…Oh, nothing — it’s cute. We have five. Uh, thousand. Yes, five thousand.”
While posting a brief reply to thread in a super-sekrit project forum, I started rambling on about my recent purchase. I had to stop myself before I rolled out an entire novel on my thoughts. So I figured it would be a good idea to get it out of my system here!
Don’t ask about the super-sekrit project by the way! I know nothing! Wait, what super-sekrit prorject?
Anyways, a few days ago I decided that I would splurge some of my saved-up monies on a Nintendo 3DS. I’m a big fan of the DS, mostly for it’s games. I own a PSP but the game library for that handheld is decidedly not to my tastes. So I hacked it and put homebrew on it. But I digress, I was interested in the 3DS when it was first announced. Not so much for it’s glasses-less 3D capability, but because of it’s increased hardware capabilities and because the previous DS models had great games available for them. So I figured those aspects would follow through to the 3DS.
Then the price was announced – $250. Yeeeeaaaa…well, needless to say, I thought was entirely too expensive for a handheld that, while offering new features, was essentially a DS with better internal hardware. The price turned me off to the prospect of buying one on launch day. My guess is that Nintendo was banking on the 3D effect to fill in the price gap. Unfortunately, and I may wrong here, the recent 3D craze is really just a fad. Personally I think it’s just a reason for movie theaters to charge movie-goers an extra $10 for a pair of 3D glasses…which you don’t even get to keep or reuse. The 3D effect really isn’t worth that price for me, and apparently many other people felt the same way. Aside from a lackluster game launch lineup (really not a bad thing if you look at the DS’s launch lineup), the high price really didn’t help the handheld’s initial sales. So Nintendo cut the price from $250 to $170…quite the gargantuan cut for a portable console that has only been out about 6 months.
The price drop piqued my interest in the console again (and from what I’ve read, others are feeling the same way). I had a bunch of DS, PSP, and 360 games collecting dust on my shelf and a DSi that wish I hadn’t gotten (another story for another time maybe), so the prospect of trading those in towards a shiny new 3DS seemed like a good idea. I later found that Gamestop was offering a special on trade-ins towards a 3DS if you traded in a previous model DS. So with that, I jumped on the train and got myself a 3DS a couple of days ago. And here are my thoughts on it.
The first thing I noticed when I opened up my box was that the 3DS feels really sturdy and well-made on the outside. My DSi felt somewhat flimsy in comparison. I have big hands and so I was pleased to find that the 3DS was slightly larger than previous DS models. My DSi, by comparison, was really thin. Which is nice for portability, I guess, but it also made it harder to hold in my hands after a couple hours of play. The 3DS’s construction reminds me of the DSLite, which is probably my favorite hardware iteration in the DS line. After opening up the console, the insides felt about the same. The D-Pad and buttons are nice and clicky, the control nub is similar to the PSP’s but is bigger and feels more responsive. The touch screen is about the same as the DSi/DSLite’s, which is good. The wifi switch seemed durable and is position and designed so that you don’t accidentally turn it on/off. The extendable, metal stylus is nice in your hands and pretty durable as well. Overall the main construction of the handheld felt very solid, which I really liked after playing my DSi.
And there were things I didn’t like. The biggest and most annoying has to be the position of the stylus. The original DS had it’s stylus placement at the top of the console, behind the flip-up top screen. Not a very nice place if you go to grab and place the stylus a lot during play (which I do). Nintendo rectified this by move the stylus placement to the right-side of the console with the DSLite and DSi, which is a much more natural place to grab and place it since your hand is already close by (unless your not right-handed, of course). But for whatever reason, Nintendo moved the stylus back to the top of the console on the 3DS . Perhaps there wasn’t any room on the side of the console? Whatever the reasoning though, it is very annoying now. One thing I liked about my DSi is that it didn’t have a volume slider, but volume buttons. Making tiny adjustments to the volume with a slider can be a pain sometimes and so I was sad to see the buttons missing on the 3DS. The material of the body, while very sturdy, is high-gloss. Meaning if your an OCD freak like me, you’ll hate having to wipe off fingerprints every time you pick up your console (I had the same problem with my DSLite). Sort of a non-issue I suppose, heh. In addition the 3D slider felt incredibly flimsy. You would think that the one feature that Nintendo banked on the most wouldn’t have such a flimsy slider. But it feels like that thing could be ripped off so easily at any time…very disappointing. While the thumb nub is smooth in it’s movements, it lacks any sort of grip. It’s made of rubber and has an indent in it for your thumb to rest on, but I found that my thumb would keep slipping off of the nub, especially if it got all sweaty. Some raised bumps or something would really have helped I think. Lastly, Nintendo moved the Start and Select buttons below the touch screen, alongside the new “Home” button. While I don’t mind the new placements so much, the buttons themselves aren’t very great. They are flat and flush with the body of the console, covered with what I think is some sort of thin rubber material. You have to really “press” the buttons in order for them to register; there’s little tactile feedback like you get from a traditional button. It also feels like the button might start crapping out after a while, if they are pressed too many times. Thankfully the start and select buttons aren’t used all that much in games, so it may be a non-issue. The Home button may be used a bit more, but not much more than the start/select buttons.
