Nintendo is geared up to put whole 3-D worlds in your hands with the European and North American launch of their newest handheld gaming platform, the 3DS.  Launched a month ago in Japan, eager gamers in Europe will finally get the chance to purchase the 3DS on March 25, and U.S. gamers shortly thereafter on March 27th at a $249.99 price-point, the highest ever for a Nintendo handheld gaming device and as much or more as current generation consoles.  With many industry analysts critical of Nintendo for not capitalizing of their Wii success and questioning the company’s future, much hangs in the balance with the launch of the 3DS.  Ever since the 3DS was officially revealed at the 2010 E3 Conference last June, expectations and buzz have been high.  Will the 3DS be a colossal failure like the previous Nintendo foray into 3-D gaming, the Virtual Boy, or will it be another industry game changer like the Wii?

The 3DS utilizes the clamshell design, similar to the DS.  A solid and faithful design, I never hesitate to let even the youngest gamers play my DS (unlike with my PSP).  In fact, the 3DS looks very similar to the DS except for the addition of an analog stick above the d-pad controls.  That is where the similarities end.  The 3DS is much more sophisticated internally than its predecessors.  Inside is a 3-axis accelerometer and 3-axis gyroscope to help utilize motion control by moving the unit during game play.  A 2-D front-facing camera and two, rear-facing 3-D cameras, will obviously give owners the ability to take and edit 3-D pictures.  And speaking of 3-D, the top screen display is an Autosteroscopic, 90 mm screen, and a 77mm screen on bottom (both upgraded to 24 bit color from the 16 bit color of the last generation DS screens).  The graphics look vastly improved from the DS.

Better graphics are only part of the potential in this handheld gaming unit, as the name implies, 3-D is the big feature on the 3DS.  Thanks to the small screen size and the fact that the viewer is directly in front of the screen, Nintendo has managed to find the holy grail of 3-D without the glasses.  Glasses-free home monitors are still a few years away because the viewing angle is so small that the 3-D effect can only be seen when sitting directly in front of the screen.  The 3DS being a personal, hand-held gaming device makes this a non-issue.  Don’t like the 3-D effect?  Turn it off with the slider on the top-right half of the clamshell.  In fact, Nintendo actually recommends this for young players.

Nintendo has been pushing the boundaries of breaking the game experience free of the screen or box.  One of the most exciting and innovative parts of the 3DS is the AR (augmented reality) cards and games.  Though this is hard to explain without experiencing it first-hand, you lay one of these cards on a flat surface.  When you look at the card through the 3DS screen the magic happens.  The box will appear to burst up and change the environment in which it sits.  A dragon may pop out of the table that the card sits on, or the where the card sits will sink into a hole that you can only look down by moving the 3DS unit directly above and looking through the screen.  It is wild!  I was skeptical until a nice Japanese student let me check it out for myself on his 3DS.  I didn’t want to give it back.  Suddenly places you may be can become part of your game environment.  Pair this with the aforementioned motion controls and you begin to see the amazing potential of the 3DS.

AR (augmented reality) cards

The 3DS is intended to be a multimedia device.  Starting this summer, NetFlix will be able to stream movies to the device.  Nintendo also plans to operate a short-form video service to distribute 3-D movie trailers, short videos, and music videos to the 3DS.  A web browser will also be added, and 3DS owners are expected to receive free Wi-Fi access on AT&T hot spots.  Other 3DS features will include: a pedometer that will earn you credits for in-game use, a Mii maker that will scan your face and automatically select features that you may or may not choose to use, a tag mode called Streetpass that will introduce you to other 3DS players who have it turned on and you pass on the streets, and an eShop to buy old Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Gear, and Turbo Grafx 16 titles on the virtual console.

Many games will be available for the 3DS including:  The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time 3D, Kid Icarus: Uprising (yea!), Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, Ridge Racer 3D, Nintendogs and Cats (groan), Madden NFL Football, Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars, Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition and many others.  Future titles should include:  Starfox 64, Metal Gear Solid 3, and Paper Mario.  I seriously hope the 3DS gets better game support than the DS.  Call me a heathen, but I feel most handhelds lack a surplus of quality games.  The fact that the DS had so much shovel-ware was sad.  Good games will be essential, or all the 3DS bells and whistles will be for not.  There is no denying the potential of the 3DS.  I hope it lives up to it all and then some, and Nintendo once again changes the gaming industry forever.