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E3 2010: Nintendo 3DS Hands-On Impressions
Posted on June 20, 2010 by



As I watched the Nintendo press conference in the Media Lounge on the first morning of E3 2010, I kept waiting to hear one word: “Starfox.” As the who’s who of Nintendo characters paraded before me on my laptop screen, I thought to myself: “Come on, Nintendo, its been 4 years since Starfox Command, throw me a bone here!”

Near the end of the press conference, as a video promoting the 3DS was shown, I saw an Arwing fly out of it. The sight got my hopes up, but I nevertheless felt disappointed as I closed my laptop and headed to the cafeteria for lunch. Between bites of sandwich and sips of soda, I got a good bit of nerd rage going as I ranted to Mike about the lack of Starfox I had just witnessed.

A nearby Nintendo employee apparently heard my complaining and asked me if I was looking for Starfox. I replied yes, and with a smile worthy of the Cheshire Cat he said: “Come to the Nintendo booth, we have something to show you!” After I finished my lunch, I quickly headed to the Nintendo booth. Upon arriving, I looked around for a sign of Fox McCloud but there was nothing to be seen. I figured it meant that Starfox was going to be found on the 3DS, but I was not willing to stand in the enormous line that snaked around Nintendo’s gargantuan booth at the time. After all, there were so many other things to see at E3 so the 3DS could wait until Day 2.

“There is a 40 minute wait from here,” the Nintendo representative told us as we stood in line. Kyle and I had already been standing in the 3DS line for half an hour. We both shrugged our shoulders as if to accept our fate, and remained in the slowly-moving line for the chance to experience The Next Big Thing From Nintendo.

A full hour later, our chance came. We went up a flight of stairs and were greeted by rows upon rows of 3DS systems, each with a model standing behind them. On a certain weird level it was almost like nerd paradise, though one say that about E3 as a whole.

The 3DS itself appears to be just a little bit bigger than the DS Lite and at first glance not much has changed from its two-dimensional cousins except for the slightly larger top screen and the analog stick on the left. There is a small slider on the right side that is supposed to adjust the 3D effect but I didn’t notice any difference when I moved it. The demos that I played did not utilize the analog stick, and the Select, Home and Start buttons are now below the touch screen.

As for the 3D screen I have two words: IT WORKS.



No glasses. No kidding. It simply has to be seen to be believed. The odd thing is that I don’t have much of a basis of comparison as I have not seen any of the “new” 3D movies that are all the rage these days, but based on what I have seen, I am sold on the concept. Disregarding the 3D for a moment, the graphics appear to have been given a slight upgrade. I don’t know how many pixels the new screens are packing, but everything looked crisp and sharp.

The first demo I got to try was a submarine game called “Steel Diver.” In Steel Diver, you steer a submarine through the ocean blue and negotiate treacherous underground caverns. Torpedoes are available to shoot down mines and ships, and a cloaking device discourages seeker torpedoes from targeting your sub.

Game controls are all on the touch screen and are a little intimidating at first, there are controls for depth, speed, pitch, firing torpedoes and engaging the cloaking device. You have a limited supply of air which slowly depletes when you are underwater. Engaging the cloaking device also uses air at a faster rate and surfacing replenishes your air supply and repairs your sub. I marveled at the various non-interactive things that occupied the ocean. Schools of fish and the occasional sunken ship passing in the background helped to create the sensation of being beneath the ocean.

The demo worked very well for what it was, that is, a semi-realistic submarine simulator. As a game, though, it left something to be desired. The submarine accelerates slowly, which is realistic, but a bit tedious, especially when you end up crashing against a cavern wall and have to back up and reorient yourself. A second problem is the controls, they work, but the fact that everything is mapped to the touch screen means you are going to be constantly alternating between it and the top screen to make adjustments. If some of the controls are been mapped to the D-pad (for example, speed and depth) it would allow for quick adjustments to be made while keeping an eye on the screen. Overall, it was a very pretty demo but the 3D only served as window dressing.

