Is the 3DS all it’s cracked up to be?
Until recently, the only portable gaming device I owned was the Gameboy Advance. One could make an argument that my iPhone is really the most recent, but I’m talking about things that are dedicated, strictly speaking, to gaming. Two buttons, two bumpers, and an infuriatingly unbacklit screen. I pretty much played ONLY Dr. Mario on it, and it got off and on use as I’d rediscover it amongst the detritus of my apartment. My relationship with Nintendo itself has always been a weird one. I never had a NES or SNES, and I had the original Gameboy but ultimately found it less entertaining than the Genesis, despite the GB’s portability and relatively cheaper games. As I got more and more removed from Nintendo, I eventually just… stopped caring about it. I came to hold the Wii in quasi-disdain once I’d had a chance to futz around on a few friends’ consoles. Innovative gameplay with last generation’s graphics wasn’t my thing, so I didn’t really expect them to have much else worth playing after that. Nintendo was, at that point, dead to me beyond nostalgia value. Normally I’d follow the ‘beauty is on the inside’ maxim – but when ‘video’ is in your genre, you might wanna pay attention to your graphic quality lest you slip into obscurity.
Well, it turns out… they did in 2011. The 3DS was announced as a revolutionary advancement in 3D technology and better still, it would require no special glasses and would be backward compatible with the DS. It opened to lukewarm reception however. It’s price tag was too expensive and units weren’t exactly flying off shelves. Then there was an open sign of desperation on Nintendo’s part. The head honchos publicly announced that the platform was struggling and the price point dropped, cutting off their profit margin to make up for a slump in sales. That must have been the uptick – and I missed it. I had a phone to play games on. I was content.
However, after our recent podcast episode (Alien Nintendo Females) it became plainly apparent that I had been away from the portable scene for some time, and even longer since I was even remotely involved with Nintendo products. I found myself with very little to say. And, while I’m happy with my pen and paper niche here on the site, I decided maybe it was time to actually do more than comment from the sidelines on the Nintendo stuff. It seemed time to jump in at least into the shallow end, so I took some gift cards and credit from a local second hand shop and managed to get a 3DS for $45.
Knowing what I know now though, Nintendo’s gonna get more money out of me. And here’s why:
So, upon coming home, I unpackaged my newly obtained 3DS unit (Aqua Blue) and took stock of the items inside. I tossed aside every scrap of paper and instructions (that’s what the internet is for) and made sure to take stock of charging cradle, cable, main unit and these weird AR Cards. I immediately noticed the inability to just throw batteries in it, which was disheartening. While I’m into rechargable devices, it’s nice to be able to just pack some batteries for long trips on planes, of which I seem to be taking more and more of these days.
Once it was charged up, I spent some time dicking around with it. I ultimately found the device a bit lackluster. With no pack-in games to play, you’re stuck with what it gives you in the firmware. I couldn’t quite get the internet connection going either – it noted that my network wasn’t configured right to make the DS talk to it. It was late and my girlfriend and I were tired. Rather than boring her to tears while I fiddled with my new tech, I went to bed, resigned to working out the kinks of the DS in the morning.
The next day went much better. I acquired a network connection in the course of my day and found that the hardware would greatly open up now that I could get to the Nintendo e-Store, and also to my favorite part, the Virtual Console. I then went to GamePawn on my lunch and acquired Fire Emblem and Tetris Axis on the cheap thanks to one of those few, rare instance in life where GameStop actually cuts you a good deal. More on those titles and the 3DS gameplay experience in a bit.
The last of my first impressions regards the tech the system really touts – the 3D. And I have to say, I am very, very impressed. Stereoscopic technology is not a new thing. If you’ve messed around with a View-Master from the sixties or seventies, you are already familiar with this basic technology straight out of 1939. The trick they managed was pulling it off without having to narrow down your vision with apparatus (a la View-Master, Virtual Boy or glasses). Unbelievably, they’ve managed to do it with an approach that simply requires you to look at the device from a head on orientation via Autostereoscopy.
Welcome to the future.
The Deep Dive
So, the hardware analyzed, it was time to get into what you could actually do with it. Which… is not a lot if you don’t have an Internet connection or a game to start with. I had some initial problems with both. I wiped out my store credit to get the damn system and was really kind of hoping it came with something, cart formatted, to play. Additionally, it gave me some difficulties connecting to the internet, so for a while, all I had to play with was making Miis and fiddling with AR Cards. AR Cards, while kind of fascinating, are no something I think I’ll be messing around with too much. Living in a cramped apartment makes for a difficult time with that.
