The Nintendo DS3
(The New 3DS)
In recent years Nintendo have gone from being seated behind the fatted pigs corpse at the head of the table in the Console Kingdom to very nearly trawling about for scraps of sustenance salvaged from the detritus ‘round the back of the bins.
Having single handedly turned the gaming crash of the eighties into their own personal mushroom cloud of Mario-scented smiles and larks with their 8bit NES and 16-bit SNES consoles respectively Nintendo turned a low-powered square of bleep and bloop into the most sought after gaming platform despite terrifyingly powerful competition from Microsoft and Sony. Quick to understand pick-up-and-play gaming married to a reasonable price point drove the white-wonder Wii under the telly’s of fans and old folks homes the world over, the elderly staving off the inevitable daisy pushing to a soundtrack of clicking hips and Samba Di-Amigo, and parents discovering a way to engage with their offspring in what snake-oil salesmen refer to as ‘quality time’.
Ever at the forefront of pocket pleasures their handheld division has maintained the company biscuit fund throughout the hardships of yore; from the unfavorable format of choice that was the N64 to the Fisher-Price-alike Cube of the Game, periods where it seemed Mario was in danger of being flushed down his own S-bend, the humble homunculus that was the Gameboy and subsequent DS iterations consistently saw the big N top the gaming charts via Pokemon and pokey-screens. As successor to the handheld throne the 3DS has had a somewhat mixed life thus far; quality electronic marred by cack-handed marketing and a severe lack of use for its main selling point in all but its own first party titles has seen many a slider fixed firmly in the ‘down’ position once the novelty of ear bleeding migraines and wibbly eye-strain wore off.
So with the launch of Nintendo’s newest model threatening to fill up the appointment books of opticians everywhere we donned our best welders mask and corpse handling gloves and, with a handful of Anadin and a cup of sweet milky tea on standby, dove headfirst behind the hype and hyperbole to see if Nintendo are set to breathe the sweet smell of success once or have simply been huffing on paint thinner…
Added Shoulder Buttons –The Good
As the old saying goes ‘Control is power’ and with the big N’s past pastiche of procrastinations informing us that ‘Now You’re Playing With Power’ it seems they’re fully committed to bringing more power to the paw of the player.
If fully mapable they promise to open a world of subtle yet incredibly flexible possibilities; racing aficionados can refine their line and cut their lap-times with manual gears as well as accelerate and braking controlled by the pair of pointy fingers. Switching between primary and secondary weapons in first-person shooters such as Metroid or Call Of Duty whilst maintaining a full on assault of hand-grenades and rapid reload with the primary weapon all without having to pause in your pinky pressings on the trigger. Sub-menus or on-screen menus could be bought up or put away on-the-fly without having to re-map the entire configuration to accommodate whatever nonsense the touch screen takes care of before jumping feet first into the teeth breaking and grind. Though a very simple idea modestly hidden in plain sight, the addition of two extra buttons looks to bring a more comfortable and closer-to-what-you’re-used-to feel when gaming, delivering a smorgasbord of choice for even the most finiky of player to assign the ‘Make That Not Live’ button to.
A second pair of shoulder buttons set alongside the already present L1 and R1 buttons look like they’ll be the bane of anyone used to the more traditional one-above-the-other configuration of gaming pad; the distance along the horizontal, though barely a Fairy fart in distance further it’s promising to be an uncomfortable fathom to reach for those used to the ‘one above t’other’ configuration of a home console pad.
No doubt the finger-tip tapping skills will be pushed to the core, cramp from steepled index fingers held too long in situ lest accidental presage of the L1/R1 buttons occurs by way of the remaining portion of digit.. And though extra buttons = power an’ all that it isn’t as if any of the games offered up on any of the various DS incarnations can make full use of both button- and touch-screen input in one cohesive package as it is, so the addition of two more buttons for the dev’s to ignore hardly floats my boat to the port of Steepled Pinky Pain A-Plenty.
