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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

March 21, 2011 at 10:51 AM

Review: Nintendo 3DS a blast, but pricey

Nintendo’s new 3DS game player is hands-down the coolest new toy in the world for kids 13 and under, and those who just love electronic toys.

It’s more fun than a barrel of smartphones.

It’s too expensive and some may think it’s gimmicky, but the 3DS will give Nintendo bragging rights again, until it comes out with a new version of the Wii console.

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The 3DS goes on sale for a dizzying $250 on Sunday, a month after its blockbuster release in Japan.

Not many kids will be able to afford one until the price comes down. It costs more than an Xbox or a Wii.

But eventually the 3DS will end up in the hands of millions, and it may change the way they think about video games.

From the outside, the 3DS looks a lot like the DS handheld game players that Nintendo has been making for years. It’s a solid, half-pound, 3-inch by 5-inch slab available in black or blue.

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What’s new is a system of cameras, lenses and software that display games and video in 3-D without requiring special glasses. The 3-D displays on a 3.5-inch diagonal screen. There’s also a second, 3-inch touch screen.

It’s more than just another 3-D video player being pushed onto mostly indifferent consumers, though. Instead of using 3-D mostly for gratuitous special effects, Nintendo designers used the technology to create exuberant, mind-bending games that blend the real and virtual worlds in unexpected ways, creating a new kind of fun.

Consider “Face Raiders,” one of the preloaded games. Players take a picture of themselves, a family member or a friend with the 3DS, and the face becomes an animated ball, bouncing around the screen, making faces and sticking out its tongue.

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The animated head is actually bouncing around the room beyond the device. The game’s landscape is a live image taken by the camera on the back of the 3DS. Peering into the screen is like looking through a magic window into an alternative version of the room you’re in, which becomes a place where wild things are happening.

You fire yellow balls at the head — or heads, after they multiply — before they crash through the walls around you, leaving jagged holes.

Imagine how cathartic and subversive this can be for a kid. They’ll appear to be sitting quietly on the couch, but from their perspective, they’re smashing apart a room they were just forced to clean, lobbing balls at the cackling, digitized version of their little sister bouncing off the walls and ceiling.

This made me wonder about the enthusiasm that Japanese electronics companies have for 3-D technology. Perhaps the illusion of depth and extra space created by 3-D technology is appealing to people living in small homes in densely populated cities. It will also appeal to kids stuck in their rooms or crammed into the back seats of cars and minivans in the U.S.

Still, software and content are key, and it remains to be seen how many game developers will have as much success with the 3DS platform as Nintendo.

The 3-D effect can seem a little cheesy at times, reminiscent of its distant ancestor, the “animated” Cracker Jack prizes that appear to move when you look at them from different angles.

A 3DS version of Electronic Arts’ “Madden NFL Football” was more fun with the 3D turned off, I thought, but maybe it was because I kept seeing double images of things like the field goals.

On all the games, the 3-D effect is sensitive to viewing angle and you have to hold the device about 10 inches from the face and straight on to get it right.

Action in “Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars” was dramatically better with the 3-D effect. Bridges extended across chasms, laser blasts zoomed by at different angles and there is, of course, the opening story that recedes into space.

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If you were one of the kids who beelined to the periscope at Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry, you’ll love “Steel Diver,” a great submarine game for the 3DS. One option has you peer through a scope, searching for ships hidden by waves in the foreground. When they get close, you see the 3-D depth charges sail toward your sub.

One of the best titles is included with the 3DS. Called “AR Games,” it works with a set of “augmented reality” playing cards.

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You place one on a flat surface and position the 3DS about 14 inches above the card. Then strange things happen in the room when you look through the 3DS lens.

Seen through the screen, the cards bulge until a box bursts upward. After you fire a few arrows at targets around the box — calibrating the alignment — an angry dragon may emerge for you to fight with more arrows.

Another box contains a billiard game in which my coffee table undulated and melted from a lava flow.

But a Mario AR card failed to launch its game, even after I followed the tips and made sure there was plenty of light in the room.

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This reminded me of the occasional challenge with Microsoft’s Kinect motion sensor for the Xbox 360, which also uses depth-sensing cameras that can be thrown off by a room’s lighting.

These cards are an opportunity for Nintendo to sell cheap upgrade packs, like Pokémon cards, but the company didn’t provide details of its future plans for them.

To stream movies

The 3DS is also intended to be more of a multimedia device, putting it in better stead against the phones and tablet computers that are pushing into the market for handheld gaming.

Starting this summer, Netflix subscribers can stream movies to the 3DS. Nintendo’s also going to operate a short-form video service to distribute 3-D movie trailers, music videos and comedy shorts to the device.

A Web browser will be added, and 3DS owners will get free Wi-Fi access on AT&T hot spots.

The 3DS also can be used to connect and play with nearby 3DS units, if parents haven’t locked the device down with its parental control system.

There’s also a pedometer that tracks steps when the device is closed but powered on.

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You would think the pedometer data would sync to the hugely popular Wii Fit game, but it doesn’t.

This is one of several opportunities that Nintendo missed to have the 3DS work wirelessly with the Wii. Nor can you transfer “Mii” avatars that you’ve already created on the Wii onto the 3DS.

Perhaps Nintendo is holding those features back for the next version of the Wii, which some have speculated could be announced this summer.

