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Nintendo 3DS - Hardware Review

Special Feature
24th May 2011; By KnucklesSonic8

Hard to believe that in just a few days, we'll reach the two-month mark for Nintendo's newest handheld. Remember the grueling wait? How about those spurts of 3DS-related news that kept flowing in? Well all that has come and gone, and now the complaints have switched subjects from "When will it get here?" to "Where are the good games?" But I've been using my 3DS on and off since launch day, and now I feel I've played it enough to justify the write-up you see before you. If you're still on the fence after so many weeks, hopefully this review will be helpful in your decision-making process.

    Taking the system out into the open world for the first time, it's hard not to admire the nice reflective finish the handheld carries. With the Aqua Blue unit in particular, you're treated to a nice slight gradient that actually looks better in person than what you may have observed from the initial product shots. Either way, whether you purchase Cosmo Black or Aqua Blue, you'll quickly come to a certain realization about their appearance. They're dust magnets! I recommend picking up a carrying case or pouch to house your system in or, in the case of the latter, to rest on top of your unit to prevent dust from accumulating. 

    Open up the cover for the first time, and without even turning on the system, that Circle Pad will jump out at you as being the first thing to test out. This major addition feels really smooth and the circular groove makes it a very comfortable spot for your finger to rest on. Below that is the usual +Control Pad seen in previous DS models, along with the ABYX buttons off to the right. Another big thing to notice is the introduction of the Home Button. Acting in a similar vein as what's seen on the Wii, this button rests directly underneath the Touch Screen next to the Select and Start buttons. Not having a tiny button sticking out for either of those functions is a bit of an adjustment in itself, but there's also the fact that you'll now need to put more weight into the presses you make with your finger. It seems to be the exact opposite of intuitive when you first get started, but over time you do come to appreciate these elements more.

I'm not sure Nintendo was totally accurate in saying that transitioning from the DS/DSi (XL) to a 3DS would be a seamless process. The routine you've been accustomed to with the placement of your fingers and thumbs while using the system does remain the same. However, there are other aspects beyond that you'll have to adjust to. One of which is the new placement of the microphone, now located in a small opening along the bottom edge of the device. But undoubtedly, the biggest of these adjustments comes in the form of the revised stylus. 

    The whole motion of passing your thumb and finger along the right to take out a tool has changed. Now you have to reach behind the unit and pull it out from the back side along the left. Taking it out of its compartment, and pulling apart the two ends will extend your usual-sized stylus into something more comfortable, especially if you have bigger-sized hands. Then there's the brass material the stylus is made of. No more will you drop your stylus and not hear so much as a ping to clue you in on where you misplaced it. Unless, of course, this happens in a room with carpeted flooring. With both of these two aspects, Nintendo has taken DS players out of their comfort zone and have made the stylus the most difficult thing to get used to when it comes to the actual layout of the 3DS. I mean, even now I'm still not used to the whole "procedure", if you will, but I'm sure it'll come in time. 

    Nintendo saw fit to include a 2GB SD Memory Card with each 3DS unit, seemingly for two reasons in particular. First, some of the built-in applications and even some launch titles like Madden NFL Football rely on the SD Card for extra game saves. And second, when the system really takes off and becomes a foundry of downloadable content to choose from, people won't have to go out and spend extra money to purchase something that really should be a standard. Ironically, I had to use one of my other memory cards because the one that was supplied wasn't working properly, so go figure! The 3DS also comes packed with a special Charging Cradle that you plug your AC Adapter into and let the system rest on a small little stand. Think of it like your base of sorts. Nintendo hopes consumers will make use of this add-on regularly for home use, but whether or not most actually find it to be useful remains to be seen. 

Moving away from the preliminary stuff, let's get into the good stuff now! Turn on the system for your first session and you'll experience what everyone has been humming and hawing about for the past few months: the system's signature 3D aspect. The first screen check you experience as part of the initial setup is a great preview of what's to follow -- it's the introduction to a new age of gaming that will rock the face of the current scene. 

    There is an audience, though, that won't get to live through this as the scene is developing. Kids under the age of six are practically prohibited from having their young eyes influenced by the powerful 3D effects. But before you start giving thought to how lame this sounds, consider the unique position this group is in. Even after exhausting their current games in 2D, if developers have played their cards right, the 3D will add a whole new dimension of play that will make them pick up those same game and enjoy them with a different outlook.