Second Analog Nub – The Good
Now we’re talking! Having already had a crack at making the abortive circle-pad add-on peripheral anything more than a baneful acknowledgement that two nubs are better than one this at least speaks of Nintendo taking that step into the world of big-boy gaming. First person shooters with ‘proper’ lefty-righty multi directional movement of the main character? After the woefully un-intuitive marring of touch-screen and d-pad that currently ruins many a cracking shooter I’m already putting the kettle on and breaking out the good biscuits for its New Year nubbiness arrival.
Racing games on the handheld have always seemed limp when held against the joy of their big-boy brothers due in no small part to analogue acceleration and braking, anything more than a kart racing game seemingly too much a bridge for the simple controls to cross when translating to the palm-pals plate – the Need For Speed series is a waste of an afternoon and the thick end of thirty quid for the DS versions, the ‘hold A and bounce off the scenery for steering’ method of car-nival fun getting you through most of the races with little fuss. With a dedicated stab at bringing true analogue precision to the platform it raises the bar for the depth of play developers can achieve within their releases and moves the perception of the handheld from secondary to primary gaming platform of choice for gaming’s hard-core in need of portable play, the Gameboy brand maturing into adulthood and standing as a True Contender in the fight for your gaming attentions.
Well, look at it! It’s barely even in the third dimension itself, so small and shoved right up there almost in the touch screen itself for comfortable functional use. As indistinct in stature as Toad himself, it also bears the ignominious award for being oddly ungainly on the eye with its off-set implementing. Hardly the symmetrical sweet spot for gaming and uneasy on the eye, really, Nintendo…just what? Not the much more sensible additional analogue nub every right thinking 3DS owner demanded and more an almost immobile block of pencil eraser-end lodged above the face buttons it’s sadly looking like its use will be limited to camera swinger-arounder and possibly some first-person shooty-bang-bang, if we’re lucky – if the looming promise of free disappointment and hand-cramps with each copy of C.O.D. 3DS doesn’t become as big a sticking point as Resident Evil’s implementation of the thing foreshadows.
A pyrrhic victory for those who questioned the lack of dual wielding wonderfulness on the original 3DS it feels more a tacit admission of acknowledgement to these cries than any genuine understanding of why people want two analogue nubs, the maligned circle-pad add-on heavily ignored by Nintendo and practically abandoned before it was even on the shelves; practically no advertising and discounted to pennies within weeks of launch you will forgive us if our leaps for joy seem more akin to the actions of one scraping dog mess from the underside of their brand new Nike’s.
Better 3D Screen – The Good
Ok so you can hardly improve the nature of the 3D screen on the 3DS by way of a simple update to download; like the re-modeled PSVita Those In Charge have seen fit to replace a barely used key ingredient of the handheld with a technologically much more impressive slice of the same-old-same-old. A teeny camera snuggled in beside the top screens main eye-ball of observance monitors the players head movements and adjusts how the 3D is projected. Simply put, you can start looking for the receipt to that Nintendo Neck-Brace (‘For Optimum 3DS Immersion!’) as the screen defiantly refuses to turn your eyeballs backwards and left.
YouTube videos too benefit from an added dimension to fondle, popping to life like a small screen version of IMAX that doesn’t tack on additional charges of head-aches and unfulfilled promises to the ticket price. Less brain-strain through the eyes and no longer requiring you to somehow stay perfectly still and at optimum viewing angle when the game screams at you to tilt the console ‘this way’ and ‘that’, it looks like the built in gyroscope will finally get a chance to be more than a reason why you no longer ply the built-in shooter.
Until I have seen it action I will reserve judgment on just how much of a deal-breaker this becomes for my wallet, but if the dust atop the slider on the side of my 3DS XL is any portent of future intent then my overdraft should be safe for some time yet – until the inevitable Pokemon or console-specific release, that is.
Speaking of which…
All New OS – The Good
Absolute power, as we all learned from Scarface, corrupts absolutely; but instead of washing powder boxes full of Columbian marching powder Nintendo have been shoving dirty great lines of code and electronic gubbins into the sinuses of their heroic handheld, an updated OS packing more punch behind its paunch than Stallone in Rocky 3. Faster download times and quicker access to online adventures awaits, and the prospect of developers exploiting that extra power makes much of the dribbly chin anticipation between myself and my fellow gamers.
