Nintendo 3DS First Impressions Review

So, probably against my better judgement I picked up a Nintendo 3DS. I've been deliberating on picking one up ever since I got a DSi XL back in September '10. I've read reviews, messed around with a floor model at GameStop, and yammered with the GameStop manager about it. I didn't pre-order since I was so on-the-fence about it. So today came and I impulsively decided to get one. I didn't pick up any games with it because the launch games really don't pique my interest. I'm mainly waiting for the re-releases of Ocarina of Time (4th purchase of the title, le sigh) and Starfox 64. I'm not going to bother with an unboxing video or anything of it since I find those videos really boring and flat-out stupid. But, I will do a kind of "first impressions" post complete with pics from my cell phone since I have no other camera.

Nintendo 3DS first impressions:

Size and feel: This thing is tiny. Probably a hair smaller than the DS Lite/DSi but probably about as tall as the DSi XL when closed. I don't have small hands but I don't have big hands and it didn't feel awkward or crampy while in my hands like the DS Lite and DSi did. It's a happy medium between the DSi and the XL.

The feel of it is nice. It's glossy and shiny but not too much of either. It doesn't slip around in my hands either.

Screens: I'm going to miss the size of the XL's screens. A lot. The bottom screen is the same size as the DSi's screen and the top screen is a widescreen version of the DSi's top screen. Since I don't have any 3DS games at the moment I won't comment on the image quality of them until I have one. The image quality of regular DS titles is about the same on the bottom screen and top screen.

I used Pokemon Black as my DS title for initial testing since it has lots of vibrant colors and it's a new title. The bottom screen's image quality is the same as ever but the top screen I noticed has a bit of a lower image quality than the XL. I'm not sure if it's straight-up lower quality or if the screen is just too sharp and it's emphasizing the pixels but there's a noticeable difference coming from the XL. It doesn't look bad, per se, but it is indeed a bit different. Don't worry it isn't game-breaker for buying one or not. Some might not even notice it, I haven't seen any mention of it on any of the big gaming sites.

Update: I was told by my buddy Arthur that you can load DS games in their native resolution by holding Start+Select when loading the game. That fixes most of the image quality issues I was having. Supposedly messing with the brightness settings can help too. Seems the scaling is a bit bad right now since there seems to be zero smoothing. I'm hoping it can be fixed in an update.

Setup and wireless: Going through the initial setup was a bit more simplified. Thankfully, they updated the wireless security support even more with the 3DS and you can connect to a wireless AP using better security than WEP (ewwwww!). I know the DSi and XL had that support as well but it's much more in the form of native support here instead of having to go into the "advanced" Internet settings. Sadly, older titles that don't have the newer security support still require WEP to connect to the Nintendo WFC. Pokemon Black works fine as it basically piggy backs whatever is in the main system settings instead of its own independent WFC settings like most games. Thankfully I had no trouble connecting to my phone's wireless tether.

Controls/Buttons: The layout of the controls is fairly nice. I'm not a huge fan of the location of the D-pad but I can understand the placement. Frankly, I'm sure this will wear off as soon as I get used to playing 3DS titles instead of just DS titles. The analog stick is fairly tight but not too tight out-of-the-box and I expect it to loosen up some as I use it. The ABXY buttons press very nicely and give a fair amount of tactile feedback compared to the DSi and XL's kind of squishy buttons. The LR buttons aren't nearly as good in the feedback department but still feel very firm but not too firm. The Select/Home/Start buttons are a little weird. I haven't decided if I'm a fan or not.

Sound: The sound on the 3DS is loud. Like, shockingly loud compared to previous models. I prefer putting the sound setting to stereo over "Surround". It's really crisp and loud. The music and sound editing application looks great in 2D or 3D but has some glaring issues - the music stops playing when you close it and you can't use the shoulder buttons to advance tracks. Not very useful if you want to use it as a MP3 player. Could easily be fixed with an update, I think.

Miscellaneous: I've never been a fan of the placement of the headphones jack and I still am. I think putting headphone jacks on the bottom of handhelds is an awkward and silly thing to do. It requires you to keep your arms up away from a surface and prevents you from really getting comfortable. I've often leaned my DS or PSP against the wall while in bed playing a game and that would be downright impossible to do with headphones in.

The placement of the stylus seems a bit on the backwards side, especially given how hard it is to get the damn thing out compared to past DS models. I really feel the side style was the best ever and loved the shift of placement ever since the DS Lite. It being near the card slot isn't bad but it isn't as good as the side was.

The dock is awesome. Flat-out awesome. I love just being able to drop it into the dock for charging.

The included SD card is 2GB in size and Toshiba brand. It's nice to have it included.

3D: And here's the meat and potatoes of the new system. I have to say, I was very impressed by the 3D. During the initial setup I went into a looping Keanu Moment™ (whoa!) for about 15 seconds. It was single-handedly the coolest thing I've ever seen a handheld, nay any console ever do. Playing with the Augmented Reality games was literally, as some have said, a "holy shit" moment. My only gripe (since I'm very much a sit-down gamer) is that you have to remain about 14 inches away from the AR cards. To be honest, these were one of the driving factors into the purchase and more than make up for the crappy line-up of launch games. The way the images just pop out and move is intriguing and fun!

Final thoughts:

I was jawing with the GameStop manager about the AR and we came to the conclusion that if Nintendo ever takes advantage of the AR cards with Pokemon that the world is essentially doomed. Think, if each issue of Nintendo Power (or other gaming magazines) had a huntable Pokemon or video game character in the pages with AR mini-games rewarding an unlockable item/character/etc. in the upcoming game? It'd be pure genius and a huge potential revenue source for Nintendo (not that they really need it). They could even sell AR card packs.

While the launch titles are crap for me, the AR cards have a lot of potential to go on and I really hope it's not wasted. I really don't want to see another GBA e-reader fiasco with this promising bit of tech.

I can't wait for the first-party titles coming out later and the eShop with classic gaming titles. I wish Nintendo had all that ready on launch but past precedent (DSiWare and WiiWare shops) shows that they won't have it up for a couple months. It's a small blemish on the launch but there's hope.

Hopefully they'll be consistent with system updates improving the system instead of just putting out arbitrary ones to foil pirates. The systems settings could use more options - screen sharpness and a switchable clock so you can choose 12hr mode or 24hr mode. The coming features in the mysterious coming system update look promising. The big gripe I've seen a lot of people nag about is that Nintendo will be able to remove content from your 3DS with the updates. There's a lot of implications that gives off and most of them Not Good™. I'm sincerely hoping Nintendo doesn't take advantage of it and only removes content that it solely provides like that little OK Go video the first system update gives. If they start removing items you've purchased or simply put on your 3DS without permission, notification, or even at all I will be one of the very first people in line for a torch and pitchfork provided they don't issue refunds or very sound reasoning on the level that Spock would be envious.

The 3DS would be a great buy for anyone who loves new gadgets/technology, a Nintendo fanboy/girl, or just love showing off. If you're not one to do that or just have no interest in any of the current 3DS titles, I would say save your money and wait until the library expands a little with better titles. The AR is glorious, the dock is awesome, and the 3D is pretty cool and is in no way a gimmick. There's not much reason to move up to it right now, especially if you have a DSi or XL. I will seriously miss those luscious large screens on the XL.

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