a potentially unpopular parallax screen be enough to sway gamers away from Sony’s next handheld beast? I have my doubts.
It seems that the star feature of the Nintendo 3DS – its parallax 3D screen – is a huge gamble on the success of the device. Is it merely a simple gimmick with little impact on gameplay, or will it usher in a new era of portable gaming greatness, such as the original DS before it?
In my opinion, so long as a significant portion of people struggle with the eyestrain associated with its 3D parallax screen, I don’t see the Nintendo 3DS succeeding by its inclusion of this hardware spec alone. If the device is a success, it will sell because of its brand name and first party titles – the old Nintendo recipe.
But whether you’re happy with the parallax screen, or not, the dated graphics can’t be ignored. True, the original DS and Wii got away with this very sin, but they each offered unique features that their competitors couldn’t match. The 3DS uses its parallax screen to play this hand once more, but as I’ve already mentioned, it’s a controversial feature at best.
On the plus side, the Nintendo 3DS packs a lot of cool features like a 3D camera system and advanced wireless connectivity. When you compare it with other mobile gadgets, I don’t think Nintendo is charging a premium for the package they’re selling. Despite this, it still costs almost as much as a home console, with games costing more than they should. Many younger gamers will not be able to afford (or convince their parents to buy) this device at its debut price, and older gamers are certainly aware of what Sony has promised for the future.
With my short but memorable time with the Nintendo 3DS, I’ve come to the conclusion that its 3D screen is more of a gimmick than anything revolutionary. With its weak graphics and tame hardware specs, It’ll take heavy marketing and truly amazing games to compete with the onslaught of multicore mobile gaming devices that are set to be released later this year — smartphones, iOS devices and, most of all, the PSP2).
So, good luck Nintendo. You’ve had an amazing run with the handheld market for all these years, but I think you’ve finally tripped up on this one.