And then there’s the battery life. If you compare it to the DSi or DSLite, it’s deplorable. I knew this going into the purchase though, but I feel like they could have done a better job with the battery life somehow. I tend to play with the brightness turned down to the lowest settings anyways, so I get a bit more life out of it. But thus far, even on the lowest brightness setting and with power save mode on, it’s hovering right around 4-5 hours when playing a 3DS game. DS games get a bit more out of the battery from what I hear.
Up until the DSi came out, there really wasn’t much to say about the on-board software for the DS. All you were really worried about was the games and how well they played (and how well online worked, if applicable). The 3DS really hasn’t been out that long enough for me to form an opinion it’s game quality reputation. But it is full of pre-loaded software.
I suppose one draw for me with the DSi was the new software and abilities they provided the console. The 3DS has retained almost all of the DSi’s capabilities and software while adding new things. When I first turned on my 3DS, I was greeted with a slew of different applications. This screen is the “Home” screen, and like the DSi is is the hub from which you can access all of your various applications, features, and preferences. Something that’s really neat is that you can press the Home button at any time while a 3DS application is running to return to the Home screen. This places the currently running game or application into limbo while you navigate around the Home menu; it does not end the game. However if your playing a DS or DSiware game, you cannot access the Home screen without first ending the game, which is kind of a bummer. On the list of applications is a camera and picture viewer capable of taking 2D and 3D pictures, a sound recorder and music player, a Mii creator (let’s you create a virtual avatar of your likeness), the AR [Augmented Reality] application which lets you play 3D games by using the camera to view a card (it comes with a pack of them), the Nintendo eShop which allows you to download and buy other applications and games, download-and-play, a web browser, the list goes on and on. The Nintendo eShop let’s you further expand the list of applications that can be run on the 3DS, including games. In particular I’m really interested in the Virtual Console. I believe the Virtual Console was first introduced on the Wii. It allows you to download past Nintendo titles from older consoles such as the Gameboy, NES, and so on. So far I’ve only seen Gameboy and Gameboy Color titles on the 3DS eShop, but I believe it will soon be expanded to include GBA and NES games (and, hopefully, SNES games too!). Though a downside to the Virtual Console is that if you already own the game for the original console, you pretty much have to purchase the game again . Too bad there’s no way to virtually move your old carts to your 3DS or Wii without having to pay for the game again. Something that I’d really love to see is the addition of Sega Megadrive/Genesis games to the Virtual Console as well. Hey, you never know! Something is a vast improvement over the original DS models is who friend codes are managed. While I don’t do much with friend codes, so this doesn’t really effect me, you can now save friend codes all in one place. And there’s only one code to keep up with per person as opposed to one per game per person…or something like that. Either way, it’s waaaaay better than the older system of friend codes. There are other features which I haven’t used yet, like StreePass, SpotPass, and Mii Plaza. But those features are looking to be really awesome, so they get a big thumbs up from me.
It seems like the addition of these applications to the 3DS is an attempt at Nintendo trying to compete with the Smartphone gaming market. While I’m not very read-up on the subject, from what I’ve heard smartphones like the iPhone are taking a pretty huge chunk out of the portable gaming market. So it stands to reason that portable console makers are trying to extend the flexibility of their hardware to compete with platforms like the iPhone. So is all of the software that comes with the 3DS and can be installed on it worth it? As far as I’m concerned, I can take it or leave it. Usually when I break open my DS, I just want to play a game. I don’t use it to take pictures, to browse the web, or to listen to music. But it is nice to have it there. I don’t usually do much traveling, so it stands to reason that I wouldn’t use those features very often. But for those who do travel often, those features are nice to have all in one place. Overall while not on par with stuff that’s on the iPhone, the applications on the 3DS are quite nice and worth using.
What really matters to me are the games though. I buy game consoles to play games. Thankfully the 3DS works with 99% of all DS games, so there’s an absolutely massive catalog of games available for the system right off the bat. If you haven’t bought a DS before, buying a 3DS will give you the best of both worlds. Personally, I think DS games are probably the most fun I’ve had with modern video games in the past 2 or 3 years, so I’d highly recommend them. As far as 3DS games are concerned, I’m less familiar with them at the moment because…well, for one, I just bought mine a couple of days ago . But also because the system hasn’t been out there long enough for a catalog of games to really start to develop. The 3DS’s slow start isn’t helping it either. From what I’ve read, many games ended up being canceled or severely postponed because sales of the console were less than stellar. But when I bought my 3DS, I also bought a new game for it – Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Yes, it is a graphical update to the original N64 game. Why would I buy a game that was released more than 10 years ago on an older system? Well if you’ve played the game already, the only reason to buy it on the 3DS would be for the graphical update. Which is amazing, by the way. While I’ve played the game before, I haven’t had a chance to sit down and play it all the way through. So this is essentially the first time I’m playing this game, and that’s one reason why I bought it. But I also bought it because the 3DS’s lineup right now is shallow, and somewhat weak too. Of course, that’s just my opinion…some of the games didn’t really cater to my tastes. Your mileage may vary.
