Nintendo introduces glasses-free 3D

By Scott Pachilis
Around the Town Editor

The 1995 release of the Virtual Boy was an embarrassment of riches for Nintendo. 

For those who don't remember, the Virtual Boy promised true 3D graphics, but underwhelmed fans and critics alike with its monochromatic visuals. 

Selling less than 800,000 units worldwide, it was discontinued in less than a year and sent Nintendo back to the drawing board. 

Review
Flash-forward to 2009, where the world becomes fascinated with the possibilities of 3D thanks to James Cameron's Avatar. 

Despite the film's plot and dialogue being mediocre at best, the film's technical achievements led to a trend in Hollywood that created an onslaught of 3D films. 

This brings us to the present and the release of Nintendo's 3DS. The handheld uses the same architectural design as the DS series, with the top screen producing 3D visuals without the need for the user to wear 3D glasses. 

Television ads featuring the handheld use the slogan "bringing you into another dimension." But does it deliver on this promise? 

Hardware
The Nintendo 3DS looks like the same 'clamshell' handheld that you've seen since 2004, but with noticeable improvements. 

As soon as you open a 3DS up, the first thing you'll notice is the new analog stick. Granted, an alternative to the d-pad has been long overdue, but it feels solid and responsive and will definitely improve the gameplay of future games. 

There's a front-facing camera like in previous DSi models, along with two rear facing cameras capable of recording 3D imagery. 3D photos and movies can be stored on the system's 2GB flash memory or more plausibly on a SD card. 

Another new addition to the handheld series are the 3-axis accelerometer and gyroscope. Additionally, the top screen has a slider attached that can turn the 3D effect down or completely off, as it can be harmful to young and developing eyes. 

The only downside is the extremely low battery life. It's capable of five to eight hours of 2D gameplay, which itself is low, but then drops to three to five hours in 3D mode. 

Considering the improvement in frame-rates with the graphical processor, then add in 3D, the low battery life is not a complete shocker, nor is it a dealbreaker. 

Features
The popular user created Mii's make their first handheld appearance. Mii's can be created or imported from the Wii. 

Another feature from the Wii being brought over to the 3DS is the Virtual Console. Only this version will include fan favorites from the days of the Game Boy. 

Although no titles or release dates have been announced, last year's E3 showed the 3DS being capable of playing 3D feature films. Nintendo has so far made deals with Disney, DreamWorks and Warner Bros. 

The 3DS also supports SpotPass and StreetPass Modes. Both modes operate even when your 3DS is in sleep mode. 

SpotPass will automatically search for a Wi-Fi connection to check for firmware updates while StreetPass will look for local 3DS's to share player and game data. 

Launch
Nintendo brings only three of its own games at launch, Pilotwings Resort, Steel Diver and nintendogs + cats. Pilotwings is fun and makes good use of the 3D but its length is incredibly short. nintendogs + cats is cute, but its audience is very narrow. 

And then there's Steel Diver. Here you have a game about submarines on a 3D system and it's only a 2D side-scroller that for the most part is incredibly dull. 

Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition looks good in 3D, but the game itself has tried a new control scheme with the touch pad that many fans will notice breaks the game's balancing between its characters. The graphics are impressive, though, more so in 2D. 

Out of the other dozen third-party games, only Lego Star Wars, Ridge Racer, Super Monkey Ball 3D and Rayman 3D are standouts, if you can call them that. 

The 3DS also comes bundled with augmented reality. AR combines real-life images captured by the camera and computer generated objects. It is applied to the 3DS with "Duckhuntlike" gameplay. 

Verdict
There's no question that the 3DS is an impressive piece of tech, but so is the PlayStation Move, Kinect for Xbox360, and at one time so was the Nintendo Wii. The one thing all these products have is common is the initial "wow" factor. 

Another thing they have in common, for now, is that none of them has gone beyond being an exemplary tech demo, to a device that consistently delivers enriching gaming experiences. 

For example, here we are in 2011 and whatever happened to all those great Wii games we were supposed to get from thirdparty developers? The phrase "won't get fooled again" comes to mind when thinking of Nintendo nowadays. 

For $250, plus $40 per game, the system just isn't worth it right now, considering how much quality content that money could get you elsewhere. 

However, if you like being the first to impress others with your cool new toy, this will no doubt make others say "wow." But then what?