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

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

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.

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User Comments (36)



Ecto-1 said:

One of my favorite new features that I didn't see mentioned here is how the eShop is sort of a hub for information on games. I like that you can view 3D screenshots and trailers not only for eShop games, but also for full retail releases, all in one place.

One thing that I would personally like to see them add is the ability to use hats outside of Streetpass Mii Plaza.



Gustoff said:

Definitely more to come! I really do like the CPP, even though it adds to the bulk of the system. I hope that more first and third party FPS are on the way because of it. Some i wish to see are Call of Duty, Metroid, Conduit, a Fallout style game, etc. 3DS has far exceeded what i expected when i first got it. A great first year and better things to come i'm sure in its second year of life. Keep on gaming 3DSers!!!



alLabouTandroiD said:

Yes, i like how much of an improvement the 3DS is over its predecessors and the outlook of things that are yet to come. In retrospect It especially leaves the DSi looking bland in comparison and would have been more awesome if it was following the DSlight directly instead.

It could switch a bit faster between the internet / manual and the game you're playing and SwapNote could also use some more work but all in all it's hard to imagine how Ninty could wow us that much with its next handheld generation.

PS: If Nintendo made the communities found in MK7 a system feature it would really be a dream come true.



fredtoy said:

"Nintendo eschewed current-day technology in favour of finding a unique angle and putting it forward in old technology."

Since the times of late Gunpei Yokoi Nintendo thinks this way. The Game & Watch series and classic Game Boy were designed with this in mind.



ThomasBW84 said:

@fredtoy That's a good point and I agree, Nintendo has often been slightly behind the technological curve. With 3DS, it's really I combination of slightly aged tech (the graphics chip) with some more up-to-date touches, such as the progress being made with online content/SpotPass etc. Nintendo still, rightly, refuse to get dragged into an all-out tech-war. Those battles can never be won.



Ron_DelVillano said:

I picked my 3DS up at launch and I still love it. Some of the recent games and download features have far exceeded what I ever expected from the handheld.

I actually still carry it around with me wherever I go. In fact, I have it in my backpack at work with me right now. Please don't tell my boss.



Play_It_Loud said:

My son has a 3ds and I have put my time in, and it is a very solid peace of machinery. To me the ds was pretty cutting edge back in the day. It was a portable N64 power wise, and as a follow up to the gba it was a huge leap...Same can be said for the 3ds AKA the portable Wii.

I hate to harp on the Turd Party's, but as far as the launch library goes Nintendo gave third party's a real chance to shine, and they stunk the joint up. I hope Nintendo learned from this, and has the big guns ready for the U launch.



Debageldond said:


It's not that an all-out tech war can't be won, it's that it can't be won by Nintendo, so they've smartly stayed away from that sort of thing. At this point in time, Nintendo's biggest rivals are absolute tech titans (Sony and Microsoft), with far more resources than what is essentially a gaming company, albeit an extremely prosperous one. It's sort of inspiring, really, that Nintendo seems to be getting by consistently on creativity and quality rather than raw power.



Samholy said:

got it since the launch day and i still carry it around everyday if possible. seriously, i hardly had more than 5-6 days without it. its crazy.
After a year, games are even better than the first generations.

that console has one serious future. especially if it can be used with the Wii U...that would make me think to buy it. depending on the price and launch titles. if the next smash brothers launches on 3ds AND Wii U, nintendo will have my cash totally. a wii u, a wii u smash brothers and a 3ds smash brothers...geez



ecco6t9 said:

I eagerly await the 3DS having more systems/handhelds on it's Virtual Console.



dcoughler said:

One simple task I miss on the 3DS from the DSi is the ability to post photos from the device directly to Facebook. While posting 3D photos (and now videos) would not work, if they can be flattened when you turn the 3D function off, then they can be flattened prior to sending to Facebook.



grimbldoo said:

I prefer creativity over technology any day, but it doesn't hurt to have good graphics and with the 3DS, I have both. Thank you Nintendo



Alienfish said:

I disagree that the original DS wasn't modern tech when it came out. In fact, I would say that the 3DS is in the same boat as the original DS was when IT came out. 3DS is borderline impressive at the moment, but it will soon become old tech. I'm sure the games are going to be amazing in the years to come but, in the end if its life, we're going to be looking back on it probably a lot like we look back on the DS right now.



kyuubikid213 said:

I love my 3DS in every way. i was happy with it when i got it in June. I didn't have to deal with no eShop or internet, but I didn't really use that since I was looking forward to the games and 3D. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK, NINTENDO!!!!!



Dodger said:

The 3DS is way better then it was when I got it in April 2011. It really does feel connected in a way that makes it feel modern despite no HD. It still needs a few more must have games (I'll be happy when Animal Crossing is in my game cart slot) but it is turning into a good game system despite scratching itself!

While Facebook apps would be cool, I thought that I would point out that and work with the 3DS browser. Most mobile sites will, actually with a few rare exceptions. You can also use the mobile facebook site to upload photos right from the 3DS browser. You can do this with any place that you can upload photos. I've even gotten it to work with tinypic before.



DarkKirby said:

There are only a few things I think the 3DS lacks.
1. The buttons the Circle Pad Pro adds.
2. Enough power to run games in 3D as 60 FPS so lagging will never be an issue.
3. A screen shot button.
4. Better battery life.

All these things can be added on the "3DS Lite" easily, with the exception of increased graphical power. The only way I can see that working is having newer 3DS games run better then "3DS Lite" but still run on the 3DS with a little bit of lag.



