3DS, charge cradle and AC adapter

The Hardware

UPDATE: The system update I mention at the end of this review has dropped, an update can be read here.

I first saw the Nintendo 3DS at last year’s E3. I had to wait an hour and a half in line with a bunch of other attendees in order to do so, but it was totally worth it.  The 3DS was my first experience with what could be called “modern” 3D, meaning something beyond the old red-and-blue glasses.  I thought it was pretty cool and looked forward to getting one at launch.  Not even a year has passed since then, and I now have a 3DS in my hands.  Was it worth the wait and the cash?


The 3DS is just a little bit larger than a DSi, though not quite as large as the original ‘fat’ DS.  I opted for the Aqua Blue model instead of the Cosmo Black, and despite its glossy finish, the 3DS isn’t the fingerprint magnet that the DS Lite was.

The 3DS’ controls have been rearranged just a bit compared to the DSi.  Some things have been improved, and others, not so much.  The Power button is now on the right side of the screen where the Start and Select buttons were on the DSi.  I discovered that pretty early on when I went to pause a DS game and ended up shutting off the system instead.  D’oh!

The new Circle Pad control sitting above the familiar D-pad is a nice addition and feels good to use.  When playing DS games you have the option of using either the Circle Pad or the D-Pad which is also a plus.  Another welcome addition is the Wireless slider on the right side of the unit.  Previously, turning on or off the WiFi meant going to the Home screen and then to the Settings screen which was pretty annoying.  Holding up the slider turns on and off the DSi’s wireless, and a handy LED just above the switch lets you know if it’s on or off.  On the downside, the DSi’s volume buttons have been replaced with a slider.

The 3D screen at the top of the unit is slightly larger than the DSi’s screen, and it appears to be slightly more rectangular too.  To its right is the 3D slider which allows the 3D effect to be adjusted or even turned off entirely.  There are three cameras: two facing outward capable of taking 3D pictures, and one facing the player.  An LED on the top-right corner serves as a notification indicator.

Talking about the ‘guts’ of the 3DS, it has a built in motion sensor and gyro sensor, and a custom CPU from Nintendo which makes it capable of producing much better graphics than the DS, as evidenced by launch titles Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and Ridge Racer.

When in sleep mode, the 3DS can also act as a pedometer, and every 100 steps earns a Play Coin that can be used to purchase items in some games.

The extra horsepower and 3D come at a cost: the battery life of the 3DS clocks in about 3-4 hours; not even enough for a long flight.  Third-party extenders and replacement battery packs are available, but folks on the go may want to invest in a car charger.  Another bad thing that has crept onto the 3DS are load times, it is not unusual to now wait just under 10 seconds for a game to start, and even the internal software takes a little while to get going.


The 3DS comes with quite a few built-in games and apps, some which have been carried over from the DSi.  The Home screen has been upgraded from the DSi’s version. Across the top of the screen is row of buttons for adjusting brightness, arranging icons, Game Notes, Friend List, Notifications and the internet browser. In the middle of the screen are the icons for games and apps, and buttons appear across the bottom of the screen that change depending on what is selected.

It bears mentioning that as of this writing, not all of the software is available: the Internet Browser and System Transfer (which allows users to move stuff over from a DSi) should be available soon, as well as the eShop, which will allow the purchase of games and apps, including Netflix and a video service from Nintendo.

The carryovers from the DSi are the Camera and Sound apps.  The Camera app adds the ability to take 3D pictures and increases the functionality of the camera, such as a timer and manual controls, but Facebook integration and some of the funny lenses that were on the DSi’s Camera app are gone.  The Sound app is fairly untouched; the new ability to play MP3s is a welcome addition as is the ability to create playlists.

Miis have found their way onto the 3DS, which includes its own version of the Mii Maker.  It’s the same one on the Wii, and Wii owners can even move their Miis back and forth between the two systems.  So far, Miis are only used in the Streetpass Mii Plaza app and Friends list.

Streetpass is a new function where you can share data with other 3DS users wirelessly.  Streetpass is activated if the system’s wireless radio on while it is in sleep mode.  Game data like Mii characters, high scores, and custom characters is be exchanged with other 3DS owners you pass by that also have Streetpass on. The user control what data is exchanged, and data can be exchanged for multiple games at once.  You’ll either find that really cool or really creepy.

Streetpass is a neat idea that is a bit ahead of itself right now, but that’s mainly because of the limited number of systems that are currently ‘in the wild.’  The Streetpass Mii Plaza app allows you to look at Miis you have picked up and you can even use them to play a silly little game called “Find Mii” and collect pieces of 3D pictures in “Puzzle Swap.”

Rounding out the 3DS built-in software are two augmented reality (AR) games: Face Raiders has you spinning around using the 3DS to shoot at faces that you take with the camera.  It’s a quick dose of silly fun and does a good job of showcasing the system’s AR abilities.  AR Games are played with several cards that are included with the system, you place a card on a flat surface, point the 3DS at it, and the system then allows you to play some mini games.  The AR Games aren’t terribly compelling, but on a technical level they are impressive.

