Since it has a similar name and shape to a Nintendo DS Lite, it might not initially be clear that the Nintendo 3DS is a great advancement over the regular Nintendo DS. Make no mistake, however — the Nintendo 3DS is an incredible technological leap over the previous system, even if that technology comes with some caveats.

Nintendo 3DS

Nintendo
$250

The first obvious tech improvement is the graphics. As opposed to the regular Nintendo DS, which could render graphics similar to the old Nintendo 64, the 3DS is capable of pushing out images comparable to those of a modern Nintendo Wii game. Along with higher graphic fidelity, the 3DS can produce, as advertised, 3-D effects without glasses. The 3DS has a “3-D slider” which, when slid up, gives everything on the top screen a 3-D depth-of-field effect. When the slider is all the way down, the 3-D effect turns off and goes back into 2-D viewing — a critical inclusion since staring at the 3-D for a long time can strain the eyes.

It’s hard not to be blown away by the 3DS initially, considering there’s no other mainstream product out there yet with glasses-free 3-D technology. But once users get used to it, the 3D effect is relatively unessential to the gaming experience. It’s unmistakably cool, but it isn’t particularly crucial.

The 3DS has a lot of odd, novel inclusions already inside the hardware, like a low-quality camera application that can take 3-D photos on the top screen of the 3DS. With this camera comes a game called “Face-Raiders,” already pre-loaded onto the hardware. “Face-Raiders” renders a facial photo in 3-D and animates the mouth and eyes, allowing players to shoot missiles at tiny replicas of that face as they fly inside of the top screen. It’s an inexplicable inclusion, but it’s also totally bananas. “Face-Raiders” is a good example of Nintendo’s style: providing experiences no one else can provide, even if they’re not the most essential.

“Face-Raiders” and the 3DS camera application can be accessed through the user interface bar that appears when the device starts up. From here, users can scroll through different applications and features much like the XMB on the PS3 or the Dashboard on the Xbox 360. Unfortunately, some applications have not been integrated yet. An “E-shop” where players can buy and download digital games is set to become functional later in the summer, and an Internet browser will be available in a future update. As the 3DS also supports 3-D video playback capability, Nintendo has said that 3-D movies will be available to watch at a later date — details are mum on when exactly this will be.

All in all, the Nintendo 3DS is an impressive piece of hardware. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its shortcomings: The battery life is annoyingly brief, and it’s unfortunate that some core features are not up and running yet. Then there’s the cost — $250 isn’t an unreasonable price point for such a buck-wild piece of technology, but the proposition becomes hairier when you realize that the standard price for software is $40, and none of the launch titles look like must-haves. Considering that there are significant features not yet in place, it’s best to wait on purchasing one until those features are integrated and the system gets a stronger catalogue of games. The 3DS is truly a remarkable device, but it still hasn’t reached its full potential.

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