But let me say, Zelda: Ocarina of Time on the 3DS looks amazing. Like I said, I briefly played the original and I remember very well how it looked on the N64. The guys who worked on updating the graphics for the game did an amazing job. But beside that, it shows what the 3DS is capable of over the regular DS. We’ll just have to wait and see if developers can keep up that same level of graphical fidelity in the upcoming titles. Hopefully they will. The game plays super smooth too, probably better than it’s N64 counterpart thanks to the easier control schemes used today. So far I’m really enjoying the game…it’s right up there with Link’s Awakening and Link to the Past. If your looking for a good first game for your 3DS, I highly recommend Ocarina of Time. And thankfully it looks as though there are some nice looking titles coming up on the horizon for the 3DS. Some of which I’m really looking forward to are Super Mario Land 3DS, Cave Story 3D, Mario Kart 7, Paper Mario 3DS, and Sonic Generation. As long as none of them get canceled, that is.
Let me add, though, that even though there’s a strong game catalog behind and upcoming for the 3DS, I feel that Nintendo could go one step better – allow homebrew and indie games on their eShop. If they are really serious about competing with the smartphone gaming market, they should seriously consider this option. Just look at Xbox Live and how well it’s indie game market is working there. I’m sure most of the iPhone games come from indie designers too. This represents a really great opportunity for Nintendo and indie designers alike. Not only that, but it may get more people seriously interested in Nintendo’s hardware. It’s hard to say if Nintendo would ever allow this. Generally homebrew is locked out of consoles with the reason being cited as “to prevent piracy”. But surely there are ways around this, as illustrated by XBL’s success.
Well, let me wrap this post up before it balloons out of proportion anymore than it already has.
Hardware-wise, the 3DS is very solid. It’s overall body construction feels very sturdy and it should hold up to hours and hours of play time. It feels good in your hands and is easy to use. Unlike the PSP’s horrible attempt at a control nub, the 3DS’s nub seems to be much smoother and is easier to use because of it’s larger size. The buttons are very clicky and responsive too. On the downside, the stylus placement is a horrible step in the wrong direction, the volume is now a slider instead of buttons like on the DSi, the 3D slider feels incredibly cheap and flimsy, and the start/home/select buttons should have been more button-like. While the 3D effect is nice, it can be a bit of a strain after and while and it only works if you view it at a certain angle and distance from your eyes (leaving you very little room for natural movement while playing). Overall I think the pros outweight the cons in the hardware department.
Software-wise, the 3DS has a lot to offer, even over the DSi. The Home screen is very intuitive and easy to navigate. Being able to go back to the Home screen at any time without fear of interrupting or ending your game is a great feature. However accessing the Home screen does not work with DS or DSiware games. There a large list of applications that come standard on the 3DS which expand the console’s usefulness quite a bit. All of the applications are very well done too and are easy to use. In addition to the applications that come standard, you can also download additional applications and games from the eShop. In particular the Virtual Console is very promising since it allows you to download and play various games released in the past on other Nintendo consoles. The 3DS also has compatibility with just about every DS game released in the past, meaning the catalog of games available to play right off the bat is quite massive. And while the 3DS game lineup isn’t really there yet, the game that I did play looks gorgeous and plays very smoothly. If all goes well, there should be some really amazing new games coming out. However I feel that while most of the additional, non-game applications and features are nice, they might feel a tad bit necessary for anyone who just wants the console to play games. In addition the eShop and Nintendo in general should really embrace the indie game movement. It would be in their benefit to setup some sort of system to allow indie game designers to create games for the console as well as sell them and make some sort of profit. If they truly want to compete with the smartphone game market, inviting indie games and homebrew software onto the console without fear of pirating is one way to do that.
I’m very happy with my purchase of my 3DS at it’s $170 price tag. The $250 price tag was entirely too high and the 3D effect was definitely not worth it. Not to mention the initial game lineup at that price was another reason why it didn’t sell so well at the gate alongside the huge price. I’m hopeful that this recent price drop will spur developers to create more games for the platform, which should in turn spur more people to be interested in the 3DS. A game console is nothing if it doesn’t have good games. The 3D, while neat, is really just a gimmick. It does add a nice layer to the games designed for it but, in the end, it’s too hard to play with.
So if your looking to get a 3DS, but your still not sure, I can safely say that I’d recommend it, especially just after this price drop