I-U said:

Honestly, right now, the circle pad is what stands out to me, as it has been much more comfortable than messing with a clicky d-pad. What I want to see most in the 3DS's future is bringing over new established first party games to the eShop (i.e. sprited Metroid, Mario, Zelda) and I want to see SNES titles included on the shop (Super Metroid on the go).



ThomasBW84 said:

@I-U Absolutely, and I'd love it if the 2D Mario that Nintendo has announced is an eShop exclusive. That would be the perfect way to boost the online store even further.

@Alienfish From a graphics standpoint that's probably fair, as the gap between 3DS and Vita is arguably comparable to DS and PSP. I would suggest that 3DS is a more modern effort in the way it's been designed for firmware updates, though, whereas the old DS didn't seem to have much room for improvement nor did it embrace media etc in the way that PSP did. Maybe that's just a circumstance of lower tech at that point not being ideal for scaling up with new features, but the DS consoles really struggled to adjust and update with new capabilities: 3DS seems to have more legs on that side of things.



lanabanana said:

Well, I WOULD REALLY LIKE TO SEE FLIPNOTE MEMO!!!!!!!! It's been a year
(or almost a year) since it was announced. Hopefully this year's E3 will help... -__-'



Bobhobob said:

@Janett YES! SOMEONE FINALLY SAYS THIS! I used to be obsesses with Flipnote Hatena, hope Memo comes soon. Wasn't it supposed to come out last year? But Memo should have more colors, no space limit, and the ability to rate flipnotes like games are rated so you can post notes that have one or two curses in them without having to censor or get reported. Phew, typing that long rant hurt my brain. I'm going to go aim for 3 star rank on MK7. stupid leaf cup. >



Slapshot said:

I really hope that Nintendo is holding out on 3DS game release announcements on us for this years E3. Otherwise, the 3DS games lineup is pretty slim pickings.



BulbasaurusRex said:

I might get some flak for this, but I appreciate the improved games library on the 3DS. Now that I have a handheld capable of playing DS games, I've looked more thoroughly back at the games it offers, and outside of Pokémon there's not much that I find appealing in the DS library. This is especially disappointing after the amazing library that the GBA has. With the dual screens and the touchscreen being the major new features, developers focused too much on boring casual genres and unappealing unorthodox control schemes and/or gameplay systems with their exclusive DS games, and I'd rather play the multisystem releases on the Wii.



GamerZack87 said:

@Ecto-1: I agree with you entirely on that one. It'd be awesome to go into my Friends List and see all my NL peeps wearing different hats. It'd make for some extra customisation of Mii characters not seen before.

"Why does every online player always pick Yoshi?! It really makes me so angr- oh, it's a hat! That's soooo awesome!"



DraculaX said:

All I want is better face buttons and a better d-pad. I mean come on Nintendo, the original DS, which is 7-8 years old now, had better face buttons and a better d-pad than the 3DS which is supposed to be superior.
(This is mainly just a concern when playing Virtual Console games or original DS games.)



Mahe said:

The 3DS design is just... ugh. The poorly positioned d-pad? Stupid sleep mode reminder when you power off the console? HAVING to power off the console when you take out the SD card?! The poorly implemented backwards compatibility? Three different slider pads on the edges for the 3D, wireless and even sound volume... In many ways, the 3DS is taking steps backwards from the DSi. And DS games are just so much better than current 3DS games.



3dbrains said:

Well I am really enjoying the Kid Icarus videos on NV. Great graphics, good story. I really want to be able to watch either for fre, to buy or to rent



rjejr said:

The 3DS is much better overall than the DSi but the internet blows. I can't believe they ported over the horrible Wii web browser. I have an iPod Touch and I am online on it all the time but I refuse to go online on the 3DS. I know the Touch costs about $30 more, and the 3DS has dual screens, but each screen is the same size as the Touch, you'ld think they could make a decent web browser out of the 2.
Oh, in my house we rarely turn the 3D on, and it's still a much better system than the DSi. I don't see why anyone would spend $100 on a DS now.



Matti said:

@Mahe Yeah, 3DS is a very poorly designed console. Even the 3d effect is pretty useless because you can't keep the screen steady while playing games. There must be a revision coming at some point to fix at least some of those hardware problems. But the software is of course very good, otherwise I wouldn't use my 3DS much .



Arkaein said:

@DarkKirby : what you suggest with regards to graphics power wouldn't really work, even if it was feasible. If more power was added game developers (like me!) would be just as likely to use that extra power to put more stuff on the screen as to ensure that the game always runs at 60 FPS in stereo 3D.

The bottom line is that any scene will take more processing to display in stereo than it will without stereo, no matter how much power is available. Whether to tune a particular game to achieve 60 FPS with stereo 3D enabled is a design choice. Most studios seem to prefer optimizing for non-stereo 3D to achieve 60 FPS, probably because this allows more detail to be put into the graphics.

Optimizing for 60 FPS with stereo enabled would essentially be leaving a lot of power untapped whenever stereo 3D is disabled.



grumblegrumble said:

I don't know about the rest of you, but the stand that comes with Kid Icarus: Uprising is a brilliant idea to showcase such a gorgeous gaming system, not to mention that the Uprising game itself is one of the best games currently available.



HaNks said:

really like mine, but d-pad and battery life are both very poor indeed.



BulbasaurusRex said:

@Mahe Where do you expect them to put the D-Pad when the primary movement method is now the Circle Pad? You're not going to be removing the SD card much, anyway. You can barely even tell that the resolution is off with the DS games.

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