I was lucky enough to be at Nintendo’s VIP launch event for the new 3DS in London, despite being a Very Unimportant P. Nintendo could certainly be accused of putting on the event purely for the benefit of furthering their standing with the mainstream – hosting was by Russell Kane and there were performances by Plan B and Parade (a girl band…no, I’ve got no idea either).
For the cameras, filming for Sky 3D, there were more than a few knocks against geeks as if to reassure everyone that they weren’t about to catch some kinds of nerd-disease for turning up or tuning in. When they cut to a presenter live at the HMV queue counting down to launch, out came the tired cliches at the expense of the eager punters there. It’s obvious that Nintendo wanted the buzz of a midnight queue event so why go on to imply that the hardcore faithful fanbase they are sad weirdos?
The kind of celebs present – the likes of Blue and Louise Redknapp – are people you’ve either seen or could imagine doing their gaming in cream coloured DFS living rooms. In other words, the event (and particularly the coverage) was targeting the same market Nintendo created and expanded with the original DS and Wii, and who can blame them? Sales to new demographics are what made the original DS the monster success it is but one or two of those same demographics are now likely to have an iPhone in their back pocket competing for their attention.
The event hadn’t forgotten about the lucky pleb members of the public at the event though, who tended to be made up more of the traditional gamer demographic. Hadouken and DJ Yoda were both game-savvy performers on the bill with music the hardcore were more likely to appreciate. Importantly, on top of the generous food and drink, there was plenty of opportunity to try out 3DS software without having to wait, with an army of PR helpers on hand. How did the games and hardware stack up? Bearing in mind my limited time impressions for some titles, here’s what I thought.
As you probably know, the 3DS itself looks and feels very familiar to DS owners. Holding one, the biggest change seems to be the analogue circle pad, with the D-pad moved down to make way. My thumb naturally gravitated towards it and instantly became comfortable to using it instead of the D-pad – it feels far closer to a full analogue stick than the PSP’s nub. The 3D effect is really impressive the first time you use it while the slider to vary the effect, or turn it off, is very easy to use at any time. It’s also a necessity, since from game to game and person to person, there seems to be a large variety in the range of depth the developers have employed and that each individual is comfortable with. For some, it’s worth pointing out, keeping the effect low or turned off completely was where they enjoyed it most. Personally I liked to play with the hand held closer to me (a la the rather cringe-worthy adverts) and the effect turned up – it felt rather like peering through a window into the game-world. Depending on the type of game, speed of movement, field of view and so many other factors, I’d still end up changing the slider occasionally – but this is where the 3DS has an advantage over 3DTVs with a home console and glasses. The disadvantage is that with some games I’d end up tilting the console ever so slightly and the effect would suddenly become blurred or my eyes would start to strain to maintain it.
Pilot Wings Resort
This is the game that Nintendo were pushing hardest at the event. There were at least 50 DS kiosks there and probably half of them were running this game. As one of their launch titles that’s understandable but it seemed to be merely a solid game rather than anything I could recommend. The environment – the island from Wii Sports Resort – is immediately familiar and if you’ve played the plane game in that then there was actually little incentive to explore old ground. It’s certainly welcome to see Pilot Wings back after a such a long hiatus but by and large it seemed to be the same game as the last one from the N64 days, without the novel and fun backdrop.
Nintendogs + Cats
This was the other big first party game there but Nintendo only had a couple of kiosks with it – strange when you consider how much of a sales success the original was for the first DS. Playing it though, it seems the decision was based more on how unsuitable the game was for the event hall. It’s quite easy, through no fault of your own, to get to the point where you have to give vocal commands for your pet or have to speak its name. With all the music and loud noise, the 3DS had no chance of picking up or recognising anything we said – however the game refused to let you quit out of this and would persist with asking you to record some audio. The only way out was to reset the machine – bad design decision Nintendo! Playing the game, it was Nintendogs as expected, with some good fur effects and 3D adding to the cuteness. For me the pet’s eyes are well into the uncanny valley though so I remain unmoved by virtual pets. I can’t say I’m in the target demographic for that title though!
Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition
With live Ken & Ryu performers duking it out (sans fireballs sadly), plenty of game footage around as well as a long queue to play Versus on the big screen, Street Fighter IV was certainly the 3rd party game that Nintendo were most pushing. But once the big screen kiosk had been packed away and the performers gone – fairly early on – it was actually hard for us to find somewhere to try the game. Eventually we found one stand where my friend and I could play. The wireless versus worked seamlessly (admittedly standing a foot apart). Both being pretty big IV players, especially against each other, we were already familiar with the game from the home consoles – the 3DS version certainly stacked up well against those versions, barring one or two kinks. For committed players who want to use the D-pad and all six buttons, the L-button is almost impossible to reach from the new D-pad position. The inclusion of an extra Dynamic Mode, with the view pulled into a sort of half over the shoulder view, seems like a rather tacked on inclusion in an attempt to justify the addition of 3D. Playing with this view was pretty difficult since your enemy was often obscured by your own character and it was much harder to judge their attacks.
Luckily that’s entirely optional so we stuck to the traditional side on view. After a while of beating each up using our usual techniques, we noticed the touch screen with it’s four rather large squares – each was a shortcut for pulling off a special move. Two were devoted to normal moves, one to the super move and one to the ultra combo. Since you just had to thumb them to perform a move, our fight immediately changed into a lot of spamming of moves. Hitting the touchscreen would pull off moves instantly rather than after two second charge period for the likes of Guile & Blanka, so there was an advantage even for veterans. How would this work in the long run? Personally I think once you get past the inevitable over-use of special moves that comes with this approach, it could make for a greater focus on strategy rather than favouring whoever can pull off moves quicker or more reliably. It’s certainly a big change for the Street Fighter series.
After the cheap and almost unusable iPhone version, the 3DS version justifies its release.
That’s my round up for now – in part 2 I’ll be looking at some of the less well known titles we tried.