Nintendo World is one of my favorite places in New York City. I was in the neighborhood today, so I thought I’d checkout the new Nintendo 3DS. It’s the latest portable gaming system from Nintendo. The main feature is that it has three-dimensional effects, but without the need for special glasses. This is not something that can be photographed or recorded by conventional means. I had to see the device with my own eyes. After having done so, I’m surprisingly disappointed. The 3DS just wasn’t that impressive to me.
There is some bias here. While I like Nintendo’s Gameboy line, I’ve never been a big fan of the dual-screen systems. Around the same time the first DS was released, I purchased my first smartphone — a Sidekick II. I realized that I didn’t need to leave the house with Batman’s utility belt. One device could do the job of many. Instead of leaving the house with a music player, a camera, a game player and a phone, I only needed my Sidekick. But even though I didn’t see a need to buy the DS, I still respected it. I could recommend it to gamers. I could buy it as a gift. Things are different with the 3DS. I’m really starting to wonder about Nintendo.
The first problem is that the system is expensive. $250 is a lot of money for a portable gaming device. With iPads, iPods and iPhones floating around, are people really going to spend money on another portable? Why buy $40 games when the iTunes App Store is loaded with 99¢ games?
Quality is a good reply. Nintendo doesn’t mess around. They’re not trying to be a phone company or a computer company. They simply focus on games.
So, I checked out some of the new games — in 3D! 8)
Wait… that’s the wrong smiley. The 3D doesn’t use glasses…
I did feel a sense of depth, as if I could reach into the screen. Yet, that feeling of astonishment was quickly diminished. It was replaced with other feelings, like frustration and disappointment. I could feel strain on my eyes almost immediately. The device is not intended for children under 7, which lowered my expectations. But even with that considered, I haven’t been this underwhelmed with a Nintendo product since the Virtual Boy. It’s as if Nintendo hasn’t learned from their failures. A game shouldn’t give people headaches.
The biggest problem with the 3D is that I didn’t know how to focus my eyes. I didn’t know where to look. And if I moved away from the center of the screen, the effect would fade. (Closing one of my eyes would also cancel the effect.) The sweet spot for the 3D effect is narrow. After futzing with the flimsy 3D slider, I felt that the games were more enjoyable with the slider in the off position. But without the 3D effect, I’m reminded of the system’s limitations.
The iPhone 4 and the fourth-generation iPod Touch have Retina Display screens. I think a sharper picture is more enjoyable than blurry 3D effects. 400×240 is no match for 960×640. The 3DS creates the 3D effect with 800 pixels across — 400 pixels for each eye. Image quality was sacrificed for a novelty. I think that was a bad decision.
Regardless if you view the feature as a frivolous gimmick or groundbreaking immersion, reality sets in with battery life. The 5-8 hours of battery life for DS games drops to 3-5 hours for 3DS games. That’s almost half power. If the 3D effect strains my eyes, drains the battery, adds significant costs and the novelty wears off quickly, how can I recommend it? I can’t! The 3DS is a surprising disappointment.
That’s unfortunate, as there are some cool features. It has two rear cameras for taking 3D pictures, but only 640×480 pixels of resolution per camera is antediluvian. I really like the analogue controller, but that’s nothing new. That feature was added to the PlayStation Portable — over six years ago!
I like Nintendo, so I don’t like to see this. Apple and Android are moving into the mobile gaming market. With a weak showing like this, Nintendo’s dominance of portable gaming could soon be at an end. The 3DS is a platform for gamers. It has a real controller and the games are generally of higher quality than the Android Market / iTunes App Store. Yet, is that enough? As the Wii showed the world, casual and inexpensive games can win the day. I don’t think a mediocre 3D effect is enough to defend Nintendo from the emerging competition.