Nintendo 3DS Review

Nintendo 3DS Review

Nintendo Enters the Third Dimension

Ever since it was unveiled last year, there’s been a lot of talk about the 3DS. Would it really deliver on its promise of bringing 3D gaming to the masses? In short, yes. The 3DS is certainly a technological marvel, if only for its unique pixel-overlay technology that brings 3D content to life effortlessly. However, the more time I spend with the 3DS, the more I realized that the handheld is more than just the 3D effect.

Nintendo 3DS Screenshot

-The Hardware-

The first thing you’ll notice about the 3DS is how much it resembles the DS Lite. The console is heftier than the DSi and sports the same glossy finish. Though this is good news for those who liked the DS Lite, it’s bad news for those who abhor fingerprints. Within seconds of first opening my 3DS, I was dismayed to see fingerprints and smears all over its shiny case.

Aside from the fingerprints, however, the 3DS is a looker. The system’s two cameras are small and positioned nicely at the top of the unit. It would be easy to mistake it for a DS Lite, but it’s when you open the system up that all the changes become obvious.

When you first open the unit up, you’ll feel the difference in proportions from previous models. The 3DS has a hefty bottom half, and you’ll feel the added weight when you play. Of course, we aren’t talking about weight like you used to have with the original Game Boy, but if you got used to the DS Lite or DSi in your hands, the 3DS can feel a little awkward at first.

Once you get used to it, though, the 3DS feels comfortable. The left side d-pad has been replaced with an analog nub that is perfectly placed and easy to manipulate without obstruction. If the d-pad is still your thing, however, it is still easily accessible right under the analog nub. I tried both control methods extensively on Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition, and they both worked well; neither was more comfortable than the other.

Once you get used to it, though, the 3DS feels comfortable. The left side d-pad has been replaced with an analog nub that is perfectly placed and easy to manipulate without obstruction. If the d-pad is still your thing, however, it is still easily accessible right under the analog nub. I tried both control methods extensively on Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition, and they both worked well; neither was more comfortable than the other.

Nintendo 3DS Screenshot

The inclusion of the analog may be the most obvious change to the console’s design, but there have also been some other tweaks here and there, including a volume slider, relocation of the start and select buttons, and a shorter, stouter stylus (which has also been moved to the back of the DS unit, next to the card reader). These changes are fairly simple, and don’t take any real breaking in.

Nintendo 3DS Screenshot

But let’s move on to the biggest change to the system design: the widescreen display. Though the bottom screen still sports the familiar 4:3 aspect ratio, the top screen has (finally) been upgraded to a 16:9 aspect ratio, and even without the 3D effect, the screen truly benefits from the extra real estate and lines of resolution. Playing Street Fighter IV on the screen, even when the 3D effect is off, feels like a cinematic experience, and Street Fighter in particular doesn’t feel “smushed” on the top screen.

It is when the 3D effect is on that the novelty of the system really kicks in. The 3D effect can be tuned to your specific wants with a slider on the right side of the system, and I put the system through its paces (again using Street Fighter IV) with all of the different settings. When the 3D is turned all the way up, the effect is brilliant. Depth is accurately portrayed, and objects in 3D space are rendered beautifully. The only problem with the full 3D effect is that the DS must be perfectly placed in front of your face to avoid flickering or ghosting. The image can actually be disorienting if you move your 3DS around a lot when you play (I wasn’t even aware that I did this) and can trigger some serious headaches if you leave the full 3D on.

If you keep the 3D on a medium level while you play, you will sacrifice some depth, but 3D games still play terrifically. Because of the reduced depth, you do have a little bit more room to move the system around, but not much, and you’ll still have to keep the system relatively still to experience the effect. Of course, if you don’t want to experience the 3D at all, you can always turn the 3D off completely, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this immediately after a long 3D game session, as it can also be a little disorienting (and you’ll find your eyes trying to focus and re-focus a lot). Though the 3D looks good on the system (and the games I have played thus far have implemented it spectacularly), I realize it isn’t for everyone. In fact all of the 3DS games come with a warning that each game has a 2D mode, and the 3D mode is intended for those aged seven and above only. So if you are sensitive to 3D or are buying the 3DS for a young family member or friend, you may want to hold off on a purchase if the 3D effect is the only reason you are picking up the system.

The only real problem you’ll face with the system’s hardware is one you don’t see, but you’ll feel the effects of immediately: the battery. Much has been made of how short the 3DS’ battery life is, and unfortunately, I can confirm that all these rumors are true. Playing Super Street Fighter IV with the 3D turned up and the online modes enabled drained my battery in three hours. Of course, just playing around with the UI and testing out the features, I was able to get five hours from the system (with the 3D turned on) and I was able to play a regular DS cartridge in the system for seven hours before the battery started going. Realistically, your mileage may vary with the battery. But know that if you are planning on long, marathon 3D/online gameplay sessions, you’ll want your 3DS dock nearby, as the battery life goes quickly.

Nintendo 3DS Screenshot

-User Interface-

Though the system has plenty of physical differences from its DS brethren, the user interface has had a huge facelift for the 3DS. The game takes a few nods from the DSi user interface, and represents different games and content as “app”-like icons. You can customize the home screen with different menu layouts and can order the applications in any way you want.

The user interface also includes streamlined access to your friends list, a message center, and the Internet. Although the Internet application has not gone live at the time of this review, we hope Nintendo will roll out that feature when the system actually launches. The design of the new user interface is simplistic, but you can see that Nintendo has some serious plans when it comes to social gaming. The persistent friends area (which even features gamertag like “cards” that shows on each friend’s online status) is probably the biggest upgrade here, and even though you’ll have to manually add friend codes for online friends, you’ll only have one to remember that will carry over through all supported games. But in even better news, if you meet people on the street that you want to friend, you can add them just by sending a local friend request…no codes needed!

