March 1, 2011 at 7:56 AM ET
The Nintendo 3DS portable game machine has just launched in Japan and stores have already sold out of their initial supply. And as Nintendo gears up to release the gadget in North America, the question is: Will the same thing happen here?
Will western consumers decide that playing 3-D games without the 3-D glasses is worth $250? Are we willing to drop the kind of cash we'd pay for a home game console on a handheld game machine? (You can purchase a Wii or an Xbox 360 for $50 less.) Is the 3DS so amazing that we should start lining up in front of electronics stores right now?
Nintendo will launch its 3DS game machine March 27th here in North America for $249.95. According to reports from Japan, retailers there — swamped by enormous lines during this past weekend's launch — quickly sold out of their first shipments, going through some 400,000 units.
I recently had a chance to spend some time with a 3DS and I can say it's a compelling and wow-inducing machine with lots of bells, whistles and features that make that $250 price tag seem fair. But is it a must have game machine? As in, is it something you must have as soon as it arrives in stores?
I'll save my final verdict for our full review but I can say that, as of right now, I'm a bit torn.
The 3DS is a sleek, stylish gadget, about the same size as the best-selling Nintendo DS Lite and DSi. It's got that smart Nintendo DS clamshell design with the top screen being the one that shows off the 3-D images and the bottom screen being the touch screen. The top screen is larger than the older-model Nintendo DS Lite or DSi screens at 3.53 inches and the bottom screen is 3.02 inches.
The 3DS also has three cameras — two of which are designed to let you take your own 3-D pictures. And it has a Circle Pad, which is a much-appreciated analog stick for game control.
Meanwhile, seeing games in 3-D right there in your hands without any glasses is certainly the kind of thing that drops jaws.
The 3DS' screens look great with their 800×240 pixels (top) and 320×240 pixels (bottom) display. Playing a 3DS launch game like "Nintendogs + Cats" makes you feel like you could reach out and actually touch your virtual pet. Meanwhile "Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition" simply jumps right off the screen in all its butt-kicking glory.
And playing the augmented reality challenges in "AR Games" (a title that comes pre-loaded on all 3DS devices) is a mind-boggling, surreal blast. In this game you use the 3DS' cameras and motion sensors to look around your own real-world environment and interact with virtual creatures and items super-imposed there.
But I have to say, after that wow factor wore off, I did find myself wanting to turn the 3-D off at times and just go back to good ol' 2-D gaming. Of course, the nice thing about the 3DS is that you can do just that — the 3-D slider allows you to easily adjust the intensity of the 3-D visuals as well turn off the 3-D completely while you're playing.
I don't believe that extended 3-D gaming on the 3DS would make me hurl (as 3-D viewing does to some people), but I can say that my eyes felt more strained as I played. More importantly, there's one question that nags at me — how good will the 3-D viewing really be when we're playing games that ask us to move our bodies around?
The 3DS comes with both a motion sensor and gyro sensor embedded. And several of the 3DS games I had a chance to test drive —"Steel Diver," "AR Games" and "Face Raiders" (another pre-loaded title) — all task players with moving about during the game.
"Steel Diver," for example, is a game that, at times, has you turn your body right and left to search for enemy ships to gun down. It's as if you're in a submarine looking around through a periscope. The 3DS's motion sensors detect your movement and adjust the on-screen view as you turn your body, looking for enemy targets.
But the thing is, to see the 3-D imagery correctly, you have to keep your head directly in front of your 3DS. There's only a small window for wiggle room. Moving your body around and keeping your head aligned with the gadget at the same time isn't horribly difficult. But it does require some extra attention and, if you move your eyes too far out of alignment, the visuals go wonky.
My concern is, keeping our eyes in that sweet spot when playing games like this could quickly get frustrating and tiring and players could wind up flipping that 3-D slider to "off" before very long. As Msnbc.com games editor Todd Kenreck notes in his video preview up top, he experienced that very issue from shaking the machine while playing "Super Street Fighter IV."
It's no good if we're spending $250 for 3-D that we simply wind up turning off. But again, I'll save my official verdict until after I have a chance to spend more time with these games and have a chance to get used to this new feature.
Meanwhile, Nintendo has announced the list of games players will be able to purchase the very first day the 3DS arrives in stores. The suggested retail price for 3DS games will be $40. From Nintendo itself, you'll be able to grab "Pilotwings Resort," "Steel Diver," and "Nintendogs + Cats." And that's it from them on the day of launch.
In the past, Nintendo has launched a Mario Bros. game alongside most of its new game machines — and Mario and Luigi are sorely missed here, in what feels like a somewhat thin first-party launch lineup. But Nintendo has said that it does have several other games in the works and scheduled to arrive in 2011 including "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D," "Star Fox 64 3D," "Kid Icarus: Uprising" and a new installment in the Mario Kart series. So Mario is on his way.
Meanwhile, third-party publishers will have the following games ready to go on launch day:
"Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition," "The Sims 3," "Madden NFL Football," "Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D," "LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars," "Ridge Racer 3D," "Super Monkey Ball 3D," "Bust-A-Move Universe," "Samurai Warriors: Chronicles," "Asphalt 3D," "Combat of Giants: Dinosaurs 3D," "Rayman 3D," and "Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Shadow Wars."
While there are some really good offerings there, I'm not sure I see the killer game yet — the one that makes camping out for a 3DS worth doing. But stay tuned for more on the 3DS launch as we dig deep into the machine, its features and its games to help you decide whether you're ready to spend $250 on Nintendo's latest gaming creation.
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