I have owned the newest Nintendo’s handheld console for a little more than a week. Here’s what it inspired in me…
The Irony in which we live is this: all those things that the industry throws our way to convince us they can still innovate and not just monetize, all those things may one day be remembered as mere gimmicks, blind alleys of gaming evolution, semi-forgotten urban myths that will be appearing on what-were-they-thinking lists of tomorrow.
So, the industry has lately been trying to push at least two things on us: motion control and stereoscopic 3D. This, they say, is the future. For the “hardcore” it’ll obliterate more barriers between you and your favourite pastime and create immersion you people (our people!!!) have been dreaming of since the cavemen were playing with their testicles one sunny Stone Age afternoon. You will be (almost) in the game itself and controlling it in (almost) natural ways. For the “casuals”, it’ll lower the barrier of entry – see it’s just like Avatar!!!! – and make them able to join in on the fun without having to master buttons and analogue thumbsticks – the traditional obstacles to fun mankind has been required to overcome – and statistically failed – since the dawn of time.
But seriously, while we weren’t looking, the actual innovation took place. While the industry continued to clutter our living space with yet more plastic shit, insisting we need all those cameras and sensors to detect motion and new television sets accompanied with special glasses, the… other part of the industry actually performed its own quiet (r)evolution festival and changed the landscape of gaming.
Because, seriously, if you think Killzone, Arkham Asylum, SPORE, Kinectimals or WiiSports are innovative, I would love to hear what the weather is like back in the middle ages where you apparently live. What we get from our traditional peddlers of digital fun is still more of the same with new coats of paint. Which is fine with me, by the way, I like at least two out of five games listed there, but what changed the gaming as the medium was other people figuring out how to use the fact that we are so much more connected today than we used to be yesterday.
Social networks, free to play MMO games, mobile phone games… this is what defines gaming culture of our age. It’s not Halo: Reach, it’s not Super Mario Galaxy 2, it’s not Heavy Rain and, hey, it’s not WiiSports Resort either. Microsoft can go on blabbering about making games mainstream with Halo all they like, traditional gaming is still niche. It’s a large niche, admittedly, but whoever thinks that Halo, Killzone or even Call of Duty could take on Farmville in a fistfight is delusional and a geek.
Look, it’s simple, you can’t beat simple, convenient and cheap. My wife used to play Unreal Tournament back in the day but in the last decade almost every shooter that she’s seen me playing has been described using the words “looks” and “boring”. You know how we usually joke that all shooters today look alike – grey and khaki colour palette, interchangeable human models, identical viewpoints, guns and recorded sounds – well this is what she has been seeing for more than ten years on her television and computer monitor screens. As far as she is concerned, I have been playing the same game since 1999 and she wants no part in it.
And yet she will happily squander hours playing Angry Birds. A colourful, fun game played with one finger, featuring awesome sound design, great physics and gameplay anyone can understand within twenty seconds of clicking on the desktop shortcut. It costs next to nothing and it provides a steady trickle of new content that also costs next to nothing. Why only last night I told her something along these lines: “You know, normally I’d RAGE about people making a game, then cutting it to pieces and then selling it to us one chunk at a time. But damnit if Rovio doesn’t get it right!!” I mean, I played way more Angry Birds and Tiny Wings than Dead Space 2 over the past three months, and I have spent scary amounts of money on Playstation 3 related hardware and software to ensure my living room gaming is good. Meaning I consider myself hardcore, whatever the HELL that means.
What does all this have to do with Nintendo 3DS? A lot. If I am reading the signals right, 3DS and Sony’s soon-to-come NGP may be the last traditional handheld consoles we ever own.
