E3 2010: First Impressions: Nintendo 3DS

Hands on with Nintendo's amazing 3D portable

Any time there's an announcement of new video game hardware, a certain buzz is created. In all truth, you couldn't walk five feet on the streets of Los Angeles on the way to the Convention Center without hearing someone talking about Nintendo's upcoming 3DS system. Even the line for the Nintendo keynote was atwitter with talk of 3DS and what it would bring to the gaming table.

Having had a chance to sit down and put the 3DS through its paces in Nintendo's E3 media room, it's clear that gamers are in for a special treat when the system is released at a sadly unspecified price and date.

The first thing that stands out when you first see the 3D screen is just how much depth the display portrays. It's almost surreal to be able to experience true 3D without needing to wear the bothersome glasses that normally accompany the illusion. You will need to keep the screen fairly centered in front of you in order to keep the screen clear and visible, as getting the unit tilted too far off to the side can make the viewing a little fuzzy. It's a very small price to pay for the absolutely gorgeous visuals you get to experience with the system, not to mention the almost limitless possibilities from its unique capabilities.

The hardware itself is very similar in design and feel to the DSi. While the handhelds were tethered to various tables and beautiful booth babes, it was still fairly easy to get a feel for the weight and feel of holding the system in your hands. The analog stick is the most striking new feature and one long overdue. It slides side-to-side much the same way the Sony PSP nub functions, but this stick features a much looser and smoother movement, not to mention is quite a bit larger than the one found on Sony's handheld. This should provide a much smoother and more responsive control method for the more 3D-oriented games we'll be seeing on the system

With the analog stick overtaking as the primary directional input, the D-Pad has been moved to a lower spot on the unit's left side. Even though it still felt reasonably accessible, it makes us curious as to how tiring this new lower position might be on your hand over a long period of play time. The button layout remains virtually identical to the DSi, with the four action buttons arranged in a diamond shape on the face of the unit and the two shoulder buttons on top. It is worth noting that the buttons are fairly clicky in feel, perhaps even more so than the DSi.

There were quite a few games to check out, some just basically running tech demos and others fully playable. Star Fox 64 3D was one of the more interesting playable titles, looking and playing very similar to the classic Nintendo 64 release. The visuals were very detailed and the gameplay was simple and responsive. You basically used the analog stick to move the targeting reticle around the screen, which in turn would send your ship flying in the very same direction. You could duck in and around the various obstacles and fire at enemy ships trying to get in your way. The 3D effect is incredible in the game and adds so much depth to the flying area as it scrolls by. There's definitely a lot of potential with this title and it should be interesting to see what the developers are able to accomplish from a visual standpoint given the 3DS's hardware capabilities.

Pilotwings Resort was probably the most colorful and visually impressive game on display for the 3DS, and it was perfectly clear from seeing the game in motion that the new handheld has some serious horsepower under the hood. The 3D effect only added to the sense of realism and sense of wide open spaces. Your goal in the demo was to fly your plane through various rings that popped up around the course. The controls were extremely tight and responsive and this was probably the most playable game on display with the unit. Even as good as the Super Nintendo original was, this 3DS rendition might just eclipse it in terms of form and function.

Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D and Kid Icarus: Uprising are two of the higher profile titles in development for the 3DS, but sadly they were only on display as a viewable demo with minimal ability to control anything happening onscreen. Of course that's not to say that they weren't every bit as impressive, if not maybe a bit more impressive, than the playable demos. Metal Gear Solid features some of the best 3D visuals seen on the 3DS so far and looked insanely sharp and detailed as the jungle scene scrolled along. The same can be said of Kid Icarus as well, as the lightning-fast scrolling and flying around gives an almost stomach-turning feeling as Pit zooms across the skies shooting everything in sight. The combination of rail shooting with platforming seems like a great fit for the 3DS and should prove to be the perfect show-off title for the system.

There's absolutely no denying that Nintendo's new 3D portable is going to stir up huge amounts of hype and anticipation between now and its eventual release, most likely sometime next year. And having seen the system's incredible 3D capabilities in action, about the only thing left to do now is endure the agonizing wait for release day. The system goes far beyond anything we personally expected from the unit and is easily one of the most stunning things we've had the chance to experience in our many years of gaming. This system has massive potential to change gaming in similar ways to when the industry shifted from sprites to polygons. The only downside to a system like this is that you really have to see it in person to fully comprehend what it can do, but that's something Nintendo will have to deal with when they get ready to begin marketing the unit.