Feature: How 3DS Brings a New Dimension to the DS Family

Welcome to the 21st Century

The humble DS and DSi consoles may have been a spectacular commercial success, but they were anything but modern technological devices when they were released. Much like the philosophy behind the Wii, Nintendo eschewed current-day technology in favour of finding a unique angle and putting it forward in old technology. When these handhelds launched the tactic worked, with loyal Nintendo gamers and less experienced consumers eventually flocking to the software library on offer. Times change, and with so many devices and gadgets competing for attention, Nintendo knew that the 3DS would need to do more.

Yesterday we looked at the mistakes of the 3DS launch, but today we look at a more optimistic viewpoint: how the new console has brought Nintendo portable gaming into the present, and how it can continue to do so.

Graphics capability and 3D without glasses

Let’s say right away that the 3DS graphics capabilities aren’t able to deliver cutting-edge effects like its dedicated gaming rival, the PlayStation Vita. With that said, the PICA200 graphics chip, and assorted settings and goodies added by Nintendo to complement it, can produce attractive, vibrant visuals. With smartphones and iPods delivering crisp, colourful graphics, 3DS simply had to step way beyond the capabilities of its predecessor. Some early retail releases may have had some doubting the system’s horsepower, but the gorgeous Super Mario 3D Land, Resident Evil Revelations and Kid Icarus: Uprising are all evidence that developers are gradually starting to understand how to make the most of the resources available.

Then there’s the 3D stereoscopic screen. While there are some who can’t enjoy the effect, for many it’s a continual reminder of why the system stands out from its competitors. It’s rarely required or necessary, but that isn’t really the point of the display: it’s there to add extra life to a game’s experience. With graphics arguably sharpened by the 3D setting, it’s been used in creative ways to engage the gamer in the experience. The three examples we gave above reflect this: attractive in 2D, engrossing in 3D. It’s a feature with the potential for greater use, as we will surely see 3D TV and film services on the handheld in the future. Again, it’s not for everyone, but for many it adds an extra level of immersion to gaming.

A connection with the world

In terms of connecting to the internet and other gamers in a meaningful way, 3DS is light-years ahead of the DS and DSi. For those who aren’t always online there’s StreetPass, a neat feature for picking up data and small game extras from others, while the StreetPass Quests and Puzzle Panels serve as fun diversions. For some it will be difficult to find others who also happen to be carrying their 3DS – this was clearly a concept with Japanese cities in mind – but urban areas always have the promise of potential hits.

As the weeks and months progress the blue LED on the system is becoming more and more active, delivering a steady stream of goodies to millions of consoles.

Once a 3DS is connected online, however, it becomes clear that Nintendo is starting to grasp the importance of embracing the internet. It’s now possible to jump into online games directly from the friend list, with more recent major titles supporting substantial multiplayer components. The eShop is gradually developing, with the majority of the DSiWare catalogue – including new releases – as well as 3DS-exclusive titles. Unlike the DSi store, it’s possible to pay with cash rather than points, with the most recent system update allowing account funds to be topped up for individual purchases: the curse of blocks of 1000 Nintendo points is well and truly broken.

SpotPass, the online-enabled partner to StreetPass, is perhaps the biggest example of Nintendo’s adjusted approach to web integration and content. SpotPass is already being used to deliver 3D video, Nintendo Letter Box notes, StreetPass Plaza content and, in some retail titles, items and extras. As the weeks and months progress the blue LED on the system is becoming more and more active, delivering a steady stream of goodies to millions of consoles. Nintendo Letter Box is, of course, far more than an app for the receipt of the occasional marketing message: it’s Nintendo’s own quirky take on a messaging service. It’s not perfect and could do with being quicker, but it still allows 3DS owners to communicate with each other.

A few of our favourite things

There are some features that are yet to truly pick up speed, but have enough potential to promise an interesting future. One of these is augmented reality, whether using cards or, in the case of Face Raiders, the system’s 3D camera. The built-in software gave an early indication of how cards could be used, while Nintendogs + Cats also had a competition that brought its little fur-balls into the living room. As a concept it’s received very little attention since, but its recent revival in Kid Icarus: Uprising will hopefully be a sign of things to come.

One piece of 3DS technology that has been used more substantially is the built in gyroscope. Notable examples are bow and arrow aiming in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D and steering in Mario Kart 7. Some third parties have also made good use, mostly, of the functionality, with just the occasional implementation of nonsensical waggle. It’s a control-scheme that can add an extra level of immersion, though not necessarily worthwhile on a bus commute.

Another major addition to the 3DS is the Circle Pad, finally bringing analog stick control to a Nintendo handheld, making many titles more intuitive and natural to control. Perhaps there should be a second Circle Pad – yes, we had to mention it – but most games simply don’t need more than one: if you need an extra, there’s an unwieldy piece of plastic that will do the job. It also seems, to our ears at least, that the 3DS speakers are an improvement on those of the DSi, though a bit more volume would be welcome.

More to come?

In terms of functionality, horsepower and sheer pizazz, 3DS is a significant improvement and step forward. Nintendo arguably had no choice in the matter, with attractive rival options from Sony, Apple and Google – via its Android operating system – that forced a major revamp. After a year it’s easy to take a lot of these features and enhancements for granted, but listing some of them shows how much the 3DS brings to us as gamers.

There’s still room for improvement, with some new features already announced and others merely hinted at. Paid DLC (downloadable content) is on the way, hopefully giving new life to games rather than used as an excuse to hold content back from the initial launch, while 3DS owners outside of the U.S. can only hope for a TV streaming service similar to Netflix. Greater use of Nintendo Video, perhaps with full length 3D movies to rent, would be welcome, while there remains a lingering possibility that full retail titles may become available for download, as well as on the traditional physical cartridges. If it took the plunge to include social networking apps such as Twitter and Facebook, then the 3DS would truly offer functionality to suit most needs.

As it stands, we think that Nintendo has made major strides forward during the 3DS’ first year, but what do you think? Let us know about your favourite features, or what you’d still like to see in the future, below.