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

This being Kojima, there are moments of playful fourth-wall dismantling to balance out the melodrama. The demo managed to arch an eyebrow at what has since become journalistic cliché, the feeling that you can ‘reach into the screen’: a guard’s arm flailed through a gap in some roots in search of a dropped packet of cigarettes, inches from the hidden Snake who, as if in response to my fleeting irrational urge to grasp the box between thumb and forefinger, picked it up and moved it under the interloper’s questing hand.

Don't turn your back on it.

Dog’s dinner?

If the Naked Sample brought the big swings, then Nintendogs & Cats brought the follow-through. Mechanically speaking it’s no more than an upgrade, albeit one that mingles feline with canine cuteness, of the pet molesting sims that have sold millions of DS units to bamboozled teenage girls (and, I’ll admit, at least one male twenty-something copyist) over the past five years. The demo comes with three puppies, a Beagle, a Labrador and a terrier, each noticeably crisper than the pick of last-gen’s litter, and a dozen or so toys and items of clothing to mess around with.

While 3D immediately had the generic apartment backdrop ‘popping’, with the furniture in an adjoining room far more apparent, it wasn’t till the doggy leapt up to place his paws on the inside of the screen that the quality of the game’s optimisation really hit home. In some of the less well-adapted demos I saw, the effect was quite obviously layered, foreground and background split apart like the facades of a theatre set; the head of my Beagle (note, incidentally, that I’m already calling it ‘my’) was a fully rounded 3D object, dusted with minute depth of field effects, an accomplishment all the more evident once I’d tossed in a few accessories (a quiff, sunshades and a spiked collar) to sweeten the deal.

What’s more, the sensitivity to proximity cuts both ways: thanks to the 3DS’s inside lid camera, the pet could detect how far my face was from the screen and react accordingly (i.e. lovably). It’s unlikely this functionality will reach Kinect levels of sophistication, but there are still interesting possibilities aplenty between the high watermark of skeletal mapping and the humbler amusements of the likes of Face Training.

Screenshots really don't do 3DS justice. This may be a problem, Nintendo...

A sight for sore eyes

So how exactly, then, does 3DS ‘pay a price’ for being the most awe-inspiring, downright stealable piece of hardware you’ll encounter in the next few years? Where does it put a foot wrong? Answer: it’s inconvenient. Masterful, stylish, contagious, infectious, outrageous, practically perfect in every way… but inconvenient. It asks more of its user than we’ve come to expect from a Nintendo handheld, more than a handheld gamer might feel comfortable with full stop, and for that reason the option to turn 3D off is absolutely crucial.

Simply put, the experience of playing a game in three dimensions takes effort. You’ve got to keep your eyes more or less parallel with the top screen, tweaking the slider to match up the left and right images, or else endure nauseating ‘double vision’. Even when the images are correctly aligned, processing the depth of view is a little taxing, especially in a fast, fireworks-laden rail shooter like Kid Icarus, with objects transiting rapidly from far to near.

I found that my eyes felt tired after as little as 15 minutes, though in fairness some of this should be attributed to my looking at a variety of titles in succession, each with its own graphical make-up and ‘sweet spot’. I imagine that timeframe would shrink were I standing in a dim bus shelter or a tube car, rather than a well-lit, spacious, air-conditioned chamber in one of London’s première business hang-outs.

I also imagine that for many outside the hardcore gaming clique, the attractions of 3DS will have less to do with ‘screen burst’ and the all-new tactility of Samus Aran’s bubble-butt, and more with Nintendo’s continuing to offer what it has offered for many years: a robust, reasonably affordable, attractive means of playing simple puzzlers, lifestyle sims, footie or educational games in 90 second spurts.

See, we love it really.

When 3DS launches, these consumers won’t be found marvelling at the palpability of Mario’s nostril hair, or gasping as a three-headed dragon erupts into close-up; they’ll be scratching their heads over Sudoku, or Brain Training, or taking photos, or teaching themselves bad piano. They won’t want to have to ‘work’ at a game to enjoy it, however ample the rewards. And that’s why perhaps the most conclusive evidence of Nintendo’s cleverness with 3DS isn’t the sheer technological breakthrough involved, but the manufacturer’s readiness, should the user wish it, to let that breakthrough slide.

Watch out for more Ninten-tastic coverage in the near future. 3DS wasn’t the only thing we saw at Tuesday’s event…

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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