With the smartphone not just nipping at your heels but biting at them hard, how do you stay one step ahead? Nintendo believes the answer is creating a handheld games console that offers 3D viewing without the need for glasses, but does it deliver the goods? We went hands and eyes on at E3 in Los Angeles.
The new console measures 134 x 73 x 20mm making it around the same size as the Nintendo DSi. Now, instead of white or black there is a selection of colours including purple and the outside differences continue with not one but two cameras. The extra camera is so the console can shoot 3D footage. It's not called the 3DS for nothing you know.
Of course this isn't just about shooting 3D footage, but about watching it and that's why when you open it up you are presented with a 3.53-inch 3D-enabled screen that doesn't require you to wear glasses.
Nintendo hasn't actually confirmed the technology behind the new screen, although it has confirmed that it sports a 800 x 240 pixel resolution (400 pixels are allocated for each eye to enable 3D viewing). Up close and personal we believe it is a lenticular lens that is used to create 3D effects on the screens of the 3DS.
Those not familiar with 3D technology, and lets face it why should you be, a lenticular lens is an array of magnifying lenses, or prisms, designed so that when viewed from slightly different angles, different images are displayed, which creates stereoscopic 3D effects. That means you don't need glasses, and ultimately means that you have to view the 3DS from the right angle to get the full 3D effect working.
On a TV this technology doesn't work as there is a sweet spot that you need to be sitting in to get the full effect, which would mean other people in the room wouldn't see the 3D effect. However here as it's just you watching the one screen and your head is in the same spot, it is theoretically not a problem; you just have to remember not to move your head out of line once you've got the position right.
That's not as easy as it sounds, especially if you are on a bumpy bus or train, or even just looking at the bottom, second, screen, although that said it's not that hard to get back in to the zone to start enjoying the 3D again.
To the side of the 3D-enabled screen is a slider switch that allows you to change the strength of the 3D image to suit your eyes. It's a welcomed effect and also means that if you want you can turn the 3D offering off completely. In our two plays - one at the Nintendo E3 press conference and again at the Nintendo stand at E3 we found that for us the best setting was around the 80 per cent mark.
But it's not just about that 3D screen. Below the gaming screen is a second screen just like the DSi, the DS Lite, and the DS. It is touch-enabled, comes with a stylus and in all the games and demos we saw works in an identical way to the previous models. There is an addition to the bottom of the screen - Select, Home, Start buttons.
That's not the only new button on the device. Aside from the D-pad, Nintendo has introduced a new analogue stick button that feels and works in the same way as the one found on the Sony PSP. It gives a greater response than the D-pad as well as offering game developers an additional direction controller above and beyond the touchscreen and D-pad.
Like the DSi, the 3DS also features an internal camera - handy for taking pictures of yourself and as before the two cameras outside it offer a 640 x 480 (0.3 megapixel) resolution.
Inside Nintendo hasn't detailed whether or not the handheld Nintendo 3DS console has had a speed boost or not to cope with the 3D games. We have to say that in our plays the console ran fine with the games showing no lag or long load times. We played a bunch of games, watched a couple of 3D videos and played a couple of technical demos. All acted as we expected, and just like the DSi.
What Nintendo has detailed though is a change to how wireless connectivity works in the new console and although we weren't able to test it for this First Look, it's worth letting you know about it none the less.
The main difference over what we've had before is that the Nintendo 3DS hardware is now designed so that even when not in use, it can automatically exchange data with other Nintendo 3DS systems or receive data via the Internet while in sleep mode, helpful? Maybe. Why? We aren't yet sure.
Other features that we weren't able to test include the addition of a motion sensor and gyroscope (just like the iPhone 4), and we are sure they will be put to good use by Nintendo and other game developers when it goes on sale.
It's worth pointing out at this stage that Nintendo is keen to stress that the design isn't final and could change at any point up to launch, but what we are reading into is the odd shave here and there rather than a massive overhaul.
So what of the games and all that 3D jazz?
Nintendogs + cats
Cute as you would expect with the 3D elements surfacing as the cute puppies and kittens dance around the screen. The gameplay is pretty much identical - well certainly what we saw anyway - and if your kids are already a fan, this is going to please them just the same.
Samurai Warriors 3D
As the name suggests a game where you get to play a samurai warrior in ancient Japan. Here the 3D is pushed hard as you're quickly surrounded by warriors keen to slash you to pieces. We couldn't play enough to get a real grip on the game, however the 3D effects did make our eyes hurt very quickly. There was lots going on and if you lost that sweet spot it is difficult to get it back.
Mario Kart 3D
This was a video rather than a playable demo unfortunately, however the 3D looked good as the action was more fixed - i.e. behind a kart. Mario in 3D is very cute.
Resident Evil Revelations
Another video and another impressive show on the graphics front, however how it will play when you're behind the controls rather than just the watching the video is a different matter. We doubt the whole game will look as good.
This one was playable, although only a single level, and is great fun; partly because we remember Star Fox as a kid, and partly because this type of game lends itself to the console and the 3D element of the device. Space is always enjoyable and here was no exception. We especially like the fluidness of the controls although there is a lot to take in.
Pilot Wings 3D
Another flying game and one that will see you moving through the air with glee. The 3D here adds plenty of depth to the scenery, and we would expect the game to take full advantage of the motion controlling and gyroscope functions when it launches (whenever that might be).
This was a technical demo to show what is possible, but damn we hope it launches within a game. The concept is that you use the two cameras combined with augmented reality to shoot targets and a big dragon that just happens to spring out of a desk or chair that you've placed a special card on. Moving the console around the AR card on the desk lets you see different bits to shoot the targets and we can see this type of gaming becoming a big hit, especially if Nintendo team up with Kellogg's or Nestle to put those cards on cereal boxes.
A movie trailer for the upcoming Disney movie. It looked good and shows that the 3DS has the potential to be welcomed by Hollywood (a first for the console). Nintendo mooted movies and trailer support in its E3 press conference, however hasn't detailed any further beyond that. Will we be able to buy movies on the DS cartridge format? Who knows, but if Sony with all their might couldn't crack it via UMDs we don't hold out much hope. Perhaps via download on that standby Wi-Fi function?
Another video demo, but it shows what is possible. Kid Icarus back from the grave and back to impress. The graphics aren't great, but then when are they ever for the DS range?
The 3DS promises to bring something different to the handheld gaming market and works hard to offer gamers something above and beyond what the phone market currently can.
While Sony with its PSP is losing the ground to the likes of the iPhone and Android handsets, Nintendo with the 3DS will continue to offer something different and more importantly something kids will absolutely love.
The 3D effects for us are impressive, but also a bit hit and miss. In fact while the technology is vastly superior it's a bit like those "magic" rulers we had as kids at school that you moved to play a sequence like a footballer scoring a goal or a dinosaur roaring.
20 years ago I bet you, like me, thought they were the best thing in the world. Now that you've grown up however, while they'll make you smile, they are a bit naff. We suspect that will be the same experience you'll have with the 3DS. It's a great fun experience, but unless you are 10, you might not be as impressed as you were hoping.
That, and your eyes will probably ache a bit too. Still your kids are going to love it.
Nintendo has yet to set a date for the launch of the new console.