Nintendo has a history of being outrageously successful with their handhelds and in fact their handheld division is what kept their head above the water in the decade of Playstation’s (and later Xboxes) rise. Nintendo DS, launched seven years ago has been the most successful handheld console ever and the company has been determined to keep the things on the up and up with its successor. 3DS is basically keeping what was good about the DS – the shape, the dual screen setup, the touchscreen functionality, the connectivity – while adding sharper graphics and stereoscopic three-dimensional display visible to the naked eye. The technology just cutting edge enough to produce spontaneous geekgasms, combined with enthusiastic response of most major game publishers made a lot of “hardcore” gamers giddy with anticipation. The prospect of playing new Kid Icarus, new Resident Evil along with enhanced remakes of such classics as Snake Eater and Ocarina of Time, on a handheld, with proper 3D visuals – well those are legitimate grounds for excitement.
And yet, and yet… Nintendo has survived many a paradigm shift and today it is arguably stronger than ever, but the recent public hate crime Satoru Iwata, the company’s current President/ CEO committed by rather openly trash talking mobile phone gaming and claiming that cheapening of the market leads to loss of immersion and death of proper games (I’m paraphrasing, understand), this incident makes us wonder.
Because, really, in an era where literally millions of gamers play games for hours per day, every day on social networks or in browser based free to play persistent worlds, where gaming on the go means ninety nine cents games you can purchase and download anywhere, any time and, at least in cases of Tiny Wings, Angry Birds, Game Dev Story and… DoDonPachi (How’s that for hardcore, homies?) play for hours without pretending you care for what digital actors have to say and how the dialogue is directed, in that era, is it even possible for Nintendo to still sell us dedicated and admittedly pretty expensive gaming machine that is bigger than a smartphone, does less than a smartphone does on any weekday and sells us 50 Euro games (hey, that’s what they made me cough up for Pilotwings Resort) that we have to buy in plastic boxes in brick and mortar stores (and run the risk of seeing a sold out sign) or order online and wait for days (in my case weeks and months, because Hong Kong is FAR away)?
Well, they sold one to me, at least. And this is what I love and hate about it.
What I love about my cosmo black 3DS:
1. Shape and ergonomics
Well, I love my old white Nintendo DS Lite, so seeing how my new black Nintendo 3DS (that we will no doubt be calling “phat” in a matter of years) looks almost exactly the same but has leaner lines, better quality plastic, bigger screens and great quality buttons makes me feel good about Nintendo’s designers. They know just about enough not to change the winning formula and 3DS keeps the logical functionality its predecessor had, managing to add new stuff along the way. The audio and 3D sliders are positioned well, the new places for Select and Start buttons make sense, the Home button does what you imagine it should be doing and there’s still room for WiFi and power switches that somehow manage to never be pressed if you didn’t mean it. Meanwhile, while the D-Pad is now positioned a little awkwardly, the thumbstick (called “circle pad”, I’m guessing just because assholes like me will automatically think “more like circle jerk, amirite!!!”) more than makes up for it in quality. I’ve read reports of people saying their D-Pad or screen hinges were squeaky, but my machine has been giving me nothing less than crispy, perfect performance in the week since I have bought it.
2. Graphics, audio and 3D
I am in no way what people would call “graphics whore” (for one, I would never have intercourse with a man I don’t fancy in exchange for just some Hi-Res screenshots) but it is nevertheless lovely seeing higher definition images accompanied with solid framerate on a Nintendo handheld. To be sure, as a Nintendo DS owner who is also a PSP owner, I have enjoyed lovely graphics on a portable device for ages now, but, one important truth to remember here is that the best handheld games usually do not feature the best graphics. Sure, I love Dissidia and I thought that Peace Walker was awesome but to be honest my favourite PSP games are sprite based – Patapon, LocoRoco, Tactics Ogre, Cladun… So, I love sharp images and enhanced 3D rendering that 3DS offers but that alone in no way means the games featuring awesome graphics will actually be awesome.
Meanwhile, I am more than cold when it comes to stereoscopic 3D. I hate going to the movies and having to wear heavy glasses over the glasses I wear all day anyway, I hate seeing the film in a darkened, less clear quality, I hate the strain it puts on my eyes. So I am definitely in no hurry to buy a 3D-capable telly and go back to Killzone 3 just so I can lose the level of detail and shave a few FPS off the total in exchange for having to duck when Higs try to stab me in the face with their cockney accented, sharpened nazi dicks.
