With the 3DS launch now approaching rapidly, and anticipation reaching it’s highest point yet, Nintendo are finally beginning to divulge the big secrets of their new system. Next week will be Europe and America’s time to shine, as Nintendo unveil the release date, price and software line-ups for those two territories, but last weekend was all about Japan, and the first real demonstration of what the 3DS is capable of. But was Nintendo World 2011 a success? Well, yes and no.
Strictly speaking, the event itself went without a problem and finally gave us a look at what the 3DS has in it’s arsenal for the coming year. From Ocarina of Time to Paper Mario to Mario Kart to Metal Gear Solid, the big guns were out in force at this event, and by all accounts, were all just as enjoyable as expected. But the big stories from Japan are concerning the 3DS itself and how it’s coping with being such a powerful little handheld.
With the graphical prowess of the system not completely pushed to the limit yet, it’s hard to say how powerful the 3DS is. However, from Metal Gear and Resident Evil we can see that it has a much more advanced graphics unit than the original DS, and is probably on par with the Gamecube, and quite possibly the Wii. This power is split in half due to the 3D, but still, it’s an impressive feat. The problem though, and the biggest one to emerge from Nintendo World, is the battery life. Whereas the DS and DSi seemed to just go on forever, the 3DS only sports a 3-5 hour battery life while playing games. For a handheld, this is borderline abysmal. True, most users won’t play it for more than 3 hours at a time, and by turning the 3D and brightness down battery life can be saved, but for businessmen who are gamers and want a 3DS for a long flight, they’re going to be reaching for their charger before they’ve even left the airport.
We always knew the 3D would come at a price, but the battery cost is for me, too high. A 7 hour figure would have been better, but 3 hours just doesn’t cut it on a handheld. True, the results are great for those few hours it works, but despite Nintendo’s best efforts, it’s really not good enough. This could prove to be a major sticking point come launch as word gets out that the battery is done after one session.
In terms of the rest of the hardware, all seems well, so rest assured that the 3DS is a functional and well-built device. A niggle that IGN spotted with Kid Icarus was that the control scheme required analog nub movement and L-trigger firing, which, as you can imagine, is somewhat uncomfortable and unintuitive. While not a hardware problem, this is a sign of problems that could arise with some games in the future.
Nintendo also took the opportunity to show off their line-up for the Japanese launch, and I must say, I’ve never been so underwhelmed in my life. Now before I start here, let me clarify that this is the Japanese line-up, and if tradition holds true, everyone else will get a different line-up to this (Professor Layton for example would not make chronological sense if launched elsewhere for example). Nintendo’s only offering on Day 1 in Japan is Nintendogs + Cats, and elsewhere the line-up includes a new Layton game and Super Street Fighter IV (which looks to be a StreetPass flagship game) which leaves a very lacklustre line-up. The line-up also sets a dangerous precedent for the 3DS – many saw it as a console that would bring back the true gamers games to the system, but instead we’re seeing almost exclusively ‘casual’ games at launch.
While this will change in other territories, it’s worrying that at this stage, these are the only games Nintendo are ready to release. This would suggest to me that development time on the new system is much longer than expected, which is a worrying sign. Rumours persist that Ocarina 3D will be ready for the other launches, so it’s not all doom and gloom.
Finally we get to the big one – online. With SpotPass setting up the 3DS to potentially be continually online, many Nintendo fans, myself included, were looking for a much more robust online system. Videos of the Home menu though do show a rearrangement, but also an almost complete absence of any shop integration, user accounts, friends lists or accolade system. There is a log that records gameplay time which may turn out to be one or many of these things, but it strikes me that Nintendo appear to have dodged online once again in favour of keeping everything crammed into channels. I really hope that I’m proved wrong here, but from what I’ve seen, it looks like the Home menu is just DSi v1.1.
So as Nintendo World draws to a close, what do we make of the 3DS? Prior to the event, I literally couldn’t wait, and still, every time I see game footage my reaction is simply ‘wow’. But it’s the other information that trickled from the event that worries me. Nintendo’s stubborn refusal to implement online features; a lack of top quality launch titles; a battery that wouldn’t be acceptable on any modern day device and some big questions still left unanswered.
I’m convinced that as soon as I get my hands on one I’ll fall in love with it like the DS and Wii before it, but as each day passes and as each news item is presented to me, my pessimism grows. There’s no doubt this will be a success, but the level of success could be determined by what the 3DS has on it’s own, with no games in the system. The 3DS needs to be able to stand alone, and while 3D films could do that for it, the battery life is always going to come back to haunt it. Expect a 3DS Lite with a huge battery in 2012. It’s the natural thing to do surely?