Like other systems, the 3DS also has a Friends list, though in the interest of Protecting The Children, Nintendo has kept their silly Friend Code system, which means instead of being “Randomizer9” I am “0044-2809-7081.”  Whether this will hamper Nintendo’s online plans remains to be seen, but given the Big N’s indifference to online play thus far, I’m not holding my breath.  Right now the only things you can do with your 3DS Friends are see that they’re online, see what their favorite game is, and a short quote.  Yippee.  Nintendo promises that more functionality is on the way, so the jury is still out on that.


Players have come to expect limited launch lineups whenever a new system drops, and the 3DS is no different.  There was not much to pick from at launch, and we’ve only seen a trickle of games released since then.  Street Fighter IV and Ridge Racer 3D are probably the best of the bunch so far, but it is comforting to see games come to the 3DS that weren’t possible or that just were not done well on its older sibling.

Sadly, it isn’t going to get much better anytime soon, especially since Nintendo is once again pulling the re-re-re-release bit again: Pilotwings, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Starfox 64 are some of the early titles coming from Nintendo.  Come on, y’all, how about something new already!  The system does play DS games, though, which gives it an impressive back catalog.


The Nintendo 3DS gets 3 out of 5 pairs of now-obsolete 3D glasses.  I want to give it a 4 out of 5, but the game lineup is just too weak and the battery life is way too low for a Nintendo handheld.

Should you drop the $249 to get one?  I think the answer for most folks is going to be a big fat ‘not yet.’  Its not that 3DS is a bad system, far from it.  It is a really neat gadget with glasses-free 3D, enough horsepower to pump out good graphics, and there are lots of other cool things to do with it besides play games.

Unfortunately, this is a game system and in terms of games, the 3DS is lacking as of this writing.  There are just not enough 3DS games to justify the purchase right now.  If you do not already own a DS, there are plenty of great DS games right now to keep busy until more 3DS games start coming down the pipe.  If you already own a DS system, you should probably stand pat and wait for the inevitable price drop.


The latest system update, which adds the eShop, Internet Browser and System Transfer functions, has just dropped, so I will be updating this review soon once I get a chance to check those items out, so check back for that.  Nintendo’s 2011 E3 press conference is also coming soon, so hopefully they’ll have more game announcements, but even then, anything they announce won’t be out for awhile, so the ‘lack of games’ point still stands.


RANDOM REACTION: Nintendo 3DS Unboxing

11:00 AM

Well, its finally here, and I’ve got mine. I picked up my Aqua Blue Nintendo 3DS this morning from Gamestop and then drove on over to Toys R Us to buy Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and Ridge Racer 3D.  I was able to knock $50 off the price of the system by trading in my DS Lite at Gamestop, and Toys R Us was running a “buy one get one 50% off” deal so I picked up Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and Ridge Racer 3D.  Thus, the blow to my wallet was softened a bit.  I also stopped at Best Buy to check out memory card prices, and they had units available as of 1030 AM, so perhaps we won’t see any of the shortages that plagued the Wii…yet.

Unboxed DS

Its a box!

The first thing I noticed about the Nintendo 3DS was that the box seemed to have a little bit of weight to it.  I was a little worried; one of the big things that I appreciated about the DS Lite and DSi were their extreme portability.  When you are done, you fold it up, stick it in your pocket and be on your merry way.  I hoped the 3DS wouldn’t be pulling off my shorts as it cruised along in my pocket.

Upon opening the box, I soon realized why it was so heavy.  For some time now, Nintendo has included English, Spanish, and French instructions in their games. This probably saves them on manufacturing costs, because they can sell the same box in the USA, Mexico or Canada.  That’s great for them, but it means that their games arrive with manuals that are three times as thick.  The trend has continued with the 3DS, there are three copies of a “StreetPass Mii Plaza” pamphlet, three copies of the “Quick Start Guide” and to top it off, a ‘Operations Manual” that’s 328-pages thick.  I guess the Big N won’t be getting any awards from Greenpeace anytime soon.  Not that they have before or anything. The box also contained a registration card, a Nintendo Power subscription offer and a pack of “AR Cards.”

3DS Documentation

That's a LOT of paper!

Now it was time for the good stuff.  Inside the box was the 3DS itself, an AC charger, and a charge cradle. The system has a glossy finish, similar to the DS Lite, but with a more metallic look to it.  All of the exterior casing has the aqua blue color.  Upon opening it up, I saw the bottom section was also aqua blue, but the top screen had a black background.  To the left of the touchscreen on the bottom were the Circle Pad and a standard cross-pad, and to the right were the standard A-B-X-Y buttons and a power button.

I found the charge cradle curious at first, because it had a plug for the AC charger, but there was nothing to plug into the 3DS or any connectors that I could discern, just a switch that would be depressed when the system was placed onto it.  I pressed the switch and nearby two connectors peeked out.  I looked at the back of the 3DS and saw two contact points next to the charger connection where the connectors would meet.  Clever.  I noticed that the 3DS charger looked very similar to my DSi charger and it turns out that they are exactly the same.  Same color, model number, voltages and everything.