Next was an Animal Crossing non-interactive demo. Before I pressed A to start it, a message on the screen encouraged me to “Enjoy the 3D effect.” I certainly did enjoy it as I saw various Animal Crossing characters going about their daily business in their cartoony little world. As a character walked over a hill toward me, the trees on the hill disappeared over the hill in 3D. I was amazed at the sense of depth as a character walked to a cliff edge to talk with a second one that was on the beach below. The demo did a very good job of demonstrating the 3D effect.

As the Monty Python folks would say, it was time for something completely different; what would I call the “Augmented Reality Demo.” The woman behind the counter handed me the 3DS and told me it was going to take my picture. Of course I was completely unprepared for that, so the photo looked as if it belonged on my driver’s license.

I then saw my face stretch out toward me and pop out of the picture. It hovered in the middle of the screen briefly and soon, a helmet with propellers on top dropped onto it and my now-disembodied head flew off the screen. “Press A to Fire” then appeared on the screen and I soon saw the smiling Nintendo representative standing in front of me courtesy of the 3DS’ front-facing camera.

As I wondered what was going on, the screen was soon filled with floating heads to shoot at. The rep told me that pictures the 3 previous players would also be present as I used the A button to fire yellow balls all at them for points. Indicators appeared at the edge of the screen letting me know where new targets were located, and it was fun swinging the 3DS around popping the crazy craniums with balls. After about a minute, the first head wearing the helmet reappeared and made odd faces at me as I fired away until it was gone. I enjoyed this demo, and wonder if it is going to be part of a “3DS Play” or something similar.

Next up was a “Kid Icarus: Uprising” gameplay demo. The lead character, an angel named “Pit,” starred in “Kid Icarus” for the NES back in 1987. A GameBoy sequel followed in 1991 but the series has languished since. Fans have been pining for a new game for years. Nintendo seemed to be aware of this, as Pit says “Sorry to keep you waiting!” at the start of the game’s E3 trailer.

The game consists of two parts: the first is a rail shooter similar to Starfox, as Pit flew around the screen shooting an automatic weapon and arrows at his enemies. Pit appears to fly around in front of the player while enemies come at him in 3D. The action looked fast and furious as Pit negotiated a cavern dodging rock bridges. Upon landing, the game then turned into a third-person shooter, with Pit walking around Greek themed environments taking on enemies and boss characters with the aforementioned weapons.

The Kid Icarus demo was promising, it looked like the kind of action game that Nintendo needs more to have more of in order to court the “hardcore” audience. The demo made me excited for the game and if it does well; it could be the start of a new Nintendo franchise. That said, the fly in the ointment here might be the controls, the “move with the left control and fire with the touch screen” bit has been tried before with mixed results. Finally, let’s just get it out of the way: “Where is the second analog stick?”

The final demo that I got to see was not a game demo at all. It was a 3D movie trailer for the upcoming Disney movie “Tangled.” As mentioned previously, I have yet to see any new movies in 3D, but if is anything like what was in that trailer, I need to start checking them out. The 3D effects worked well and the movie itself looked pretty funny. The presence of a movie trailer raises intriguing questions, though: how are movies going to fit into Nintendo’s strategy for the 3DS? Will there be downloadable movies for sale in a Nintendo online store or will they be sold as cartridges?

At that point the demo session was up and we were asked to leave for the next group. I was very impressed with the 3DS; it is an amazing piece of technology and may introduce new possibilities for Nintendo. The graphics appear to be up to par with the competition and the addition of an analog stick should make for much better control than the D-pad.

Now this may be reflective of the demos I saw, but I did not find any instances where 3D was an integral part of the gameplay. I’m pretty sure the folks at Nintendo have some cards up their sleeve but at this point the 3D is sadly, a gimmick. It is a very impressive gimmick, and certainly one that many folks (myself included) will be willing to pay for, but it remains to see if Nintendo can use this technology to change the way we play games as well as how we see them.

As I walked out of the demo area I had a big smile on my face; I felt very impressed, very excited and wondered how long it would be until I had my own 3DS. The smile faded slightly as I came to a realization…

I never got to play Starfox.

- Eduardo

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