The next-best thing about 3DS? Turning the 3D off

Edwin goes hands-on with Nintendo’s handsome new console, finding much to praise and a little (just a little) to criticise.

By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, July 28, 2010

The most important words in a handheld developer’s lexicon? Ease of use, transparency, convenience. Handheld gaming is gaming outside its comfort zone, see, gaming up against it – shoved into the angle of a train door, overheated and badly in need of a piss, or bouncing around irritably on the top deck of a bus. Handheld gaming is gaming in the gloom of the staff sitting-room, through a haze of fatigue, or in the ruckus of the playground, with the entire world apparently intent on jogging your elbow and putting your favourite Pokemon to death.

Handheld games have to account for these shifting hostile circumstances, and that means certain design approaches – or luxuries, if you will – popular in the living room are less tenable. Complex menu screens are right out, for starters, to say nothing of gameplay formulae that set a lot of store by precision, like sniping sequences or point and click puzzles that tuck crucial clues behind individual pixels. Darker settings, too, are real no-nos: when you’ve only got four inches of display to fill, and the atmospheric fluctuation of a city commute to reckon with, it makes no sense at all to wrap three and a half of those inches in shadow.

Time for a Steve Irwin impression.

Glass-less is more

Nintendo has been getting all this right for longer than I can remember. While many third party DS studios have muddled around in the realm of fuzzy photorealism, and Sony has turned out extremely high-quality but not quite travel-friendly PSP titles like Peace Walker and Resistance: Retribution, the House of Mario has always put its weight behind big solid colours, big solid sprites and fat unmissable button panels. But Nintendo has been trying new, exciting and potentially dangerous tricks of late. Nintendo is getting its groove on with 3D gaming.

Yesterday, I finally had a chance to see 3DS, the ‘glass-less 3D’ handheld over which such astonishing quantities of ink and fairy dust have been spilt, in action. The manufacturer had kindly put some of the test kits and demos aired at its E3 presser on show at London’s Millbank Tower. Even the attendant blondes whose Colgate smiles irradiated many a jet-lagged heart in June were back, crammed between two long white booths, looking for all the world like they’d been impounded by a lecherous traffic warden.

I quickly tucked into interactive demos for PilotWings, Nintendogs & Cats, Resident Evil: Resurrection, Ubisoft’s Hollywood 61 and Metal Gear Solid 3: The Naked Sample, garnished by static show-reels for Kid Icarus, the untitled Mario Kart game and a handful of painstakingly constructed, rotatable dioramas designed merely to test-drive the parallax top display.

Was I impressed? You bet your firmly muscled, on-the-go gamer buttocks I was impressed. At its best, thumbing the 3D effect slider up to the max felt like time-warping from one hardware generation to another: the view telescoped, objects near and far took on a sudden clarity and sensuality, particles flew dizzyingly past my ears and the urge to rip the little beauty from its mount, shove it into my bag and leap cackling out the window reached a nigh-unbearable pitch. But all that splendour comes at a price. We’ll get to the whys and wherefores in a few paragraphs: first, let the gushing and gesticulating commence.

The Boss and Snake tussle. Serious wardrobe malfunctions ahoy.

Sinking to whole new depths

The stand-outs in the 3DS showcase were unquestionably Metal Gear and Nintendogs – the former for the cheeky delight it took in putting the handheld’s capabilities through the wringer, the latter for its quieter, workmanlike polish.

Naked Sample is a proof-of-concept movie created using in-engine assets and styled like gameplay, loosely based on the storyline of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. It follows Naked Snake through the jungle of Cold War Russia to a climactic fistfight with nemesis/mentor The Boss in a petal-strewn meadow. The camera, alternately first and third-person, can be angled slightly with the analog slide panel (concaved to fit your thumb, and thus light-years away in the comfort stakes from the PSP’s ‘orrible nub), giving the viewer more room to appreciate the marvellous ways Kojima and his minions have found to riff on the unprecedented sense of depth.

Wherever there’s an opportunity to push some intricate, animated model to the fore, be it a wasp, a cobra’s gaping maw, a bent blade of grass or the long, tapering snout of an unexpected crocodile, Naked Sample does so. The jungle environment is the perfect place to flex 3DS’s muscles, stratified by hummocks, trunks and shafts of sunlight, and saturated with eye-catching particularities like blown leaves.

7 Responses to “The next-best thing about 3DS? Turning the 3D off”

  1. Porky says:

    I can’t wait to try this. I just don’t believe things will pop out of the screen.

  2. Adam Doree says:

    The trick is depth “into” the screen, rather than stuff coming “out of” it. Stuff in the foreground is kind of on the screen’s surface, like the mud splatters in Metal Gear.

  3. dylantalon says:

    The 3ds doesn’t require shutter glasses so you won’t see images popping out of the screen.

  4. HairyArse says:

    I’m really excited about the 3DS and it was my pre-E3 tip to steal the show. Sounds like it’s everything I was hoping for and that Nintendo really has delivered upon its promises. Which is quite remarkable when you consider the current state of 3D televisions.

  5. xino says:

    exactly that’s why i love the 3DS.

    they are making hardcore games for it in 3D, you don’t even have to play them in 3D!

  6. Casey R Williams says:

    The limitation of making things pop out of the screen is not the one everyone imagines. If you hold the 3DS 18″ from your face, there’s no reason something on the screen couldn’t be made to appear to float over the screen, say appearing to be only 16″ from your face. The problem comes in at the screens’ edges. If something appears behind the screen, the edges crop it naturally. Just as a person walking behind a window can be seen by one eye just a moment longer than by the other, 3D appearing behind the window is perfectly logical. 3D appearing in front of the window presents the problem of it still being cropped by the edges of the screen. It can appear above the window, but it can’t cross the edges of it. For that reason, some things like HUDs, or the occasional fist, could indeed be made to pop out of the screen and I expect a few developers to experiment with this a bit. For most things, however, it will be important to make sure that nothing can get closer to you at the edge than the edge itself actually is.

  7. notagain says:

    oh come on ign, u paid pratcher (or who the guy spells?). tell me, that when you are plaing psp or ds/gameboy, you dont look straight to the screen? really? lol. i own all handhelds (gb, lynx,sega,ds,dsi, psp.. – ok, not the pspgo) and i look everytime straight on the screen. whats the prob? and if i see others playing, they look straight on screen too…….so its no prob to look staright on the 3ds screen.
    i think, only its from nintendo, ign cant like it, thats fact. 3ds, the same again.
    oh yes, but i can hear ign, when ign reports about the new psp with touchpad on the backside…: HUGH, DAMN; NEW EXPERIENCE; BETTER THAN EVER AND ALL BEFORE.
    nintendo gives you the hd-optics, not enough, you get 3d. but for ign: thats a wimmer.
    ign, years ago, you was better


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