(Continuing on from part 1, I’m going to write a brief bit on the other games and demos I tried at the 3DS launch.)
It’s become an oft repeated cliche about console launches that there’s nothing decent to buy when a platform first comes out. For all the hype and midnight queues, once you’ve got your hands on the machine there isn’t anything worth playing on it until at least six months down the line. Rushed development on unfamiliar hardware in order to meet the strictest of deadlines – it’s a formula that’s rarely conducive to creating good titles. But the exceptions to this rule of thumb are also notable. The Xbox launched with the original Halo, a title that not only justifed the console’s existence but also Microsoft’s rather surprising entry into the gaming hardware market. Super Mario 64 was similarly important, a game that felt at home on the N64′s weird tri-prong controller and also showed how Nintendo’s mascot could not only remain relevant while moving to 3 dimensions but also still blaze the trail for others to follow. Arguably the most important launch title was Wii Sports, the free pack-in title that for many families was the only reason they ever bought the console and made it into the must-have gadget of the time.
3DS Built In Games
Ok, so perhaps my introduction wasn’t fair on the 3DS, building up to it’s packaged software by mentioning one of the best-selling games ever. From the looks of things, Face Raiders and AR Games are more like nifty distractions that are fun to show off for a little bit but don’t go any deeper. Face Raiders works well as a word-of-mouth demo – once you’ve taken a photo of someone’s face they become enemies for you to shoot at by moving around the 3DS itself, while the level background is whatever the camera is recording in your surroundings. The face-photo is sort of 3D too although it mostly just seemed to be mapped onto a sphere in this game. It was quite fun though and by encouraging you to take photos of new people, it also quietly encourages you to show the console off to more friends – or, alternatively, to start creepily photographing strangers.
AR Games meanwhile makes use of the AR (augmented reality) cards packed in with the console. The game I played (I don’t know if there’s more than one) had a card lying flat on a table – looking at it through the 3DS camera instead ‘revealed’ a 3D monster on the desk. You shot at it through cross-hairs on the 3DS display so you had to move yourself in order to adjust your aim and it felt a bit like playing some kind of real-life/virtual hybrid FPS. You could move up to and around the monster from any angle while shifting weak points forced you keep circling to get a shot off. As a game beyond the few minutes I played, it would require more to sustain it – but as a new experience it revealed some of the potential in the hardware. Having the game taking place on the desk made the monster’s virtual presence seem very real – which made some of the later effects, when the desktop surface shimmered and warped, even more impressive.
Kid Icarus: Uprising
This was only being demoed by one guy who had the 3DS strapped to his belt. I don’t think anyone was about to steal the cartridge – more likely they wanted that particular rep to be always on hand to explain the controls. Kid Icarus used the touch screen equivalent of dual-sticks so it wasn’t exactly intuitive to any casual fans but I found it reasonably easy to get the hang of after a little while. The left stick controlled movement while flying, and the touch-screen determined where you aimed. Having the L-Button to fire though was a bit awkward and gives you a precarious grip on the actual console – I can only imagine how it would feel after prolonged play sessions.
The demo itself started as a Star Fox-like rail-shooter, except you could move about screen while aiming elsewhere. The enemies flying at you looked great except in a few instances when they got too close and the 3D effect stopped working – it made those moments doubly jarring. Not quite as jarring as the unexpected change after the shooting gallery to a level where our winged hero was running about (on foot!) in a free-roaming environment. More often than not we were hacking at enemies up close instead of shooting which might have been a nice change of pace except that the controls struggled when dealing with more than tunnel-movement. Imagine playing a PC FPS with a particularly insensitive mouse on a tiny mouse mat and you’d have some idea of how it felt – to turn 90 or 180 degrees you’d need repeated swipe and drags of the stylus. Since the section was short though, perhaps the developers have used these on-foot bits sparingly in the final game.
Pro Evolution Soccer 3DS
The demo started off in a slightly unexpected over the shoulder view looking up the pitch (similar to what you might see in American Football games like Madden). It was playable for a bit but since football is fundamentally a sport about movement and passing in every direction, it’s another view like Street Fighter IV 3D‘s Dynamic Mode that is mostly a gimmicky handicap. FIFA‘s Be A Pro mode is a much more appropriate use of this sort of view change, restricting you to one player and constantly panning and zooming in order to focus attention where you need to. It’s good to see Konami trying new things and it does look fairly spectacular in 3D, but the game would have to be seriously re-engineered before it became properly playable from this viewpoint.
I changed it back into something like the ‘classic’ pitch side camera where it played as expected. One thing I did notice in my short play time was that from both camera angles the 3D did help in judging the balls flight once it was lobbed. In football games it’s become fairly common to put trajectory markers down to show where the ball is going to land since it’s hard to determine in both games and even when watching live matches. The 3DS version didn’t use any markers but I still felt like I instinctively had a better idea of where the ball was in the air. It helped from from a playability perspective but it had a bigger effect on how immersive the game felt.
