My Week with the 3DS

It’s been about a week since I got my shiny turquoise 3DS at launch. I figured I’d share some impressions of this device.

THE BAD

  • This is the most half-ass Nintendo launch in the company’s 120+ year history. This is coming from a guy that blew $179.95 on a Virtual Boy on launch day in 1995! The 3DS is just incomplete. Want to use the browser? Oh that’s coming soon. How about the app store? Oh that’s coming soon. Considering both of these features have existed on the DSi for years, I don’t see how they are absent from the 3DS.
  • 3.5 hour battery life. What is this, an Atari Lynx? Poor battery life is a dealbreaker for a portable system. It won’t even last a round trip in the back seat of the SUV during a family vacation.
  • It’s ugly. I’m not talking about colors–Nintendo’s handhelds always seem have US launches with a garish palette. No matter what color you get, you’re left with a huge, hulking, decidedly unsexy piece of plastic.

    Perhaps the 3DS is designed to be easily gripped by younger hands, but this thing seems to be at least 2X bigger than it needs to be. Whether it’s fair or not, it’s being compared to the iPhone. It’s so huge, I can’t conveniently carry it around with me. Especially since I always have an iPhone in one pocket…which is another one of Nintendo’s big problems this generation.
  • The UI sucks. It’s 2011 and the 3DS needs a stylus. Seriously? I can see why they included the stylus to remain compatible with DS titles. However, for the 3DS interface to use a stylus in 2011 is unacceptable. Yeah you can tap the screen with your fingers, but they still use scroll bars, tiny soft keys, and other interface metaphors designed for stylus use.
  • It’s still using that dumb 3-slot WiFi setup screen. At least it supports WPA/PSK now (like the DSi). You still can’t use WPA/PSK with DS games that use WiFi. In addition to this, you are limited to saving 3 WiFi hotspots. You’d think someone at Nintendo would see how an Android device or iPhone handles WiFi hotspots. Why am I limited to 3? Why can’t I just add and save hotspots like any other modern device?
  • Launch titles are typically weak. Iwata complains that the iPhone is cheapening games by offering very little gameplay at small prices. Yet, many launch titles priced at $39.99 don’t give much more gameplay than free iPhone apps.
  • StreetPass is poorly implemented. Oops–I was wrong here. StreetPass does work without the cart. See this link.

THE GOOD

  • 3D is neat! Honestly, the 3D screen gives me eyestrain after about 30 minutes. I’m really not sure what to think about the after-effects. I do generally like it. Still, holding the 3DS in the right position to be in the screen’s sweet spot is a pain. This is specially evident with button masher games like Street Fighter IV where it’s near impossible to keep the machine steady while playing.

    Even in games without gimmicky camera movements and such, the 3D effect gives a nice ‘volume’ to everything. This makes the 3DS surprisingly immersive for such a small screen.
  • The 3D camera is awesome. It works very well, and has a lot of interesting settings. It would be cool if somehow Nintendo could figure out how to create a relatively cheap lenticular printer accessory. Or maybe install printers at Gamestop etc. that let you print out 3D photos for a fee.
  • The Augmented Reality games are the best I’ve ever seen. A lot of you have probably seen AR features on iPhone apps such as Yelp’s Monocle or games like Ogmento’s Paranormal Activity. The 3DS takes this to the next level with really fun and innovative use of AR. Unfortunately, you still need to use marker cards.
  • Miis have more to do. The Game Coin system (earn virtual credits by walking around with your DS via the pedometer) not only allows you to unlock content in supported games, but also play a few clever mini games with your Miis. No longer are Miis relegated to aimless wandering around the screen. They have stuff to do, including a light RPG quest built right into the 3DS desktop.
  • System-wide friend codes. I do understand Nintendo’s reliance on friend codes. It’s dangerous (and even illegal) to store personal identifying information of minors. Since the 3DS is targeted squarely at kids, friend codes give a safe way for children to play on-line games without weird strangers in the mix. Now, the 3DS uses one friend code per system instead of one per game. Also, the friend browser can be brought up during a game at any time without quitting. Nice.

CONCLUSION

The 3DS doesn’t seem ready for prime time. I’m used to it. This is the price I pay for being an early adopter. However, the fact that Apple sold more iPad 2s at twice the price (for the cheapest model) with heavy supply constraints in its launch week than Nintendo sold of the 3DS may not bode well for Nintendo.

Are they really competing for the same market share, though? Nintendo probably has the younger audience locked down–I mean, the latest Pokemon sold 2 million units during launch week in the US alone.

Oh….and speaking of Virtual Boy….I want a collection of Virtual Boy classics for the 3DS once they launch the on-line shop. Much like the limited edition Game & Watch cartridges for the DS…maybe they can somehow make these a collector’s item too. I swear, there were a few good games on the Virtual Boy!

Favorite 3DS game right now is Ghost Recon.

Oh, here’s my friend code: 4038-6014-0977

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