Nintendo 3DS Screenshot

The friends section of the user interface is easy to use, and this trend continues throughout the other standard “applications” that are included with your DS. One interesting feature of the UI is a personal notes system that can be accessed even when you are mid-game. The interface is able to switch between the active game (which is paused) and the notes application, and then allows you to seamlessly switch back by selecting the game from the home screen once you have exited the notes application.

Although a lot of the user interface is new, you will recognize some old favorites. The music player remains basically unchanged, with the same music-loading capabilities and cute talking bird character. The photo application is also about the same, although it does have some enhancements that take advantage of the 3DS’ 3D photo-taking capabilities. The photo application will also probably change in the coming months, as Nintendo rolls out a 3D video capturing feature.


In addition to the practical applications that come as part of the 3DS package, there is also some software that comes pre-loaded onto the unit that you can play with right away. There are four main software titles included as part of the 3DS’ core software: Mii Maker, Mii Plaza, AR Games, and Face Raiders.

The MiiMaker is pretty straightforward, and features an interface that allows you to make a Mii to use with the 3DS software. However, there is one pretty big feature on the 3DS not present on the Wii: the ability to let the software do the work for you and make a Mii based on a picture taken with the 3DS camera. Though the results of using this feature aren’t exactly the most accurate, the MiiMaker photo feature does a great job of getting the “gist” of what your Mii should look like, and aside from a different nose shape and less blink-y eyes, I didn’t have to make too many changes to make my photo Mii look like myself. Though you won’t spend a lot of time with Mii Maker, it is a pretty fun application to use to make Mii-making quick and easy. If you want to share your Mii, the Mii Maker also allows you to create special 3DS QR codes that will make your Mii materialize on any 3DS that photographs the code.

Nintendo 3DS Screenshot

The Mii Plaza works with the Mii Maker, and allows you to put your Mii to work. In this application, you can look at Miis you’ve met via the game’s StreetPass system, and use them to play games like Find Mii and Puzzle Swap. Though Puzzle Swap is a fairly straightforward jigsaw puzzle game where pieces are unlocked by finding Miis using street pass (or walking around and using the Pedometer to unlock Play coins) the real breakout feature here is Find Mii. Find Mii is an RPG that allows you to use Miis you find using StreetPass (or Miis you hire with Play Coins) and fight enemies within a multi-layered dungeon. And by completing different dungeon levels, you can unlock accessories for your Mii, which kept me walking and fighting enemies.

However, even though these two applications have some gameplay elements, Face Raiders and AR games are the closest things you can get to dedicated game software pre-loaded on the system. Face Raiders is a first-person shooter game that uses basically all of the features of the 3DS. You take a 3DS picture of your face (or your cat’s face, or anything else you want to shoot at), and then monsters bearing those faces will come out of the screen, and you’ll have to shoot out at them. The twist is that the game uses live video feed of your surroundings, and you’ll have to move around to catch all of the face raiders invading your home. This requires quite a bit of twisting and moving around, which can be a little bit jarring with the 3D effect turned all the way up, as you’ll have to keep the 3DS in the perfect position at all times while you are moving to avoid any flickering or distortion. However, if you can keep the DS in position, the 3D effect is used pretty amazingly in Face Raiders, as the little face monsters will come towards you with pretty stunning animation.

Nintendo 3DS Screenshot

I was impressed with Face Raiders, but it’s certainly not a game you can play for hours on end. The same goes for the AR Games suite. However, at least the AR Games are more varied, and feature immersive mini-game play similar to what you would find in WiiSports. When you boot up AR games for the first time, you will have six “mystery” boxes that you will have to unlock by scanning the six AR cards that come with the 3DS unit. When you play an AR game, you will have to steady the 3DS’ camera on the card, and then you can watch as your countertop, table, or desk is transformed into a little golf course or epic battlefield where you can fight dragons. The AR Games may feel disposable, but the tech behind them is amazing, and fighting creatures that came out of my kitchen counter was definitely an exhilarating feeling.

-Closing Comments-

The 3DS is truly a leap forward for Nintendo and the gaming industry at large. Although Sony has led the charge for 3D gaming this generation, Nintendo is bringing it to the masses. Though $250 is certainly a steep price for a handheld system, the 3DS is worth every penny. The 3D is seamlessly implemented, the new UI features plenty of useful applications and a streamlined visual interface, and the bundled software, while not incredibly memorable on its own, works well at showing off exactly what we can expect from the 3DS in terms of features that can be implemented in other games. The 3DS is a tight little package, and one that is definitely worthy of being the next generation of Nintendo handhelds. Just make sure you don’t get lost in the 3D visuals!

RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • 3D screen, enabling 3D view without the need for special glasses and the ability to adjust or turn off 3D effect with the 3D Depth Slider.
  • Stereo cameras that enable users to take 3D photos that can be viewed instantly on the 3D screen.
  • New input interfaces including the Circle Pad, motion sensor, gyro sensor
  • SpotPass, a feature that lets Nintendo 3DS detect wireless hotspots or wireless LAN access points and obtain information, game data, free software, videos and so on for players even when the system is in sleep mode.*
  • StreetPass, a feature that lets Nintendo 3DS exchange data automatically with other Nintendo 3DS systems within range, even in sleep mode once this feature is activated by the user. Data for multiple games can be exchanged simultaneously.
  • Convenient features that users can access without stopping game play such as the HOME menu, Internet Brower, Notifications, etc.
  • Plenty of built-in software such as the Nintendo 3DS Camera, Nintendo 3DS Sound, Mii Maker, StreetPass, Mii Plaza, AR Games, Activity Log, Face Raiders, etc.

  • To top