As port of an old title that’s been released on consoles from the Playstation to the Dreamcast and iOS devices, Rayman 3D is a fairly conventional 3D platformer that seems to have dated looks and mechanics. And yet, as the only 3D platformer there, it did allow to me to pick on something that might bode well for 3DS’s future.
When platform games went from 2D to 3D the gameplay emphasis had to move away from the joy of precision running and jumping over deadly gaps because judging distance was suddenly an exercise in wooly estimation. You would often rely on switching the camera to the exact right angle and nudging your character around until you’d lined your run up just so. Meanwhile the gravity and physics are often a lot floatier than in 2D to give you plenty of time to correct in mid air and the normal technique is to watch your shadow so you can figure out where you are compared to the ground.
3D platformers give you a great sense of exploring a new world then, but at times actually traversing them can be fiddly when you need a modicum of accuracy, at least when compared to 2D equivalents. Playing Rayman though I noticed that with the stereoscopic 3D turned on I suddenly wasn’t watching my shadow at all – movement and jumping felt far more instinctive and I had much better of idea of the jumps I could and couldn’t make. As a little test, there was a large mushroom to jump on that sent you bouncing up. After doing it easily with the 3D turned up, I switched the stereoscopic effect off completely and tried the same jump again – immediately I found myself having to look at the mushroom for my telltale shadow and correcting to help my landing.
I can’t imagine Rayman 3D being a sales or critical success but it might signpost a more viable future for 3D platformers that don’t have to babysit players around obstacles.
Ridge Racer 3D
I only played one race – a race against 3 other wirelessly connected players. I’ve never really been much of a Ridge Racer fan either. Maybe it was my natural competitiveness then, or maybe the game’s great sense of speed, but I was enthralled while I was playing it. With the device held close, the display effects turned up and the camera set to my favoured bumper cam, it was the most immersive experience of the night – I spent precisely zero seconds evaluating it as a game and simply wanted to drive fast and win. Ridge Racer didn’t need impressive graphics to suck me in – it’s smooth framerate kept things buzzing by at a fair clip and with 3D it felt like a handheld version of a 3-screen surround desktop set-up. The game itself would be hard to judge beyond that since my time was so limited, but again a fairly underwhelming title on paper has shown promising glimpses of what can be done on the console. The 2 major changes from the DS to its successor – namely the 3D display and analog slider – have made the Nintendo handheld infinitely more appealing as a home for racing games. Having said that, it’s only launch competitor in the genre, Asphalt 3D, was thoroughly underwhelming in the brief time I spent with it.
I was shocked to see that not only was this a Nintendo developed title, but it was also a full price game rather than a pack-in or downloadable. The game itself mostly involves you rotating your body in order to rotate a submarine’s periscope, looking for battleships so you can fire your torpedoes at them while also avoiding any attacks coming at you. Not that it’s a particularly tense game of cat-and-mouse strategy like you might imagine a decent submarine sim to be. In fact there were battleships constantly sailing by and I found myself rapidly firing off torpedoes like I was in a shooting gallery. Occasionally I would dive but the level of input and thought required from the player seemed pretty small. At a time when Nintendo higher ups are criticising the booming app market for offering cheap, low quality thrills, the likes of Steel Diver severely undermines their argument – this is a game that should be digital download for a few pounds at most, not a full priced cartridge.
Super Monkey Ball 3D
As much as I was a fan of the Super Monkey Ball series from the GameCube days, this was a disappointment. Apparently the game can use tilt controls but just playing with the analog stick I’d find the 3D effect often blurring and getting lost from even small movements of the console. That might be more due to me not being able to keep the console still but with 3D on or off, the game was surprisingly not as easy as I expected. The first level had plenty of safety barriers to guide you but even then it seemed difficult to get any kind of fluent progress going. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was exactly – perhaps a different angle or field of view, a more rapidly tilting world or something else – but movement never felt as intuitive or as comfortable as it should in a Super Monkey Ball game. Even worse though were the two modes that counted as the multiplayer offering. Past series titles have had either a plethora of multiplayer minigames or, preferably, a handful of really well thought out, imaginative and polished modes that kept you coming back. For 3D though, there was just Monkey Race and Monkey Fight. Monkey Race I’ve completely forgotten and after looking it up I see that it’s a kart-racing-clone. Monkey Fight meanwhile is not the great boxing-glove-on-a-spring game from before – simple manic fun with various pickups and ingenious controls – but instead a Super Smash Brothers clone in sparse dull levels where nothing really happens. Since SSB is a game built on chaos, you have to wonder what the developers were thinking other than “get it done in time for launch”. It has monkeys, they can fight, I guess that meets the absolute minimum requirements for a Monkey Fight.