3DS, charge cradle and AC adapter

The Hardware

The 3DS is about the same size as a DSi, is just a bit thicker, and feels just a tad lighter, too:

DSi vs 3DS


Having heard about he 3DS’ less than stellar battery life, I figured I’d let it soak up a full charge before getting my 3D game on.  I left the 3DS on its charger before leaving to attend to some geeky business.


Upon returning from the geek gathering, I was pleased to find the 3DS’ charge light was off, it was time to fire it up and play some games set up my wireless connection.  As much as I wanted to get my 3D racing and fighing on, I figured I’d go through the motions and set it up to connect to my wireless router.  The first thing I noticed upon turning on the 3DS was that it took a few seconds to start up.  I don’t know if this was a one-time thing or not but it took long enough to be noticeably different from the nearly ‘instant-on’ behavior I was accustomed to on the DSi.  UPDATE: It takes a few seconds every time.

I then went through the setup, it was fairly straightforward though I found it interesting that I had to select a ‘region’ (in this case, Texas) in addition to the country.  Another addition was a little helper character that appeared in the bottom center of the screen, consisting of two rectangles stacked atop each other, with the one of top being bigger and having a smiley face on it.  Tapping the character made some help text appear on the screen which seemed like a nice touch.  Nintendo seems be focusing more on the online aspect this time around, hopefully it proves to be less of a pain in the neck than the Wii’s online.

I spent a bit of time fiddling around with the 3DS’ built in apps, which include Nintendo 3DS Camera, Nintendo 3DS Sound, Mii Maker, Mii Plaza, AR Games, and Face Raiders.  I’ll have more on the system as a whole in a few days, but so far its looking pretty cool!


Five Reasons I Think The Nintendo 3DS Will Succeed

Following a successful launch in its native Japan, the Nintendo 3DS will drop into American gamers’ hands this weekend.  I think it will be as equally successful on this side of the Pacific for the reasons below.  I don’t claim to be an analyst, own a crystal ball or have my future self sending me cryptic hints, this is just one player’s opinion.  Admittedly, I have a vested interest in the success of the 3DS, as I will be getting one myself this weekend, so take that for what its worth.

Its not just about the 3D: The Nintendo DS is seven years old, and in terms of its polygon pushing abilities, it was almost dated from day one.  It certainly lacked the graphical oomph of the Playstation Portable and succeeded partially due to the unique games that its touchscreen made possible.  While the third dimension is the hook to get people to buy the 3DS, the biggest improvement will be found in the system’s improved graphical punch.

The 3D Is Nice, though: Nintendo got everyone’s attention at last year’s E3 with just two words: “No glasses.”  While the Big N is routinely panned for being behind the curve in the graphical arms race, the cutting edge display of the 3DS does work as advertised.  While its launch line up does appear to be lacking, the 3DS’ “killer app” is the 3D itself.  At SXSW a few weeks ago, I was not surprised to see fellow attendees being very impressed with the unit’s capabilities at the Capcom booth.

3D is the “Big Thing” right now- Like it or not, 3D is currently very popular, partially thanks to the wave  of 3D movies in theaters.  While folks are willing to shell out a few bucks more to see a movie in 3D, they are less willing to shell out big cash for a 3D TV set and glasses.  While the 3DS’ price point does seem high, it is in the right neighborhood for a new hardware platform and I’d wager that gamers will be willing to pay for the privilege of playing games in 3D.

Enough about 3D, How About Games Players Want: One reason we don’t see many shooters, racing games or 3rd-person action games on the Nintendo DS is that the system just doesn’t have the horsepower to handle them very well.  The 3DS, on the other hand, is powerful enough for action games such as Super Street Fighter, Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell to be produced for it.  Whether hardcore gamers are willing to give Nintendo yet another chance remains to be seen, but at least this time around, a Nintendo system has the ability to play core games, unlike its underpowered predecessor.

Its Not Just About Games, though: In addition to games, Nintendo has announced that Netflix Instant Watch will be available on the system as well as a ‘short form video service’ that will allow the viewing of 3-D movie trailers and other content.  In addition, an eShop should be coming this summer for classic game purchases and exclusive 3DS games.  The 3DS will also (finally) feature MP3 support in its Sound application.  While none of the above is reason alone to buy a 3DS, they are nice little extras to have and enable users to get more use out of their system.

So, there you have it.  I am sure there are just as many reasons for the 3DS to fail, but I think Nintendo will be able to pull off a successful launch.  Following that, we should see some big games drop for the system by the end of the year to maintain interest and reel new players in.  I should be posting a review of the system and/or whatever game(s) I decide to buy here sometime next week, so stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

Agree? Disagree?  E-mail Eduardo “randomizer9” Soliz at edsoliz@gmail.com

The author received no compensation for this post.