But with 3DS it kinda works. Sure, it took me about a day and a half to train my eyes to not hurt the second they tried to make sense of the illogical images in front of them and excitedly shaking the console while playing Street Fighter made the 3D magic fail epically, but now I am sort of comfortable with it. It really does make things look lovely on occasion and while I am fully aware it is but a gimmick (whatwith being able to turn the 3D off completely for every game) (meaning no gameplay can ever be based around 3D), at least it doesn’t irritate me. It’s like having higher resolution or more colours on your screen – you can do without it but it adds to the taste.
On a related note, the DS featured good speakers but their maximum volume was really low. 3DS produces sound of a notably better quality and now it is also loud enough that you can hear it over your own excited breathing. As soon as someone cracks the device and finds the way to enable it to play 3D pr0n, we’ll be in major business.
3. Enhanced functionality
Nintendo always maintains that their devices are gaming machines and the rest of the world can have their social networks integration and video playback and Internet, but with 3DS they at least packed some stuff into the dashboard that’ll make sure the average user will have something to keep herself happy even if he doesn’t like any of the games available in the launch window. After all, Nintendo is fully aware that many (most?) of the Wii owners never purchased any games, perfectly content having only WiiSports that came pre-packaged with the console.
No, 3DS does not offer anything on the same scale, but it does keep you amused with a bunch of stuff. The machine has no less than three cameras. The front facing one is a plain old camera while the two rear cameras allow the user to take grainy, lo-res and yet amusing three dimensional images. To be sure, these are only a tiny bit better in quality than “holographic postcards” you remember from your childhood (at least I do) (barring the possibility that all the childhood memories I have and treasure have merely been inserted into my clone brain by a sinister International organisation) but testing them on non-geek population gave me some spectacular results. My colleagues at the International meeting I attended in Hungary last week rated me somewhere between Bruce Lee and Galactus when I showed them their own mugs in 3D.
There is also a sound recorder that allows you to play back the audio captured through the microphone and dick around with its pitch. Why? Who knows, but my grindcore vocalising sounds even better when it appears to have been produced by a rabid chipmunk.
You can also suspend games (and any other software you happen to be running) at any time and go to the dashboard to take notes. Again, I have no idea why you would want to do this – after all, our war against adventure games was won years ago – but it’s nice of Nintendo to offer. The hint here is that you shouldn’t get too trigger happy with suspending stuff because, if you think you can freeze the game and then go to the dashboard to take some 3D photos of your mighty killing-induced erection, think again (that is, IF you can think with all your blood redirected to assist in nobler business). Launching anything else from the dashboard turns whatever was suspended off. Which sucks. My wife’s iPhone is better at multitasking and Allah knows iOS devices have always been lambasted for not being able to multitask. Oh well…
This console also lets you exchange identities with other 3DS users over the Internet, using friends codes tied to the machine (rather than to a game, as was the case with DS), which we applaud. It also has machine-based street pass capabilities as well as the ability to download firmware updates in a passive state (spot pass). Of course, anyone letting their machine update itself without so much as a warning deserves all the bad things that happen later, but Nintendo is at least trying to make you comfortable in your stupidity.
I have not yet tested the Augmented Reality games that demand the use of printed cardboard cards that Nintendo supplied with the machine but I have to say that printing “free” on the package that is part of the package you actually, you know, paid for, somehow sounds, you know – cheap.
But I have played Face Raiders and this is Nintendo in fine form. This is the Augmented Reality game that comes with its own slot in the dashboard and it demands you to take photos of faces of people around you that then turn into invaders of your personal space. Using the rear facing cameras, the game superimposes waves of attacking heads on the backdrop of your living room and instructs you to shoot all of them, bossfights and all. While nowhere near the depth you’d demand from a boxed game, Face Raiders is exactly what you want to show people wondering what the machine can do. Watching my friends run around my apartment, 3DS in hand, shooting mugshots of my cats (I only had them available initially) and screaming like crazy is what the new handheld console experience should all be about. Face Raiders is gaming in its purest form.
