Great or Not? Inside the Nintendo 3DS Event

Here’s a personal take on the 3DS, with links to a a few (but not all) of the previews I wrote for G4TV:

 

It’s got the Wow Factor, and it’s had it since last year’s E3. Now, thanks to a Nintendo press conference in downtown New York City, it’s got a release date of March 27th and a price of $250.

And, man, did the event have bells and whistles.

Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime took the stage to say the 3DS “is not just the introduction of new technology…but an opening of a vast new world.” Gesturing with his hands, he said the 3DS is “a truly unique experience that isn’t available anywhere else.” He said that 30 games would be available for the 3DS during the time between launch and E3. But he didn’t say precisely which games would be launch date games. That, presumably, is the stuff for another press conference or press release.

Fils-Aime hasn’t hit a press conference with this kind of compelling bluster since he introduced the Nintendo Wii. Today, he really sounded like the powerful guy, who, upon his introduction as a Nintendo employee in May 2004, said, “My name is Reggie. I’m about kickin’ ass, I’m about takin’ names, and we’re about makin’ games.”

The press conference was more about makin’ tech. From easy Friend Codes to augmented reality via a half dozen special cards that come with the 3DS, the minutia just kept on coming. There are small things like a telescoping stylus, and bigger things like a pedometer mode that gives you bonus content for games – just by walking and keeping fit. “It’s a game changer,” said Fils-Aime, as he indicated that Nintendo hopes to sell one million 3DS’s by summer.

But Nintendo really needs a huge hit with the 3DS – partially due to the age of the Wii. If the Wii were a person, it would be called long in the tooth and old-ass. In fact, the innards of the Wii included older technology when it hit the market, certainly when compared to the two other consoles. And with the advent of Microsoft’s Kinect, the white box seems outdated.

The 3DS’s PR campaign itself has been fraught with occasional roadblocks. Its introduction was scooped online. And, more recently, Nintendo issued a statement calling for no kids under the age of six to play it because the 3D effect might harm their vision. Most recently, the three-to-five hour battery life has been the subject on much consternation.

Despite that, The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time is wise choice to reboot in 3D as a launch title. According to review aggregate websites, the game is the highest rated of the Zelda offerings. And Nintendo’s core, youngish audience may not have even played the original, now 12 years old. And it’s wondrously amazing to see in 3D. The craggy caves, the leafy trees, the clouds in the blue skies, the kooky characters – all these seem to thrive in a world full of depth that evokes wonder.

Kid Icarus: Uprising, another launch window title, is enthralling, but vertigo-inducing as well. Even though the logic puzzle game seems an odd choice for a 3D game, its amusement park setting might make the experience worthwhile. Even Steel Diver, a deceptively simple submarine shooting game, made me go ‘Wow’ in a mode that included raging storms on the high seas.

Yet it’s worrisome that many of the launch titles are reboots of the originals. Truly, the 3DS still has that Wow Factor. And it’s even more intriguing to note, according to Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto, that the 3DS might eventually be able to record video in 3D.

But that bell and whistle is down the line in the more distant future. Which, if any, of the titles, will make you want to go out and buy this ‘game changer’ in droves on launch day? Nintendogs + Cats, for instance, just didn’t do it in 3D. Although it was cute, it was no cuter than the original.

Madden in 3D looked marginally OK, but not great. Sometimes, I didn’t feel the 3D effect at all. And there’s no multiplayer, either, a big loss for fans of the landmark football series. During the press conference, EA’s Peter Moore stressed (via video) how excited he was to have Madden on the 3DS roster. But clearly, it needed more 3D-ness – and more game-ness.

So will the 3DS truly have a killer app out of the box and even in the first two months of its release? Right now, it could well be Zelda.

And a larger question: In these still-troubled times, is $250 really an affordable price of admission to this new world?

–Harold Goldberg

 

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