With a battery capable of lasting longer than the start up screen shoved up its chuff the new 3DS has put itself above anything that could be shoved in your pocket previously and on a par with all the quad core creaminess most Android and iPhone gaming indulgers regularly employ. Online play and Wi-Fi wonderlust will no doubt be the foremost beneficiaries of this boost in baseline brilliance, the specter of lag or disconnection issues no longer getting in the way of being able to fully appreciate your nine year old opponents critique of your karting skills and ‘your mum’.
With any console upgrade comes a game that shows off the new tech and helps justify purchase, in this instance the RPG series Xenoblade rocking on up in all new fancy Chronicles garb.
No doubt it’ll do the business with showing off the new OS as we have rightly come to expect from Nintendo and their first-footer releases upon their platforms, and there’ll be a Mario title somewhere down the line and no doubt a Pokemon orsix too and the good-times will roll and all ills cured and all that malarkey and noise. But if you want to play those shiny new squares of silicon and smiles on your current 3DS then a large portion of disappointment soup awaits; though the entire catalogue of 3DS and DS games can indeed be enjoyed on the new 3DS the improved OS means no backwards compatibility for any game released specifically for it.
In laymans terms that means if you want to come to the party you’d better buy a ticket, because no-one is going to sneak you in the back door for free and all the streamers and cheap plonk you bring along won’t get you past the bouncers. Worse still, how long do you think it’ll be before they stop releasing ‘dual format’ versions of the same game – for regular 3DS and slightly better 3DS – and concentrate solely on the new 3DS release instead? The expense in producing two different versions of the same game alone will be a vestigial lump of irritation we can’t see many developers putting up with for long, and without heavy subsidization from the coffers of the plumber himself most will probably not want to deal with all the nonsense involved in getting their game on the platforms, the underpowered Wii and more recent Wii-U highlighting the attitude of ‘bottom-line-first’ developers have to adopt when releasing games and leaving those consoles respective catalogues severely under-represented when compared to the heaving shelves of X-Box and PlayStation titles.
Throw in the casual confusion that will occur when Tiny Tim asks his parents for what is basically the same thing they spent a ton of wodge on not that long ago and has yet to give off smoke signals suggesting a replacement is needed and what we’re looking at here is a re-skinned history of another once giant of the gaming world; Sega. From the success of the Mega Drive to the ultimate failure of the Dreamcast the intervening years saw updates and add-ons pouring out of Sega HQ in an attempt to keep their console relevant as technology and their rivals sped forth to sate the desires of a gaming hungry public. The Mega CD, 32X, even (some would say) the Saturn itself did nothing but cause confusion for potential purchaser and create ire amongst their audience, each new purchase becoming almost instantly obsolete in the face of another announcement of even greater gaming goodness from the Sega soap-box, ultimately costing them their user base and leading them to bow out the home console market completely.
And what about Ninty’s previously alluded to cash cow, the Pokemon franchise?
Do they release a game that works solely on the new platform thus forcing their audience to upgrade before they may have wanted and risk losing a massive chunk of some sorely needed income, or acquiesce and maintain dual-format versions in the knowledge that it’ll still shift vast numbers to the man-in-the-street whilst the hard-core fans will still be shoring up the Xmas booze fund thanks to buying anything with a Pikachu slapped across the front?
Aside from using the now universal Micro SD format for saves and such and general titivation overall it’s hard to see the new 3DS as anything more than the last gasps of desperation from a company treading water in the current stormy waters of gaming. With mobile phones now coming in quad core flavours and even the budget end of the Android market offering gaming on the go as well as internet nosiness for around the same price as a second hand DS – not forgetting Google and Apple’s own markets offering thousands of free finger flicking fun-stuffs for your precious toilet sitting time – it’s perhaps time to find out the shovel and get with the hole digging out back behind the shed, a call to the bloke who writes the obituary column in the gaming press for a quote.[review]