Also, download-play seems to now be available for many more games than it was the case with DS, but we will have to test this thesis once more games are on offer and once we meet anyone else owning a 3DS.
The machine also has activity log which is nice, a pedometer and a gyroscope. Let’s leave it at that.
So far, I have only bought three games and this has as much to do with the low quality of distribution for Nintendo-related software we get in this country as with the fact that some people claim this is the weakest launch window selection of games ever. Actually, out of the three, two were purchased in Hungary and it’s difficult for me to agree that a lineup featuring Super Street Fighter IV and a new game by Julian Gollop can be described as anything less than encouraging.
I love Super Street Fighter IV and its 3DS iteration is still awesome. That it can be played online is nothing short of phenomenal but then again, this is exactly what we should be deeming minimum requirement of a current generation dedicated gaming hardware. I hope this becomes proper standard for future 3DS games – unlike what the situation with PSP turned out to be in the end – and that words “ad hoc” are only used to describe casual sex in the years to come.
Also, Julian Gollop. Honestly, I would probably never buy a launch title for a new platform with words “Ghost” and “Recon” featuring heavily in it (because I hate Ubisfot is why, you nosy pricks) but Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is the new game made by a man who gave us X-Com and there’s no arguing about whether you should own it. Sure, it features a silly storyline and, stereoscopic 3D aside, looks like an ugly DS game, but here we’re talking heaven when it comes to modern turn based tactics. Buy it.
5. Backwards compatibility with DS
Nintendo knows I still have a ton of DS games I haven’t completed so the first iteration of 3DS allows us to use the old cartridges and play the games with or without stretching the image. This will no doubt be removed in the future revisions of the hardware but as a launch model gesture, I applaud it. Moreover:
6. Flashcarts for DS work on 3DS
Sure, sure, now the bigots among you are inhaling and getting ready to scream “PIRATE!!! GET HIM!!!” but the fact is that I own more DS games than you do. At the same time, it’s simply not convenient to carry more than one or two games while travelling, due to their bulky plastic boxes so having twenty or thirty of them backed up on a SD card has always worked well for me when I travelled for business or pleasure. Add the odd emulator or two for older systems and you’ll understand why I am happy that all this still works on 3DS (bar the ability to play ripped 3DS games… yet). Of course, Nintendo will probably patch this out as soon as they can through a firmware update and then I’ll hate the tits off them. Until the card manufacturers find a way to circumwent the protection and so on ad infinitum…
And with that, I think we should move on and try and list the other things:
The things I hate about my cosmo black 3DS:
1. Missing features
Sure, being able to record my own voice and take 3D shots of my penis is lovely but a machine that has reasonable Internet capacity comes without a browser or an online shop. In 2011 for Allah’s sake!!!
With DS, these things have been stupid but excusable and both were added in the later iterations. But with 3DS this is completely inexcusable. The machine comes with cameras, speakers and a microphone, a dedicated 3D screen and a virtual keyboard and yet you give me no option to surf the web or have video chats with people??? Are you insane, Nintendo? Are you actively trying to force me to remember that mobile phones offer all of these things as well as games that cost fifty times less than your games?
Sure, Nintendo announced adding these features (well, browser and online shop at least… hot and sweaty Skype chat will probably have to wait for hackers to patch it in) in a later firmware update but seriously, if you couldn’t get it up for launch, how dedicated do you think you look to us?
What’s worse, digital distribution systems for both DS and Wii have been pretty abominable so far, offering a highly debatable selection of (region exclusive) games for highly debatable prices. Are we to believe that Nintendo has learned from Apple or even Sony and Microsoft in the meantime and that 3DS shop will actually be worth our time and not look like something that accidentally fell out of Sheitan’s own rectum? Just like Sheitan, I’ll believe it when I see it.
