I held out on picking up a DSi and DSi XL, and even went through two PSPs before giving up. In order for me to really be interested in a new gaming device, it has to push the limits of what current gaming is, and needs to deliver a new experience altogether. When I first had the opportunity to try the 3DS, Nintendo’s newest handheld, at E3 last year I felt “Aha! Nintendo did it. They made something shiny and new, and the 3D is the reason to own this device.”
It’s been about a year since Nintendo announced the 3DS and it’s now finally released in the US. I’ve had some time to play with the device, and have come to the realization that the device’s intended draw, 3D, isn’t the real reason to own a 3DS. Nintendo, the company that has always held off exceeding modern hardware expectations, has developed a wonderfully memorable user experience.
This is the Wii 2. Well, hold up. Not really. What I should say is “the 3DS will sell itself the same way that the Wii did: via social exposure.” It has a massive gimmick, the 3D effect, that both helps and hampers the handheld. It’s the kind of thing that will not only make those who see it probably be excited by it, but it might also put off some users who don’t dig deep enough beyond it. The 3DS has a solid, enjoyable user experience, made better when the user wants it to be.
Before I get into too much of the details, I’ll sum up what you’re probably asking: Is it worth a purchase RIGHT NOW? The answer lies probably somewhere between “Are you a Street Fighter fan?” and “Wait until June.“ Really, purchasing the system right now is great for early adopters, like the iPad was last year. It launches with enough whiz and bang and a few solid games, and it’ll play DS titles when those first examples become boring. And, heck, it’s only about a month or so away until the eShop launches and a billion DSiWare games become available. For the rest of the buyers: you’ll probably want to wait for Zelda in June.
As a device the 3DS, for all intents and purposes, is stuck on a TARDIS somewhere between 2007 and 2012. It uses some “Old Nintendo” mentality towards technology, yet somehow manages to capture some great social media and user experience nuances, more so than many mobile phones do today. When it fails, it fails miserably. When it passes, By Golly it does so with a surprising array of flying colors.
Face it: The Nintendo 3DS is to 2011 what the Nintendo DS Phat was to 2004. It’s not very attractive, and feels like a device design in BETA. The exterior case’s chamfers and hard angles are meant to bring to mind cuts in a diamond. It wouldn’t be a bad direction, if the surfaces weren’t interrupted by cuts and gaps that Nintendo needed to get the necessary features in the device. The device is built in layers, which are unfortunately misaligned and miscolored. It looks like it was designed in pieces as a prototype, by three different groups within the company. The shoulder buttons are terrible as well, as they’re extremely tiny and difficult to press.
Once the 3DS is opened, however, it’s a completely different creature, kind of like how Being Human‘s Josh hides a surprising handsomeness when not a terrifying, over-rendered werewolf. With less hair, of course. The interior has an Apple flavor that Nintendo often follows. It’s minimalistic, with clean surfaces that balance gloss levels well and only the tiniest of gaps. The buttons and D-pad are carryover from DS’ past, but the analog Circle Pad and menu buttons are all-new. The soft-touch Circle Pad functions really well, with a nice snap back to its center. Even the 3D slider is nicely located on the right of the screen.