The good news is though, that when I finally got the device connected I opened up the Nintendo eShop- and found Virtual Console. About ten minutes and twenty dollars later, I had Ninja Gaiden, Metroid, Dr. Mario and Castlevania running in eight bit glory. I am going to lose rather a lot of money due to this, so… thanks, Nintendo.
After that, I went through other things as well. StreetPass, Mii Maker, and even saw that there were some other app-centric type things available as well. I was particularly impressed when I saw I could use Netflix on the 3DS. Nintendo, a company largely based on marketing to children, tends to be averse to their technology being used to access naked boobies – something Netflix has been known to do gleefully. After watching some episodes of the West Wing, I proceeded to play Dr. Mario until I blacked out.
The next step was looking into cart based games. I was fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of Gamestop instead of the other way around, and walked away with used copies of Fire Emblem and Tetris Axis. The games are affordable – a marked advantage over the big console titles – and they’re making more use of 3D technology than the big movie studios are. The opening to Fire Emblem was enthralling. It’s kind of weird seeing that kind of quality on a handheld device. While one can look to other handheld consoles like the Vita and see a greater quality of graphics at work, 3DS has really found an admirable niche with their gimmick. I feel more innovation coming out from them in an arena I care about: graphics. Their AR concepts are pretty strong and I see them using it.
Is Mario Big Brother?
One of the creepier things I’ve noted in the 3DS is that it has a little bit of Big Brother going on. Almost. I’d worry about it were the system not anonymised. It never asks me for my real name – not even when adding funds to my device to purchase from the online store.
However, it’s still pulling down a LOT of information about you.
For instance, it monitors your activity. I wouldn’t really have noticed this unless I hadn’t checked the Mii Maker lobby. It noted that for every 5 coins I spent I could get collectible stuff in the system. You get coins through a couple means, but one of them was just by walking around. This led me to the Activity log. This shows you your pedometer results.
Then I noted exactly how granular the details were for the pedometer. It breaks it down by hour. Not just your movement habits, but also your gameplay. It is the marketeer’s wetdream. I imagine the information is sent to the evil masterminds at Nintendo’s Marketing department. I imagine it looks a bit like world 8-4 from the original Super Mario Bros. game.
And I’ll admit it – I like to stick it to marketeers. The more invasive the marketeers are about getting my data, the more I despise them. Now in this case, like I said, it’s anonymised provided you’re not stupid and put in your real name into the device. And I believe there’s an opt out, which is also good. For the most part, this data sharing is okay I guess since they’re not asking for my enail address or to join their lame-ass virtual farm to get my demographic information – but there have been some outcries in certain corners of the web circulating about Nintendo’s ability to brick your device if they perceive you to be doing something that violates EULA which implies there’s snitchware in there somewhere too. While I don’t advocate piracy, I DO advocate privacy. I can’t say if there’s truth to the concerns or not, but it’s something to think about.
The Everyday Use
So, how has the 3DS impacted my life? Well…
Not as much as I thought it might.
At it’s heart, Nintendo products don’t focus their efforts into my arena. The big exception to this is retrogaming, a subject near and dear to Deadpixels and I’s cold, aging hearts. But, largely, I’m still playing my phone games, I’m still playing console, and ultimately, I’m seeking more mature themed titles like Bioshock or Sleeping Dogs. Nintendo’s bread and butter are Pokemon (which should really be considered mature as it’s the fantasy equivalent of dogfighting), juvenile Mario titles, and generally family friendly titles. Which is alright. Nintendo is the McDonalds of videogames. You get a Nintendo product, you know exactly what it is you’re getting. Mario is as familiar as Ronald McDonald is, and the expected is comfortable, and more to the point it’s a guaranteed profit generator. Mario’s still big with the kids because it was big with mom and dad. No company parlays nostalgia into cash quite like Nintendo does.
The Sum Up
At the end of the day, I see the merits of the platform. It’s just not marketed as heavily towards my demographic. Ultimately, this will be my nostalgia box. Its two windows will more than likely look into the past than into the future, though I’m told Shin Megami Tensei and some of the other JRPGs floating about on the console may sway me. But, that’s for the future really. I don’t have the money to drop whole hog into the console just yet. But, for right now, it gets four out of five sticks for innovations in graphic application and for letting me relive the humiliation of not even being able to get through World 1-1 without dying.
Final Verdict: 4/5