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Happy 30th Day Anniversary, 3DS


The Nintendo 3DS, the legitimate next-generation model of the DS (all those little upgrades didn’t count) has been out for about a month now. When the specs for this one were first revealed, many were shocked that, for the first time, Nintendo had broken its tortoise-like approach to handhelds (the one that always won the race) and sped up to hare territory…the realm of pricier technology and 3-hour battery life. Besides the better games, the biggest reason to pick a Nintendo handheld over a PSP or a Sega Nomad was that it won’t die on you midway through a plane trip. But now they all do that.

The 3DS does not look like this.

I get the sense the reason Nintendo broke the rules this time was that it simply got scared of Apple, a phobia they’ve implied they have now in recent speeches. Nintendo’s made much of their recent fortune in the casual market it expanded, and they’ve grown comfortable putting out simplistic games with bare-bones graphics and charging $40 or $50 for them. Apple is now giving your mom the same games on her phone for a buck. Nintendo needed something — anything — to distract the casual market, and fast. While Nintendo’s R&D has been experimenting with 3D screens for at least ten years, it’s unlike them to sell it as product before it lasts at least eight hours a charge. But it’s their hope that the added depth will be enough to hypnotize the non-hardcore.

In addition to that, Nintendo also released the device at a strange time: the end of March. This is because they promised all their investors they would have the 3DS out by the end of the fiscal year. Some things, like an online marketplace and a first-party killer app, weren’t even ready yet, but pleasing shareholders was more important than consumers this time. All in all, the 3DS is being sold early for business reasons, not because we needed it immediately.

So based on everything I just said, why should you buy a 3DS today? There are actually several good reasons.

You should buy a 3DS now if:

#1: You simply need a new DS. You might as well get the latest model. My 3DS is replacing my launch DS Fat from seven years ago.

#2: You always buy Nintendo machines on day one. There’s no consequence in doing this, besides playing the waiting game for the library to build up. I’m a fan of their first-party games and I like to have them as soon as they come out. And unlike their competition, the first models of their hardware are built to last.

#3: You just gotta have that screen. This is a perfectly valid reason. The screen rocks.

I love 3D things, and until now, the best 3D I’d ever seen was through polarized lenses at the movie theater. There’s always been some kind of tradeoff to get the effect, be it darker visuals, blurriness, or washed-out colors. There was even, briefly, some attempt at large red goggles that showed a different view in each eye, but it’s best not to think about that and the 3DS at the same time. They’re not even in the same universe. This is the best 3D effect you can buy right now, and it’s 100% headache-free.

The 3DS’s layout is mostly the same as in previous models, only this time it sports a long-overdue analog control “Slide Pad” for 3D movement. (Yes, there could also be two there, but I’m not crying over it.) The old control pad is still on it, but has been demoted to a place that your thumb can’t reach. You won’t miss it much. Not only does the Slide Pad work great for the new titles, it makes older games easier to handle. Super Mario 64 DS would almost be playable now if you didn’t have to hold down a button to run.

Even without a game, the 3DS is packed with things to do right out of the box. We’ve come a long way since “Pictochat” — now you can synthesize Miis from real photos, play “AR Games” where game models hover around real objects, and even take 3D photographs (a future firmware update will let you shoot 3D films). Best of all, you only need ONE “Friend Code” that should work with all your games. None would be nicer, but…baby steps. The Internet still scares Iwata.

If you leave the 3DS on standby mode and walk around, you should in theory gain visits from the Miis of others just by walking past them. Like most of Nintendo’s social-media endeavors, this one assumes you travel daily on Japanese trains surrounded by dozens of other people with 3DSes. In the likely event that you don’t, here’s a good scheme that works: do you have a game store near you? Go there and loiter around for a few minutes. You’re most likely to stand next to another 3DS player there. At the very least, you should pick up the Mii inside the store’s demo unit.