    I've said this from the very beginning and I'll say it again: it's very short-sighted to focus solely on the 3D components of the handheld. Even with the name it has, the Nintendo 3DS is capable of so much more than just offering high-performance visuals. Take, for example, the system's motion capabilities. The gyroscopic sensors Nintendo has built into the handheld will ideally give players a different sense of interaction with the different games, the outside world and the people around them. There's already an internet meme going around about how 3DS owners can have much more fun in those oh-so-fun office rolly chairs, looking out for enemy submarines  through the eyes of periscope (Steel Diver), or flying a spaceship through a threatening asteroid field (Star Fox 64 3D). It's all about immersion as Nintendo would say, and you know what? They're right in saying so. 

In a similar vein, the 3DS also includes what truly is, in my opinion, a big feature -- a major social community-building initiative that will develop and brings gamers of all types together. When the cover of your system is down and the wireless is enabled, the system will automatically switch over to StreetPass mode in search of other 3DS systems to connect with. All sorts of things happen when you come in contact with a fellow 3DS owner. The sorts of data you end up exchanging is exciting enough that the average consumer will definitely feel like they're missing out if they don't bring their 3DS with them when they're out and about. And in truth, that's exactly what Nintendo wants. 

    Similarly, the SpotPass feature encourages players to stay connected online on a regular basis so Nintendo can send updates wirelessly to their systems -- or "home bases" -- even while you're sleeping. The first of these official updates was sent out not long after the system released, adding a 3D music video to your Home Menu of OK Go's "White Knuckles". Nothing big, but it was a decent preview of things to come. Also related is the built-in pedometer that's tied to the system's well thought out Play Coins system. Every 100th step will net you a single Play Coin, with a maximum of 10 Play Coins per day. These special coins can be used in exchange for rewards in the different applications included in the 3DS and also within third-party titles like Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition. It can't be re-iterated enough: all three of these features are major in the grand scheme of things, and anyone who purchases the system ultimately buys into these big-time initiatives that Nintendo has so seamlessly integrated. 

    When I first saw the Home Menu in all its glory, I was really, really pleased with the layout Nintendo went for. Not only can you adjust the way software icons are arranged, but you can also adjust the brightness levels very easily without having to go through like four different menu screens. Along the header of the Home Menu, you can also access three other notable features. The first is Game Notes, a menu that allows you to view your current screen while play is suspended and take notes you may need to remember for later on. You can even export these notes to the Nintendo 3DS Camera applications, but I was disappointed that you couldn't include the picture as a postcard-like attachment. 

Then there's the Friends List -- a principal incentive for continued online connectivity -- whereby you can register people you know and subsequently see what game they're playing at a given time, what their favourite title is, and even view a short personal message. If a friend comes online while you're in the middle of a game, the Notification LED will flash an amber colour, theoretically prompting you to pause and see who's online and what they're doing. I quickly got addicted to this component of the Home Menu even in spite of its somewhat limited nature. Oh, a big thank you to Nintendo for finally smartening up and only having one code per system.

    Finally, the Notifications menu displays relevant updates received through StreetPass and SpotPass. When a new message has been delivered to your system, the LED light will either blink green or blue respectively and for the first time it happens, it's pretty exciting. All in all, the Home Menu is way more inviting and customizable than what was seen on any of the previous DS models. 

    The built-in software applications serve as the meat of the device, as some would say. Starting out, you have the Nintendo 3DS Camera which allows you to view 3D pictures and even take your own thanks to the two cameras fixed to the cover of the device. The system exports pictures in MPO format for 3D viewing and JPG for standard uploads and sharing, which is very beneficial. Then there is the Nintendo 3DS Sound app which shouldn't require too much of an explanation. There aren't many changes over what was seen in Nintendo DSi Sound, except for the much-needed ability to store more than 8 times as many recordings as before! The Mii Maker shouldn't be a foreign place to visit for Wii owners, so again, not too much detail is required here. It's definitely interesting that you have the ability to create Mii's from a photo but don't expect perfection -- your results may very well differ drastically between two similar subjects.

Next up is the super-fun AR Games area where you get to use the augmented reality cards included with the system for some cool yet short-lived antics. Serving a similar purpose as Wii Sports did, this application serves as a fantastic means of drawing attention to the complexities of the device. Put it in the hands of relatives who aren't as familiar with the world gaming or leave it with one of your skeptical buddies and just watch as their genuine reactions come out. Once they're hooked on the concept of augmented reality, bring them over to Face Raiders, and watch the antics continue. Containing the same amount of content as a downloadable title, it's great to have this available from the get-go and for what it is, this short little game does work fairly well.

    Serving as the main hub for all your StreetPass needs, the StreetPass Mii Plaza will serve you very well once you start gathering data in public. Newly-tagged persons will appear at your StreetPass Gate to exchange a greeting or two, and after that they'll reside in your database and even pop up in other games that feature Mii support. In addition, there are two gameplay modes that encourage you to keep connecting with others. The first is Puzzle Swap, a simple activity where you try to build pictures of Nintendo-based IP's by collecting pieces from those that pass you by. I personally didn't find this to be nearly as great as the second one, though. In the second mini-game, Find Mii, you engage in a basic yet addicting RPG where you fight monsters to save your Mii from captivity, earning unlockable hats unlock the way. In both of these games, you can use Play Coins to purchase pieces or hire generic heroes so that you don't miss out on what these experiences have to offer if you don't have many tags.

    Rounding off the built-in software, you get an Activity Log, the return of Download Play, a manual for Health & Safety Information and a menu for changing System Settings. The Activity Log is great, tracking the cumulative number of steps you've taken each day since you've owned the device. More than that, it also takes note of the length and the number of sessions in the different games you play and even ranks them in order. Download Play allows you to connect with other local devices for 3DS and DS multiplayer games. In choosing the latter, the system switches to the format used in the traditional DS systems which I wasn't too happy with, but it's not that big of a deal I suppose. 

At the end of the day, no matter how much Nintendo pushes the device, the support is what will ultimately decide the fate of the Nintendo 3DS. The launch titles that have released so far have met with mixed reactions, and rightly so. With the likes of ports like Rayman 3D clouding the system's true potential, it's of little wonder why some haven't been able to see everything the 3DS is capable of.

    The truth is, the Nintendo 3DS has the amazing future ahead of it, and anyone who buys into the hype will find that they'll be sharing in that same prospect. Nintendo promises to institute a proper-working Internet Browser and a robust eShop in the very near future, which has many in a state of anticipation. But just wait and see. After E3 passes and we move into the summer months, the system will start to grow its wings for real. That aside, I wouldn't be surprised to see additional extensions of some of the current features get released in the future, like more games for the StreetPass Mii Plaza, a chat system for communicating with online friends and increased SpotPass support. (And hopefully an alarm function too!) Some may question Nintendo's strategy towards the system's launch but I don't doubt they have everything in control. Even though I can justifiably make comments about the lack of an eShop two months into the system's life and the fact that key gaming properties were missing from the launch line-up, I am confident Nintendo will put a big smile on people's faces again.

Are there any big complaints to voice at this time? Well, let me be the first to say that I'm not going to harp on Nintendo at length about the battery life because, in all honesty, I don't even see why it's become such an unforgivable issue for some. If you're strictly a handheld gamer, I could see why there would be a need for concern, but it's not a humongous flaw that you should get riled up about. On the other hand, Nintendo needs to crack down on the system errors that have been occurring. I've encountered this same issue while using the Nintendo 3DS Camera and during three different games, which leads me to believe this is more of a hardware issue. There's also the fact that the edges along the Touch Screen and the Circle Pad do leave light imprints on the top screen at times, but it's nothing a simple wipe can't get rid of. 

    So, is it worth jumping on the Nintendo 3DS right now? Given the proximity to E3 and the fact that the system's potential will only truly start to be realized around this time, I'd recommend waiting another couple weeks. In the meantime, you can decide on a launch title to pick up with your system -- and yes, I strongly urge you to pick up a game with your system. We'll have reviews up in the coming weeks ahead to help give an insightful look at some of the different titles that have released for the system thus far. 

Regardless of whether you purchased the 3DS on launch day or you plan on getting it in a month or two, the fact is the system's really close to being more than just a must-have. It's a costly investment for sure, and to that end, I do encourage you to look out for deals and opportunities to reduce the price of the hardware through trade-ins if at all possible. But the Nintendo 3DS is a strong platform and capable of so much more in the future.

    As a reflection of where the gaming industry has come in the last few years, Nintendo has successfully grappled onto some of the key attributes that make gaming what it is today and defined their new handheld as an all-encompassing force for change in the industry. The possibilities for gaming experiences are no longer limited to just the confines of a screen, and with all these interconnected variables coming together, Nintendo has effectively achieved the level of immersion they've been longing for. And it's that same high-quality experience that will put the system over the top in the coming months ahead.

Special Feature by KnucklesSonic8
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