LOS ANGELES — New James Bond, Zelda, Mickey Mouse and Donkey Kong games announced at Nintendo’s E3 press conference were just a prelude to the really big news.
There is indeed a 3-D version of the Nintendo DS and it not only plays 3D games, it also has dual camera lenses for taking 3-D photos. Nintendo’s also partnering with Disney, Warner Brothers and DreamWorks to bring 3-D movies to the device.
All without glasses.
Nintendo declined to say how much the device will cost or when it will go on sale, though it’s previously said it will be available by the end of March.
In person the 3-D effect is actually pretty good and far less cheesy than I expected, especially in a “Metal Gear Solid” game with tropical foliage that took advantage of the depth effect.
The 3-D version of Nintendogs is cute but doesn’t seem as 3-D or interactive as Microsoft’s “Kinectimals,” which is almost freakishly realistic when you’re moving your hands around to pet a vividly rendered, purring tiger cub on a big screen TV.
A slider on the device adjusts the amount of “3-D ness,” from maximum to 2-D. Sliding while a game is running appears to move a rear plane forward and backward.
The 3.5-inch diagonal upper screen is 3-D. The lower of the two screens is not, and is the only one that has touch capabilities.
Here’s Nintendo President Satoru Iwata holding it up at the event. The slider is on the right side of the upper screen:
The DS 3-D also has an interesting wireless feature. When it senses a connection through a hotspot, it automatically downloads updates and new features to games, so there’s something fresh to surprise players.
Most of the major game studios signed on develop 3-D games for the upcoming DS using new tools from Nintendo.
I asked Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo senior managing director and creative guru, if studios will want to build 3-D games for other devices after they’ve figured out the DS. Could the next version of the Wii console have 3-D capabilities, giving developers another place to use the 3-D game skills they build on the DS?
“It’s hard to say right now,” Miyamoto said through a translator.
The term “3-D” is actually confusing since earlier games, such as 1996 release ‘Super Mario 64,’ were also characterized as 3-D, he said.
Now the advance is 3-D visuals that add depth to the screen.
“Really where I think that’s going to change games is that when you have these fully rendered worlds and you couple that with 3-D visuals, then it becomes readily apparent to the end user how to navigate that world because they have a sense of spatial relationship, that spatial relationship between all of the objects around them,” he said.
“So people who have had a hard time navigating in what we used to call these 3-D games are going to be able to appreciate these 3-D effects and play more easily. It also brings a greater sense of realism to the worlds as well.”
Miyamoto’s highest profile current project is “Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword,” one of several new games based on Nintendo’s library of hit franchises coming to the Wii over the next year.
Fans in the audience at Nokia Theater didn’t seem to mind when Miyamoto had wireless problems that interrupted his demonstration of an archery feature in the new Zelda. Other tools include a drone-like beetle that flies around, providing aerial views and shooting, and bombs that are dropped in attacks and to clear pathways.
Fans also sighed with disappointment when Nintendo said it won’t release the game until spring 2011.
Also coming next year is “Mario Sports Mix,” a wacky sports game featuring Nintendo’s iconic character.
This year’s lineup includes a remake of James Bond action game “GoldenEye” going on sale in November. It has eight playable Bond characters, including Oddjob, the villain with a deadly bowler hat that’s tossed with a flick of the Wii controller. The game’s playable with several players on a split screen or multiple players online.
Nintendo’s biggest hit this year may be “Disney Epic Mickey,” an exclusive Wii game developed by Disney that has the mouse playing through a world created from 80 years of Disney characters and settings. Mickey’s tools are paint and paint thinner, for erasing or restoring color to characters, objects or the environment.
Players have to decide whether to solve problems by erasing things or to work toward restoring and saving “wasteland.” Sort of like a Disney version of “Grand Theft Auto.”
A new Wii version of “Donkey Kong” goes on sale for the holidays, and Nintendo’s cuddly “Kirby” character is reborn in a game with an original fabric design. “Kirby’s Epic Yarn” characters are made of bits of yarn bent into their shape and the landscape they work through is fabric, with zippers that open and weaving that unravels.
Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Redmond-based Nintendo of America, said pundits were wrong to predict last year the Wii’s momentum was starting to wane. He said the console set a record for game system sales in December, and more games have been sold for the Wii than any other console since its launch 43 months ago.
“Underlying all those false assumptions about Wii is a mistaken belief that many new owners just play Wii Sports or Wii Fit for awhile and then lose interest, but that simply isn’t the case,” he said. “The reason is the popularity of intermediate or bridge games that usher new players toward the world of gaming.”
Examples of such bridge games are Mario Kart, which sold more than 22 million copies, and “New Super Mario Bros.,” which sold more than 14 million.
Fils-Aime’s confidence continued after Sony announced later in the day that its Wii-like Move controllers for the PlayStation 3 will go on sale Sept. 19 for $50, or $100 for a kit with a controller, an “Eye” receiver and a sports game.
Neither Sony’s Move or Microsoft’s Kinect motion controller have as much appeal as the Wii, he said in an interview.
“What we were able to do was deliver compelling experiences to the consumer that were easy to get into, easy to enjoy, fun to play,” he said. “What I am interested to see is what our two near-end competitors do to tick off all those three boxes, because I haven’t seen it yet.”
So he doesn’t see Microsoft and Sony introducing fun, easy motion game systems?
“What I see is two companies that are trying to emulate what we’ve done,” he said, adding that “I don’t see the content that’s going to wow the consumer.”