2. Battery life
It may sound like I am complaining about insignificant little features here but battery life is one of major features for a handheld device. I do a lot of my portable gaming on the move and the main reason my DS has been getting more game time than my PSP is simply that its battery holds longer. PSP is a bit of a joke anyway, more demanding games sucking my “special” extended 2200 mAh battery dry in two hours flat. Well, for 3DS Nintendo announced somewhere between three and five hours, depending on the setup. Playing with my screen brightness on level three (out of five), with WiFi off and sound halfway up (only 3D slider maxed) I get between three and four hours. Which is pretty crappy. If I have to spend two hours on an airport and then three hours flying I am basically fucked, and that’s before we even take in the possibility of wanting to surf the Internet or have audio chats somewhere down the line.
What pisses me off the most is not that Nintendo couldn’t make a better battery without setting our underwear on fire, but the fact that third party battery enhancers have been on offer since before launch day. Nintendo could have licensed one of those products and packaged it with the console. That would have shown they cared and would go a long way towards justifying the 300 Euro price tag I was smacked with on launch day.
What Nintendo included instead is… wait for it… a Charging Cradle. A useless piece of plastic that demands a power cord to be plugged into it before placing your 3DS on top. Useless simply because you can still plug the cord directly into the console. Thank you for wasting more of the planet’s resources on redundant slabs of plastic, Nintendo, and giving them names that will remind us why we didn’t want to have babies in the first place.
3. Region locking
By far the worst of the new features, the decision to for the first time in their history produce a region-locked handheld gaming device shows that Nintendo hate us. Not just the general public, the average sixpack Joe who couldn’t tell a difference between WiiFit and WiiFit Plus even if the difference punched him in the guts, but US, the people who read websites like this one, the self proclaimed hardcore.
There must be a logical explanation for this but unless it is something along the lines of “We hate your stupid face and we hate your filthy money even more”, its logic might not make sense. Seriously, why??? People take these things with them all the time, you want them to take them along for walks and trips (hence the pedometer and the spot pass and the street pass etc.) but should they buy games not tagged for their region on their travels, they will be useless.
The problem is enhanced between twenty and fifty times when you have in mind how difficult it is to obtain certain games in certain countries. Where I live some games never come into shops, some games never come to the continent and Amazon, Google, Play and most other online game distributors will not ship to my country. Seriously.
So, most of the time I’d order my DS games from Hong Kong, usually paying between 60 and 100 dollars a piece. You’d think that my taste in games must be bordering on perverse and that most of my purchases from Play Asia are merely Japanese dating sims but no. How about Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes that took three months to come to Europe after its North American release (published as it is by a European company. And you wonder why I hate Ubisfot). No? You say I could have waited? OK, then, how about Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey that has been out in North America since March 2010 and is still not out in Europe? Or how about Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor? This game came out in North America in June 2009 and never came out in Europe. Hell, the Japanese enhanced version for 3DS is announced for June 2011 with the European version having no date at all.
Without being able to purchase these games from Asian distributors, in their North American versions, I would have never purchased these games. I could have still played them – using less than popular means such as flashcarts and pirated ROMs – but neither Atlus, nor Ubisoft, nor Nintendo would have got my money for them. But they did. With 3DS games being region locked, I will not be buying any more American releases. And the thing is I still don’t understand why. It can’t be piracy protection, this is exactly what makes people pirate games in the first place. Nintendo seem to be actively trying to push enthusiasts away from their newest device by offering more features where it is really a matter of “would be nice to have them” but absolutely dropping the ball where it counts. When this thing gets hacked you can bet one of the first things people do will be circumventing region locking (right after ensuring you can capture video of the user’s penis in glorious 3D).
In conclusion? I am glad I have this machine and I am sure I will have many happy hours with it, even before the inevitable sex chat with sweaty, overweight men gives an entirely new meaning to the term 3D. But Nintendo hate us with a passion that rivals only their contempt for our passion and their hatred combined with their obvious disregard for all things modern might backfire this time around. See you around the time 3D video chat becomes reality or Zelda comes out, whichever comes first.
Email the author of this post at firstname.lastname@example.org