All it’s Cracked Up? [3DS Review]

My alarm rings across the room, jerking me awake to unnaturally cold March morning. I dress quickly and throw my bags in the car, hitting the gas as fast as I dare. Why didn’t I just get my in-store credit put on a gift card instead of putting a reserve on a 3DS an hour away?

Yes, that was my morning; driving from Birmingham, where I am working this weekend, all the way back to Tuscaloosa to the GameStop 5 minutes from my house. So was it worth it?

Now, I’m sure you all have seen that the launch titles for the system are pretty much crap. The only two I would remotely consider buying are Pilotwings and Nintendogs, but that would take a lot of convincing. Therefore, I’m basing this review on the system itself and what it has to offer.

The first thing I did when I got home was hit the System Update button and found there actually was one. The only difference I noticed was the addition of Ok Go’s music video “White Knuckle” to the main menu. Nifty little 3D fun, but that’s about it.

Hardware: The system comes with a dock that the DS sits down in, making it easy to quickly charge. Which you’ve gotta do a lot. Seriously, the battery life on this thing is absurd. I know Nintendo is selling this as something to turn on, put in your bag and go about your daily business then plop back on the dock at the end of the day. But what I don’t know is which new strain of weed Nintendo is smoking to expect this in reality. I’m going to need some of it.

And here’s a problem: I have a group of friends who all own DSs. We often get together for nights of marathon games of Dragon Quest or Pokemon and since we all own DSi’s, we never really have to worry about our batteries. This scenario played out with 3DSs = a marathon game of “Claim the Electrical Outlet.” Not a fun night of gaming.

However, I’ve heard that you are encouraged to drop the 3DS on the dock after an hour or so of use or whenever you’re not playing. But if you know anything about Li-ion batteries, this is BAD and greatly decreases battery life at an accelerated rate. I have heard that Nintendo is supposedly using a type of battery that decreases the risk of degradation through constant charge/discharge cycles, but I’m calling BS on that right now.

Something else I noticed was how loud and clear the sound was. The speakers sound a fair bit beefier and of a slightly higher quality. Popping in Pokemon Black really made me realize how great the music of the game is. As well, the DS Sound “app,” I guess you could call it, has a lot of new features. There are impressive sound visualizations, some of which are interactive, like the rudimentary space ship flying through tunnels of geometric shapes that you can fire at with either shoulder button while adding sound effects to the music. You can also make a playlist of about 5 favorite songs for StreetPass. And no, the songs don’t transfer across 3DSs, just the list. Over time it can track popular songs amongst 3DS owners. It’s cute, but absolutely pointless in the real world and useless if you don’t live in a big city.

The top screen of the 3DS has been blown up into a nice widescreen that is graphically beautiful for a handheld, but not perfect. Graphically, the 3DS in on par with the GameCube and possibly even the Wii, which I think speaks more against the Wii than the 3DS. This last-gen graphical power falls in line with Nintendo’s handheld offerings in the past; i.e. Gameboy/Color=NES, GBA=SNES, DS/lite/i=N64, 3DS=GameCube.

The bottom screen, though, hasn’t received much of an upgrade (that I have noticed. Actual 3DS games will likely prove me wrong), and in one case is actually a step down from the last generation of the DS (more on that later).

Software: After trying out the option to create a Mii based on a photo of myself (wholly inaccurate) I tried out the ability that has been on everyone’s minds. ARcards.

Honestly, it’s fun, but really wonky. Trying the target game proves difficult because you have to move the 3DS around which ruins the 3D effect if aren’t careful to hold that thing at exactly the right angle and distance from your face. After a few seconds I just turned it off and was able to enjoy the game more. That is, when it wasn’t bitching about staying within exactly 14 inches of the card. It’s fun, but not as astounding as you would think.

Face Raiders works a fair deal better because you don’t have to keep the camera pointed at a card. Giant heads fly all around you as you fire balls at them, seemingly destroying the real world around you. I actually had some fun with this. And if you’re playing the game around people, the cameras will detect faces and place them in the game. I probably enjoyed Face Raiders most out of all the 3DS’s built-in abilities.

And how about original DS games in the 3DS? They look horrible due to the higher pixel density of the 3DS screens. It’s as though you’re looking at the screen through a washed-out haze. To give you an example, here are some shots of Pokemon Black on a DSi and a 3DS.


Pokemon on DSi

Pokemon on 3DS

No, that bottom image isn’t out of focus or on a lower brightness setting, that’s how it displays. You can see the colors are washed out and the whites seem as though they’re bleeding. The best way I can describe it is like watching a standard DVD on a gigantic 1080p TV. So bad, in fact, that I’m considering not even using the 3DS to play my regular DS games on that I’ve switched back to my DSi. With the poor battery life and fuzzy graphics, it’s just not worth it. Now there is a little trick you can use when playing DS games. Holding Start and Select at the same time while the game boots will put it in its original aspect ratio. At what price does that come? Very tiny squares of video on either screen. No thank you.

What does this mean? Well, unless you’re a videophile like me, nothing. But if visual quality matters, you’ll find yourself frustrated while playing and noticing every little flawed detail.

And while we’re on the subject, the touch screen on the 3DS is actually SMALLER than that of the DSi. Granted it’s marginal, but enough that I noticed. The 3DS’s touch screen is really the same size as that of the DS/DS lite. Now, I understand this was done to keep the 3DS small, as they’re packing in a few extra pieces of hardware here, but I find it irritating to go from the DSi’s nice big-ish crisp screen to this one.

Conclusion: Honestly, as excited as I was to own this thing, I’m just not enthused about it at all. I find myself turning off the 3D after experiencing the animations and little extras the first time because they aren’t important when it comes to actual gameplay. There isn’t a Virtual Console available yet, which I think will make the system more interesting, but there’s no reason they couldn’t offer the same thing on the DSi (which I really wish they would). Nor will you be able to transfer your DSi-Ware games over until then, but with how awful DS/DSi content looks on the 3DS, I now have no desire to port anything over. I would be more content just carrying 2 DSs everywhere I go, ensuring I don’t have to search for a plug all the time.

It seems Nintendo is really trying to sell the 3DS on future potential, similar to how Google works with its Android products. But I’m not interested in owning a device based purely on the possibility of future enjoyment. I want to have fun with it now. That’s why I paid $250 for the thing. Waiting until the summer, at the earliest, to release your A-list titles is just BAD PLANNING.

So here I sit, charging my 3DS for the second time today, wishing I had that money back in my bank account and that I hadn’t wasted an entire day and half a tank of gas going home to pick the thing up just to come back to work.

Honestly, if you were all jazzed up about getting one of these, just wait. All the good games are still months away and the Virtual Console won’t be available for about a month as well. Do yourself a favor and hold on to the cash for now.


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