Sitting in the cinema in the months before Avatar came out, I was with my girlfriend at the time, preparing to indulge in Dreamworks' 3D Pixar-wannabe Monsters vs. Aliens. Now, I already wear specs (we're talking jam-jar strength here) and I loathe contact lenses, so the only recourse was to put on the 3D glasses over my existing pair to avoid having the movie look like a two-tone blur. I don't have a Roman nose, there wasn't any room. They kept falling off onto the head of the person in front of me who had tattoos and several gold teeth. My girlfriend barely managed to last five minutes without erupting in laughter and, whilst trying to push them up my nose, I managed to accidentally break the pair I'd been given.
In short...I hate 3D glasses.
Thankfully, someone at Nintendo either tapped into my prayer line to the big man upstairs, or they've been inconvenienced too. Either way, the 3DS is coming and I got a chance to get hands-on with the nifty little handheld on Tuesday at Nintendo's showcase.
After being warmly welcomed by the bevy of heavily made-up Nintendo booth babes, it was time to get down to serious business and there were an array of preview treats on offer. First of all, though, a little look at the handheld console itself. In terms of how the thing looks and feels, it bears a striking resemblance to the DSi. However, the SD card slot is now position in front of the volume buttons on the left hand side and the stylus now fits into the back. The entire right side now makes room for the 3D slider, taking games from flat two-dimensions and increasing the depth effects as you see fit.
Again, there are two screens, one a highly familiar 3-inch wide touchscreen and the other a 800 x 240 pixel beast that's half an inch wider. In reality, the machine assigns 400 pixels to each eye so the resolution is halved in effect to accommodate the 3D, but it's still a great step up. Everyone at the event was relatively tight-lipped when it came to questions about hardware specifics and how the thing actually worked but, let's face it, this was a day where 'How?' took a backseat to 'What?'
"]The warnings that have been flying around regarding 3D are there for a reason, and it took me about 10 minutes or so to get used to looking at it. It's good to note that the slider really works very well, rather than just switching the effect on and off, you can ease yourself into it and dial things down if the 3D action becomes too intense. One thing I did notice was that you really need to be staring at the screen straight-on to fully view the 3D, with the picture warping if you moved your head.
I was mightily impressed with the screen itself. Stereoscopic 3D, particularly when it comes to putting on those funky specs, has often been equated with a drop in colour vivacity. When Arkham Asylum got the 3D treatment for its GOTY Edition what little colour was in that game was flattened by the move to 3D. Thankfully, the brightness remains intact on the 3DS, largely due to the fact that there are no specs to filter the light before it hits your eyes. Considering the lack of leeway when it comes to the viewing angle, though, it's hard to imagine specs-free 3D taking off on larger screens any time soon.
As well as getting to play around with the screen, we got to take a few 3D photos too. Thanks to the dual cameras on the top lid of the machine you can take snapshots in stereoscopic 3D and then fiddle around with the settings afterwards to optimise the effects. The assistants were quick to point out and demonstrate with some choreographed posing that group photos often required different settings to those of individuals. The camera resolution is still stuck at 0.3 megapixels, which is a shame, but it's still pretty damn cool.
Screens aside, everything was pretty much the same, with the exception of the new analogue nub. Fatter, less slippery, and more comfortable than its PSP equivalent, it felt really good and highly responsive when it came to testing out one or two of the tech demos as you'll see below. There were a few games and other treats on show, most of which simply showcased the new effects and allowed you to check out the 3D depth by mucking about with the camera, but there were one or two playable demos too. Here are a few of the highlights I got to get my hands on:
Mario Kart 3DS: The very first thing I saw. More of an in-game display than anything else, this was an interactive video designed to showcase how the 3D effect might impact on a standard Nintendo game. As with all first party affairs, the graphics weren't stunning, that's never the point, but it did allow for some seriously impressive examples of just how little the 3D impacts on the colour scheme. It did, however, highlight a difficulty for 3D when it comes to racing games, with the player's focus split between the foregrounded kart and the track's horizon the 3D almost went by unnoticed.
Legend of the Guardians: Nintendo have been fairly vocal about the possibility and desire to bring movies to the 3DS. Boasting a bunch of dazzling CGI effects, some epic weather and acrobatic owls, Legend of the Guardians was a fairly good choice for showcasing the 3DS' potential as a portable media player. But, much as it proved graphically impressive, the narrow viewing angle means that you'd only ever be able to watch a 3D movie on your own and, frankly, the thought of staring intently at that small screen for an hour and a half, with that level of cinematic detail on show is already giving me a splitting headache.
Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3DS: Clocking in at seven minutes long, this was one of the most impressive 'rolling demos' of the day, with Kojima and co having prepared a glorious in-game cinematic feast that took full advantage of the new 3D mechanics. Snakes lunged towards the players, gigantic alligators lumbered past, baring astonishingly deep rows of teeth when confronted. The climactic encounter at the end was peppered liberally with beautiful Eastern cinematography and oodles of rose petals that seemed to dances their way onto the screen from behind one's own eyes. The visuals were absolutely gorgeous, well up to PSP standards, a fact that makes us incredibly excited for the future of this console. After all, all of the wares on show were essentially glorified tech demos Give it a year or two of development and we could be seeing Gamecube-level graphics appearing on this badboy.
Resident Evil: Revelations: The much shorter Resi trailer just seemed like a CG cutscene when I first picked it up, a rather pointless demonstration of the cutscene quality that the console could produce. Then the penny dropped, I went back to it a second time, and realised that I could move the camera around. That this wasn't just a passive cutscene but rather an indication of the true graphical power of the 3DS. That the textures here had more in common with the PS3 than the PS2. I had to excuse myself for a cigarette just to stop squeaking with excitement.
Pilotwings: Probably the most satisfying of the 3DS demos, simply because it was fully operational, you took a biplane and guided it through a bunch of rings or popped balloons within a certain time limit. Simple, effective and effortlessly functional all it had to do was work, which it did. It also allowed us to use the analogue nub in a controlling capacity, not just for tinkering with the camera, and it held up really well indeed. I have large hands anyway, so I always found the PSP one too small, I'd always slip off of it or worry I was going to break it. But this feels more robust, more solid, more like an X360 stick, flatter and with more grip.
Nintendogs: I have no interest in grooming a virtual pet - aside from the Dratini in my Pokewalker that is - but even the most hard-hearted and cynical of folk would have found it difficult to dislike the short Nintendogs 3DS preview. Put simply, kids are going to absolutely love this. When your puppy of choice bounds towards you, enhanced by the 3D effect, and proceeds to lick the screen and half jump out of it, resting their paws on the edge, all you want to do is stroke them and tickle their chin. It was so heart-warmingly cute that I found myself tilting my head to one side and letting out a soft 'Awwww', at which point the puppy copied me, the camera noticing I'd moved my head. Once I'd dressed up the dog to look like Elvis and chucked a boomerang for it to fetch with the stylus I regained my composure somewhat, but by making the jump to 3D anyone who fell in love with Ninty's virtual pets the first time around is going to be queuing for this one when it arrives.
The Short Version: There's a lot of power and potential here. It'll be interesting to see the price point on it (I for one can't see it retailing for more than £200) and the tight viewing angle and dazzling effects can lead to some discomfort, but Nintendo have pulled off a staggering achievement here. I'm psyched...are you?