Nintendo is hatching its 3D portable games machine, the 3DS tomorrow. But will 3D revolutionise the portable games industry, or is it just a gimmick hoping to continue the DS cash cow Nintendo have created? Mark from Kotaku and I duke it out in a battle of wits to discover the answer.
MARK: So Nick. Last week we discussed the release of the iPad 2, which is technically your domain, now it’s my time to shine. The 3DS is out this week and I’m keen to ask what you, as a dedicated tech enthusiast, think of it. Inform me my good man.
NICK: Like Natalie Imbruglia's music career, I'm torn over the 3DS. On the one hand, it's a gorgeous piece of kit. I love the tweaked design - the screens are nice and the buttons are comfortable. On the other hand, I have an inherent loathing for 3D. Coupled with the fact that my regular DS Lite is helping prop up an uneven table leg at the moment (that's a joke, Kotaku readers. It's just gathering dust next to my Wii), and I think I'm leaning slightly towards the "meh" opinion. Unless you can convince me otherwise, of course.
MARK: Well, like Natalie Imbruglia’s music career, my experience with the 3DS has been short, not entirely painful, but completely inconclusive. I’ve enjoyed my time with the 3DS – but there are aspects of the device I completely love, and others that I find frustrating.
First, though, the good. The 3D effect is fantastic. Not once have I had any issues with it. It’s crisp, consistent and used in a way that doesn’t obscure the gaming experience. I’ve played on the train, standing, wedged between a chubby man’s buttocks and a clumsy, backpack-wielding student, and Super Street Fighter IV’s stellar 3D visuals remained intact throughout, despite numerous wobbles and collisions.
Nintendo has completely succeeded in its attempt to create the first glasses-free, 3D consumer device, and they deserve props for that.
NICK: You see, we have different perceptions of what qualifies as "fantastic". When I jumped on your 3DS earlier this week, I went through the initial setup phase and found that it was too much when cranked all the way up. Admittedly, I'm vulnerable to intense 3D headaches, so I had to tone it down before I could even look at the screen properly.
Then there's the effect itself. Playing a couple of rounds of Street Fighter, I enjoyed the gaming experience, but I don't think the 3D made me feel more immersed in the game itself. I did find that there were subtle shifts in the effect as I moved the handheld about while kicking Ken's backside though, which for me totally disrupted the entire effect.
Don't get me wrong, I think the 3D effect Nintendo has managed is the best I've seen so far. But it doesn't convince me that it's the future of either gaming or mobile screens. But then again, I've only had a very limited hands on time. Do different games benefit more from the 3D effect?
MARK: Well, here’s the thing – by no means does the 3DS provide the same revolution in control and function that the original DS did. The Nintendo DS allowed game designers the chance to create new experiences and a different means of interacting with game software. So far the leap to 3D doesn’t provide that new experience, and I doubt it ever will.
I liken it to the leap into HD. Remember the first time you brought home a Blu-ray player? You chucked in Casino Royale, or whatever, and for the first ten minutes your jaw was agape at the crisp imagery, the surround sound, the vibrant colours... Then you sort of forgot to be amazed and just concentrated on the narrative.
The 3DS provides a similar experience. You’ll find yourself interested in the 3D effect for a short period of time, and then just sort of get engrossed in whatever you’re doing and take the whole thing for granted. That may be Nintendo’s challenge in the long term.
NICK: But will people really find themselves interested enough in the 3D side of the 3DS to justify its purchase? There's a good chunk of people who can't handle watching 3D, who suffer from nausea and headaches at the mere mention of 3D. Remember that it's just technology tricking your brain to believe it's seeing something in 3D that isn't really in 3D at all. With the warnings Nintendo are issuing, the concerns about longterm 3D viewing and the fact that a percentage of the population can't even see 3D images at all, the question needs to be asked about whether or not this is purely a gimmick designed to sell more units of an already mega-successful handheld.
I think Nintendo are going to sell a bucketload of these things, but at the same time I can't see it having the same long-tail demand that the original DS Lite and Wii had.
MARK: I think the DS brand is strong, and that will transfer over to the 3DS in the run up to Christmas, but beyond that? It all depends on the software.
What people don’t remember is the fact that the original DS didn’t really start shifting ‘it prints money’ numbers until Nintendogs and Brain Training were released. These were games that really defined the different ways the touchscreen could engage consumers. It’s hard to see how Nintendo could repeat that with a gimmick that doesn’t really change the way we play games.
A 3D Mario Kart, or a cleverly designed 3D Super Mario Brothers may have that effect – possibly even cleverly Augmented Reality game will suffice. If I had to put money on it I’d bet that lifetime sales of the 3DS will probably peak out at about 70 million – not close to the 130 million units the DS sold. The proliferation of smart phones, combined with the fact that the 3DS is a little more derivative when compared to its revolutionary predecessor.
The 3DS just doesn’t have its Wii Sports yet – and it’s difficult to tell where that’ll come from.
NICK: Agreed. The 3DS really needs to have a "killer app", and I can't see an Ocarina of Time 3D remake filling that role. It will certainly be interesting to see how Nintendo push this in the long term.