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29 Mar 2011

With a new handheld gaming system, Nintendo aims to once again revolutionize the high-tech world of entertainment. But does it succeed?

The Nintendo 3DS, which went on sale in the U.S. Sunday for $250, lets users play 3D games without wearing special glasses. It also takes 3D photos. And this summer, the 3DS will play 3D movies streamed from Netflix on its 3.5-inch screen.

I've been playing with the 3DS for about a week now, and for me, the device walks the line between awesome and not-yet-so-awesome. Here's why.


1. It doesn’t require glasses.
I feel silly enough wearing 3D glasses in the movie theater, especially over my everyday glasses. But who wants to wear 3D glasses by yourself? Talk about nerdy! For the 3DS to be a success, Nintendo had to figure out how to do 3D without the need for glasses. With all the 3D hype over the past two years I was naturally skeptical that the gaming company's engineers could pull this off. They did.

2. Personalized 3D experience.
The Nintendo DS is a portable gaming console that you don’t share; it's 3D just for you, which is a nice thing. You don’t have to ooh and ahh in a movie theater about a tree branch just appeared in front of you. You don’t have to tolerate other people’s responses to the third dimension. It’s just for you to enjoy at your leisure. I like that. And parents, imagine handing your kids "How to Train Your Dragon" in 3D -- that’ll give you two hours of your life back.

3. Augmented reality.
Augmented reality is a live view of your physical world through an electronic device that overlays information -- think Mario or Luigi bouncing on your actual kitchen table. The Nintendo 3DS does this, thanks to two cameras in the back. The gaming system comes with six reality cards in the box that you just have to see to believe. It's amazing fun if you want to play a game where your character bounces around your own living room. There aren’t really games that do that yet, unfortunately. But Nintendo hopes developers will start building them soon.


1. Battery life.
It's no surprise that a small gaming console that does 3D is a battery hog. Most devices that take on a new technological challenge suffer from fast battery depletion. Remember the original iPhone? You had to charge it constantly.

By most reports, the Nintendo 3DS maxes out at 3.5 hours. So if you're counting on it for a cross-country flight, you had better bring your charger and some kind of portable power source -- otherwise you’ll still be in the air when the 3DS poops out. I suspect the next generation model will have more battery life, but for now, the 3DS is clearly lacking.

2. You must be “this tall” to ride this ride.
The Nintendo DS has typically been popular with grade-school children. Unfortunately, the 3DS isn't fit for a lot of them. Viewing 3D content is not suggested for children under the age of 7: Nintendo says their eyes are not ready for the rapid movement and readjustment to the changing images. That’s no fun -- and also no joke. Nintendo can’t change that age limit either, because it applies to all 3D, not just the 3DS. Consider the demographic that used the original DS and you'll see the problem.

3. Got game?
It’s not that there aren’t any fun games for the 3DS. There are -- but there aren’t any compelling games. At least I haven't seen them yet. Sure, Pilotwings Resort is a fun flight simulator, but I would have been just as happy playing it in 2D.

I pleaded with my parents to get an original NES because of Super Mario Bros. There’s no Super Mario Bros. for the new 3DS. Of course, I understand that it takes time for a new gaming system to build up a library of games -- but if that library isn’t built up rapidly enough, no one will be sold on the notion that gaming needs a third dimension.

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