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Nintendo 3DS Preview

Chris_Hudak By:
GENRE Handheld 

Is that a third visual dimension in your pocket?

For a company that's effectively over a hundred years old—read it again—Nintendo has had remarkably few Flops. Oh sure, there have certainly been questionable publishing decisions and stubborn corporate idiosyncrasies over the decades—the term 'Friend Code' is still just shy of an oxymoron at this point—but you could count the number of actual, significant, out-and-out faceplants on the fingers of one hand (all the moreso if that hand is wearing a Powerglove and pointing at Virtual Boy on the steps of a condemned love hotel).

click to enlargeMost of us all but sneered when the Nintendo DS first reared its twin-screened head, immediately and preemptively writing it off as a doomed tech-demo gimmick—and today, you will take these people's beloved DS units only when you pry 'em from their cold, dead fingers. That particular lesson was still steamy-fresh in my mind when the first announcements for the upcoming Nintendo 3DS hit almost half a year ago. “Workable 3D, without any glasses at all? Really? Pull the other one, Mario. I'll believe that pile of Koopa-krap when I hold it in my own hands.”

Well, sure enough, the 3DS prototypes surfaced at E3... and not just onstage in some dodgy suit's hand, but in abundance on the show floor, for hordes of skeptics and fanboys to test drive for themselves. Current score? Doubters: 0, Nintendo: 3DS. What we've seen for ourselves so far is astonishing.

First, just to make it completely clear and get it out of the way: The 3DS features an autostereoscopic display. No glasses, just that simple. You look with your own eyes, you got your 3D, boom. The upper 3D screen (5:3, 3.53 inches) offers 400x240 'per eye'; the lower 2D screen (4:3, 3.02 inches) serves as the touch-screen as per the configuration of the Nintendo DSi.

click to enlargeThe 3D effect is dazzling and surprisingly crisp, and Nintendo had dozens of the units available on the show floor for both public and media-only hands-on. Among others, trailers for the Dreamworks movie How to Train Your Dragon and Disney's Tangled were running on the show-floor units, giving rise to at least a glimmer of hope—if not any actual confirmation—that the retail release of the 3DS may also see the end of Nintendo's current (and immensely irritating) firmware restrictions on how its best-selling handheld can be employed as a more general-purpose media player.

In addition to the standard controls/design of the DSi, the 3DS also includes a gyroscope, an accelerometer, an analog input control on the left-hand side of the lower screen and above the D-pad, an IR port on the top of the 3DS, and a slider than can be used to vary the intensity of—or completely kill, if that's your wish—the 3D effect.

Why you would want to do that is another question. The most obvious addition is the placement of two external/lid cameras, in place of the DSi's one: These, of course, allow the unit to take 3D photographs and capture 3D video. Never before have I seen quite so many people on the E3 show floor repeating “Wow” over and over and over again at the same 10-second demonstration of a functionally-simple feature.

We even had personnel from, ahem, other exhibiting companies asking us to escort them over briefly to the media-only section, just so they could get one quick peek at the show-stealing handheld. And because there has to be one wacky, clearly-tech-demo-only application on hand, users got the chance to play with a simple-but-effective game that was essentially 3D Pong, with the player's paddle in the foreground—sending the ball into the playing field. The interesting bit: The background art of the 'opposite wall' was simply a real-time relaying of whatever (or whomever) the outer-lid camera was pointed at, at any given second. Tech-gimmicky, to be sure—but neat.

click to enlargeThe 3DS weighs approximately 8 oz. Closed, it is 5.3 inches wide, 2.9 inches long, and 0.8 inches thick; the unit will be DS backwards-compatible, and will support the UI/software of its DSi predecessor... hopefully minus the current, goofy imported-media restrictions in place. And yet again, I'm gonna have to hope that Teknocreations releases yet another iteration of its protective, battery-extending TekCase to conform to the contours of the new DS configuration; man, it just never ends...

Nintendo still has many months to make the 3DS prototype better—or worse, but let's endeavor not to think that way—before its retail release in 2011. What we've seen so far looks gorgeous, solid, and promising... and you can bet your bottom Bob-Omb that before the first batch of retail-ready units has even cooled from off the assembly-line, we'll be on Nintendo day and night until we get one. Meet us back here in the 3rd Dimension for our full review.

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