As I previously noted in our 3DS Hardware Review, Nintendo's new handheld is a far cry from their usual basic platforms. Instead of a 'dumb' piece of technology waiting for new content, it's packed to bursting with applications and games straight out of the box - and for my money, contains the killer apps that its launch titles fail to provide!
With this in mind, the onboard software deserves a closer look.
Miis, Nintendo's basic yet adorable answer to persistent avatars, are being integrated into every level of the device. Wii owners will be instantly familiar with the setup and menus; providing you with a smorgasbord of facial features, sliders and size options with which to create your digital persona. The selction is slightly expanded from the original Wii, but not so much as you'd notice.
The new photo mode provides an interesting new way of creating a your Mii by taking a self portrait and letting the software design an avatar based on your features. However, it's not quite as clever as the premise suggests. You'll still have to assign your skin tone, face shape and hair styles manually, though in many ways, the experience is more about the hilarious thrill of seeing what the algorithm comes up with rather than attaining true realism.
Love it or hate it, you've still got to make one. Just roll with it, be as honest as possible and try to create something that vaguely resembles you.
Augmented Reality > Actual Reality
The 3DS' dual cameras allow it to overlay 3D game imagery onto a real-time video of your surroundings, as well as distorting the scenery in deeply surprising ways. To do this, you'll simply need to activate the application and pop the supplied playing card down on a flat surface. Once you've done so, you'll have access to a number of engaging minigames that utilise the technology to its fullest.
The first game to be unlocked is the shooting gallery - and it's arguably the best of the bunch. Your table, bed, floor or surprisingly obliging other half suddenly develops a host of targets, trapdoors and massive statues that erupt out of the surface, with tight tilt controls providing you with responsive aiming. The AR lets you tilt the angle and approach the targets from any position; rotating the 3D models in line with your movements. Deeply, deeply impressive... and fun to boot.
After a successful shooting run, you'll also unlock a furiously addictive snooker-style minigame that distorts your surface into rolling hills, holes and barriers. Note that you'll need to move around a lot to get the right shot - and it can be very difficult to maintain the tight viewing angle necessary for the 3D effect. If all else fails, turn it off.
A fun (if shallow) fishing minigame rounds out the package, as well as the ability to use the bundled character cards to create 3D models of iconic games characters. This second mode is actually a lot of fun as it allows you to take pictures of your favourite Ninty heroes in bizarre situations. For example, you can hold Kirby in the palm of your hand, or make Samus ride your dog. Let us know what you come up with!
The playing cards provide an essential frame of reference for the games to work properly, as it allows the 3DS to work out a sense of scale and orientation of the play surface. Unfortunately, they are also its achilles heel. It won't be long before they get bent out of shape, ripped or just plain lost behind the sofa - so we hope that future games will be able to identify points of reference from the environment. Note, however, that Android users can download an application that turns their phone screen into an AR Card and that scanned/printed cards will work just fine. We can assume that Nintendo will also roll out out a ludicrously expensive replacement scheme in the near future.
Play Points (collected in Streetpass mode) can be used to unlock new games and modes, but as it stands, the AR suite is a fantastic proof of concept. Just imagine what other developers can do with augmented reality. Pokemon battles in the playground? Survival horror in your house? It's all possible.
Face Raiders: Best Augmented Reality In Show
However, this isn't the only augmented reality game on offer. Face Raiders takes a picture of your mug (or anyone's mug, for that matter), crunches it into a 3D object and then puts it into a game. As your enemies. Your face pods descend on you in enormous swarms in whatever surroundings you find yourself, with the tilt controls letting you pan around the room to shoot yourself in the face. Bosses, puzzles and surprisingly deep mechanics make for a rollickingly good little timewaster that rewards you for collecting a burgeoning portfolio of mugshots. Pictures and TV stills are also fair game - especially if you've ever fancied shooting a celebrity in the face. Right, time to find a picture of Alan Titchmarsh...
Augmented Reality is used to advantage, with your hilarious facial enemies ripping holes in your walls and ceilings to get at you. Naturally the 3D effect is also excellent for games like this - but beware that you'll need to move your entire body and head to stay within the viewing angle.
Streetpass Mii Plaza
Last but not least, we have Streetpass Mii Plaza. This interesting little suite lets you share and collect Miis by walking past likeminded 3DS users in standby mode. It's a neat, imaginative and fairly pointless gimmick, but using the Streetpass functionality earns you Play Coins (the 3DS' virtual currency) to spend in the AR suite or a couple of bundled minigames.
Play Coins can also be earned by using the system as a pedometer, which is a very, very nice touch.
Collected Miis can be used as "heroes" in Find Mii, which is a simple yet unbelievably addictive little game in which you'll need to battle ghosts, collect hats and quest to save your original Mii. Play Coins can be spent on feline heroes if you don't have any friends to hand, and quite frankly, it's much more fun than it has any right to be. It's a shame that online functionality isn't included, though.
Finally, there's also a small jigsaw-based puzzler that's not really worth worrying about. Ever had a jigsaw with some of the pieces missing? That's basically it.
The Short Version: The 3DS' onboard software offers massive value, quirky diversions and hours of play straight out of the box. The AR suite demonstrates the potential that Nintendo's hardware will hopefully start to demonstrate with future releases, and an impressive omen of things to come.