It presumably will have 3-D capabilities, giving game developers another platform for the experience they’re getting with the 3DS, and Nintendo another outlet for its upcoming 3-D entertainment channel.

Nintendo said production hasn’t been significantly affected by the disaster in Japan. The tragedy puts the importance of games and gadgets in perspective but perhaps there’s no better time for a Japanese company to show that it can see fun in the future.

Here’s a picture I took at last June’s E3 game conference of the line to see the 3DS, which was unveiled at the event:

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Here are the full specs of the 3DS, as listed by Nintendo:

Included in Hardware:

– Nintendo 3DS system

– Nintendo 3DS charging cradle

– Nintendo 3DS AC adapter

– Nintendo 3DS stylus

– SD Memory Card (2GB)

– AR Card(s) (view the cards using the outer cameras to play supported AR games)

– Quick-Start Guide

– Operations Manual (including warranty)

Characteristic Features:

– 3D screen, enabling 3D view without the need for special glasses and the ability to adjust or turn off 3D effect with the 3D Depth Slider.

– Stereo cameras that enable users to take 3D photos that can be viewed instantly on the 3D screen.

– New input interfaces including the Circle Pad, motion sensor, gyro sensor

– SpotPass, a feature that lets Nintendo 3DS detect wireless hotspots or wireless LAN access points and obtain information, game data, free software, videos and so on for players even when the system is in sleep mode.*

– StreetPass, a feature that lets Nintendo 3DS exchange data automatically with other

Nintendo 3DS systems within range, even in sleep mode once this feature is activated by

the user. Data for multiple games can be exchanged simultaneously.

– Features that users can access without stopping game play such as the HOME menu, Internet Brower, Notifications, etc.

– Built-in software such as the Nintendo 3DS Camera, Nintendo 3DS Sound, Mii

Maker, StreetPass, Mii Plaza, AR Games, Activity Log, Face Raiders, etc.

Nintendo eShop where users can view trailers, software rankings and purchase software.

– System Transfer which enable users to transfer already purchased software from one

Nintendo 3DS system to another. DSiWare purchased for the Nintendo DSi or the Nintendo DSi XL can also be transferred into a Nintendo 3DS system.**

– Compatibility functions where both new software designed for Nintendo 3DS and most

software for the Nintendo DS family of systems can be played.

– Parental Controls which enable parents to restrict game content by ratings as well as use of specific wireless connectivity, 3D functionality, etc.***

*Some of these features may not be available at launch

**There is a limit to how many times transfers can be made. Some software may not be transferred.

***Additional features added through system updates may also be subject to Parental Controls.

Some of these features such as the Internet browser, Nintendo eShop, system transfer and the ability to download software and videos using SpotPass will be available after system updates are performed.

Size (when closed): 2.9 inches high, 5.3 inches long, 0.8 inches deep.

Weight: Approximately 8 ounces (including battery pack, stylus, SD memory card).

Upper Screen: Wide-screen LCD display, enabling 3D view without the need for special glasses. Capable of displaying approximately 16.77 million colors. 3.53 inches display (3.02 inches wide, 1.81 inches high) with 800 x 240 pixel resolution. 400 pixels are allocated to each eye to enable 3D viewing.

Lower Screen: LCD with a touch screen capable of displaying 16.77 million colors. 3.02 inches (2.42 inches wide, 1.81 inches high) with 320 x 240 pixel resolution.

Cameras: One inner camera and two outer cameras. Resolutions are 640 x 480 for each camera. Lens are single focus and uses the CMOS capture element. The active pixel count is approximately 300,000 pixels.

Wireless Communication: 2.4 GHz. Enabling local wireless communication among multiple Nintendo 3DS systems for game play and StreetPass. Enabling access to the Internet through wireless LAN access points (supports IEEE802.11 b/g with the WPA™/WPA2™ security feature). Recommended distance of wireless communication is within 98.4 feet. This can be shorter depending on the enviromental

situation. WPA and WPA2 are marks of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

Input Controls: Input controls are the following:

– A/B/X/Y Button, +Control Pad, L/R Button, START/SELECT

– Circle Pad (enabling 360-degree analog input)

– Touch screen

– Embedded microphone

– Camera

– Motion sensor

– Gyro sensor

Other Input Controls: Other input controls are the following:

– 3D Depth Slider (enabling smooth adjustment of the 3D level effect)

– HOME Button (brings up the HOME menu)

– Wireless switch (can disable wireless functionality even during game play)

– POWER button

Connector: Connector includes:

Game Card slot

SD Card slot

Cradle connector

AC adapter connector

Audio jack (stereo output)

Sound: Stereo speakers positioned to the left and right of the top screen (supports virtual surround sound).

Stylus: Telescoping stylus (approximately 3.94 inches when fully extended).

Electric Power: AC adaptor (WAP-002 [USA]). Nintendo 3DS Battery Pack (lithium ion battery) [CTR-003].

Charge Time: About 3.5 hours

Battery Duration: When playing Nintendo 3DS software about 3-5 hours. When playing Nintendo DS software about 5-8 hours. Battery duration differs depending on the brightness setting of the screen. The information regarding battery duration is a rough standard. It can be shorter depending on what functions of the Nintendo 3DS system are used.

Game Card: Nintendo 3DS Game Card. The size is approximately the same as Nintendo DS Game Card.

Comments | Topics: 3DS launch, ds, Gadgets & products

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