He’s saying “I’M BATMAN.” There’s no way to recreate the scene and take another shot. They only talk to you once.

You will know you have visitors when a green light turns on in the 3DS’s upper right corner. Once you have that, go to Mii Plaza and strangers will come in bearing gifts. You can use the new Miis to battle in the built-in game “Find Mii,” a dungeon crawler that can get you nifty hats for your Mii as you explore. You must use the new Miis immediately, for they won’t be available later for some reason. In want of new Miis, you can also purchase the services of a cat in armor for two Coins, but the cat won’t get very far.

Miis you meet can also give you new pieces for the picture-assembling app Puzzle Swap. Your goal with this one is to collect all the pieces of a picture; if you do so, the picture will appear in 3D! Nintendo has not made this easy at all. You can only get one piece per Mii, and if you buy the pieces yourself, you’re 9/10ths likely to buy a piece you already own. Whoever programmed it this way is a troll.

This is gonna drive me nuts for weeks.

Not many games are available yet, but that should change. The one launch game that everybody with a 3DS buys is Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, mostly because of the good reviews. Except on Toonzone. This is probably the only place you’ll hear something like this, but….I wasn’t satisfied with this game. The most I could get out of it was challenging anonymous people online, and when you get sick of that, your only other options are….fighting some more. You can also kick a parked car, but that’s as much variety as you can get. “What did you expect from a FIGHTER, genius?” Well, I think I’ve just been spoiled by the Smash Bros. series, where if you don’t want to battle, you can also satisfy challenges, complete a chapter of Subspace Emmissary, collect trophies by shooting them, or play 20 seconds of Ice Climbers. Fighting is all SF is good for and I want my games to hold my attention longer than ten minutes.

I was much more satisfied with Rayman 3D. What I wanted to do more than anything is run around freely in 3D, and Rayman 3D is currently the only non-Lego-related game sold that will allow me to do that. This is an exact port of the Dreamcast edition of Rayman 2, so the polygon count is lower than in other titles, but the environments still impress — and in 3D, even more so. It’s a shame that 3D platformers are dead, because they would work better on the 3DS than anywhere else. They need to make a comeback just for this machine; the depth DOES make a difference.

None of the exciting games Nintendo announced for the 3DS are currently sold for it, besides “Nintendogs + Cats.” The earliest must-have available will be Ocarina of Time 3DS on June 19. If you think this says something about the handheld’s future, it doesn’t. Only two dedicated gaming machines in history have had a decent library right out of the gate: Super NES and Sega Dreamcast. The PS2 has the largest and most diverse library of any console ever made and it launched with something called “Fantavision.” The Game Boy Color launched with an RPG based on the film “Quest for Camelot.” Meanwhile, the old Game Boy had just received Pokemon.

Which brings me to my next point: if you say you don’t care about 3D as much as you claim you don’t, then you’ll be just as satisfied with a flat game, correct? And right now, the DS has an untouchable lineup of flat games. Some that just came out are among the best ever released for the handheld and yet they’re being overshadowed by the likes of Ridge Racer. This is usually what happens, and years later, gamers come back to finish their collections and play the titles they skipped — and find those titles are now $80 a pop because no one bought them when they were being neglected in the shadow of the New Shiny Thing.

Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is that game. This is the Shantae of the DS lineup, a limited release from a small company, a game no one wants now and everyone’s going to feel their collections aren’t complete without three years from now. As you read this, GameStop is clearing the remaining copies out in their yearly housecleaning sale for $25. It will never be this price again. This is your one chance. Take it!*

*Assuming you’re not still a kid. This game earns its M.

There are still a lot of cynics out there who won’t touch the 3DS until “the better version” comes out, or until it lowers in price, or until the Sony NGP underperforms. Whether you purchase it now or years from now, you should take home a 3DS at some point in your life. The technology is just too cool to pass up. It should at least keep you occupied until Wii 2, which will definitely look like this: