RANDOM REVIEW: Nintendo 3DS

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?

HARDWARE

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.

BUILT IN SOFTWARE

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.

GAMES

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

ADDENDUM

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 REVIEW: Nobuo Uematsu’s 10 Short Stories (English Version)

Nobou Uematsu's 10 Short Stories Cover

Hikkari Pikkari!

I had the pleasure of interviewing Nobuo Uematsu and Arnie Roth last year for Original-Gamer.com.  Uematsu and Roth are responsible for helping take game music out of the living room and into the concert hall with their successful “Distant Worlds: Music From Final Fantasy” orchestral concert series.  After the interview, Mr. Uematsu presented me with a gift, a copy of “Nobuo Uematsu’s 10 Short Stories.”  I graciously accepted, though I wasn’t sure what to make of it at the time.

“Nobuo Uematsu’s 10 Short Stories” is a children’s album, and as the name implies, each of the ten songs tells a story.  The album is very much a product of Japan, as subjects range from the ordinary to the mythological to the poignant to the fun and the just plain bonkers.

The album starts out with the tropical beats of “Here Comes Conga Boy” followed by the harmonica-laden, “Gimme Gimme,” which is about a kid who goes around asking anyone and everyone for money.  Things take a turn for the odd with “Hikkari Pikkari,” a story about a sprite who’s job is to reflect the sun’s rays off of his shiny bald head and onto the Earth.  “No Worries!” carries a message about being happy with who you are…even if you happen to be a penguin.  “Whistle A Song” is a happy ditty about the voyage of life, and “The Incredible Flying Natsuhiko” features the star-crossed lovers of Tanabata.  The tone goes back to not-so-serious with “Coconut Castaway” and “The Chef Who Used His Noodle” the second of which chronicles the creation of a certain noodle dish.  “Every New Morning” is a lullaby, as a mother wishes her child a good night.  “Revenge of the 5-Foot Swhail” is the rock lament of a Power Rangers-esque villain who laments about his kids being made fun of in school.  The Swhail wishes his adversary would declare: “Without the Swhail I would be lost/Unemployed and eating taco sauce.”

As one would expect out of an album intended for kids, “10 Short Stories” has a pop feel to it.  That said, the songs feature a wide variety of different instruments and styles.  Bongo drums, violins, synthesizers, and electric guitars are found throughout.  As if to reinforce the cuteness of it all, the songs are all sung by a young girl.  While it does get a bit sticky-sweet, that’s probably the point.

Despite the fact that I’m about 30 years beyond its intended audience, I found “Nobuo Uematsu’s 10 Short Stories” to be a quirky album filled with cute, fun, catchy songs with my favorites being “Whistle A Song” and “Gimme Gimme.”  I’ll give it a listen whenever I need a smile, and you’re never too old for that!

4 out of 5 Swhails.

“Nobuo Uematsu’s 10 Short Stories” (English Version) is available for purchase on iTunes. The author received no compensation for this review and can be contacted at edsoliz@gmail.com

I had the pleasure of interviewing Nobuo Uematsu and Arnie Roth last year for Original-Gamer.com. Nobuo and Arnie are partially responsible for taking game music out of the living room and into the concert hall with their successful “Distant Worlds: Music From Final Fantasy” concert series. After the interview, Mr. Uematsu presented me with a gift, a copy of “Nobuo Uematsu’s 10 Short Stories.” I graciously accepted, though I wasn’t sure what to make of it at the time.

“Nobuo Uematsu’s 10 Short Stories” is a children’s album, and as the name implies, each of the ten songs tells a story. The album is very much a product of Japan: subjects range from the ordinary (Gimme Gimme) to the mythological (The Incredible Flying Natsuhiko) to the poignant (Whistle a Song, Every New Morning) to the fun (Here Comes Conga Boy, Coconut Castaway, The Chef Who Used His Noodle) to the just plain bonkers (No Worries!, Hikkari Pikkari, Revenge of the 5-Foot Swhail).

As one would expect out of an album intended for kids, “10 Short Stories” has a pop feel to it. The music features a wide variety of different instruments and styles. Bongo drums, violins, synthesizers, and electric guitars are found throughout. As if to reinforce the cuteness of it all, the songs are all sung by a young girl. While it does get a bit sticky-sweet, that’s probably the point.

Despite the fact that I’m about 30 years beyond its intended audience, I found “I had the pleasure of interviewing Nobuo Uematsu and Arnie Roth last year for Original-Gamer.com.  Nobuo and Arnie are partially responsible for taking game music out of the living room and into the concert hall with their successful “Distant Worlds: Music From Final Fantasy” concert series.  After the interview, Mr. Uematsu presented me with a gift, a copy of “Nobuo Uematsu’s 10 Short Stories.”  I graciously accepted, though I wasn’t sure what to make of it at the time.

“Nobuo Uematsu’s 10 Short Stories” is a children’s album, and as the name implies, each of the ten songs tells a story.  The album is very much a product of Japan: subjects range from the ordinary (Gimme Gimme) to the mythological (The Incredible Flying Natsuhiko) to the poignant (Whistle a Song, Every New Morning) to the fun (Here Comes Conga Boy, Coconut Castaway, The Chef Who Used His Noodle) to the just plain bonkers (No Worries!, Hikkari Pikkari, Revenge of the 5-Foot Swhail).

As one would expect out of an album intended for kids, “10 Short Stories” has a pop feel to it.  The music features a wide variety of different instruments and styles.  Bongo drums, violins, synthesizers, and electric guitars are found throughout.  As if to reinforce the cuteness of it all, the songs are all sung by a young girl.  While it does get a bit sticky-sweet, that’s probably the point.

Despite the fact that I’m about 30 years beyond its intended audience, I found “Nobuo Uematsu’s 10 Short Stories” to be a quirky album filled with cute, fun, catchy songs; my favorites being “Whistle A Song” and “Gimme Gimme.”  I’ll fire it up whenever I need a smile, and you’re never too old for that!

4 out of 5 Swhails.

“Nobuo Uematsu’s 10 Short Stories” (English Version) is available for purchase on iTunes.  The author received no compensation for this review and can be contacted at edsoliz@gmail.com
Nobuo Uematsu’s 10 Short Stories” to be a quirky album filled with cute, fun, catchy songs; my favorites being “Whistle A Song” and “Gimme Gimme.” I’ll fire it up whenever I need a smile, and you’re never too old for that!

4 out of 5 Swhails.

“Nobuo Uematsu’s 10 Short Stories” (English Version) is available for purchase on iTunes. The author received no compensation for this review and can be contacted at edsoliz@gmail.com

Random Review: Boom Blox

Just about every Wii owner that I know has “that one game,” as in that one game that they could not stop playing for hours which resulted in a sore arm the next day. I had yet to play any game to that point, until now. My first session of Boom Blox yesterday lasted over three hours and left me with a pretty sore right arm this morning…and I’ll be back for more once I can straighten out my right arm all the way again.

If that isn’t a ringing endorsement of a game, I’m not sure what is.

As I’ve mentioned before I don’t mind repetition so long as the game is fun. Like many other games I play obsessively (or at least to the point where I’m reaching for the ibuprofen) Boom Blox falls in the “easy to learn, hard to master” category.

The concept is simple: you have a structure of blocks with gems in some areas. The goal is to use as few balls as you can to knock off the gems. More gems can be removed at once by making the whole thing fall over. The balls are tossed with the Wiimote, and while a simple flick of the wrist will do, I have a habit of acting like I’m Ozzie Smith trying to throw someone out at first, which is why I’m sore now.

The job is made easier by certain blocks that disappear when hit with the ball, other blocks that explode when hit with the ball, and others that can be detonated by knocking them into each other . Seeing a well-placed throw result in a cacophony of stuff blowing up and blocks flying everywhere is VERY satisfying, and very frustrating when one or two gems are left after the fireworks are over. Its basically a puzzle game with a dash of destruction tossed in for good measure. Its great fun, especially for OCD gamers like me that have to get the high score. I haven’t tried the multiplayer or the stage-editor as of yet, but that’s because the core game is so much fun I haven’t bothered to yet.

Like pretty much every other Wii game, Boom Blox features cutesy cartoony graphics and music, those worried about catching “teh ghey” from all the pretty colors need not apply. The blocks behave as you would expect them to, but all the math going on behind the scenes appears to be too much for the Wii; explosions involving lots of objects sometimes slows down. This is a minor quibble, though. I thought the slowdown enhanced the experience, watching a tower s-l-o-w-l-y tip over and crash into the one next to it just rocks. If a Boom Blox 2 happens, I want REPLAY!

Curiously enough, this game is the first from Steven Spielberg (yeah, that one) and EA. My first reaction upon hearing this was “WHY is Spielberg making a PUZZLE GAME?!” but upon further review, it makes sense. Assuming Steven Spielberg is not a gamer (which is a poor assumption to make, for all I know he has a max-level mage in World of Warcraft and is the best Counter-Strike player on the planet…probably not, but hey, you never know) you don’t want him trying to make Halo or God of War on his first try. Instead, EA lets him get his feet wet with something simpler. I’m looking forward so seeing what he does with something more story-driven.

One complaint, however, is that this was released as a full-priced ($50) game. A $50 PUZZLE GAME!? Granted, it is a very entertaining game with lots of fun stuff to do, but its still a FREAKING PUZZLE GAME! I wonder if EA felt the “star power” Spielberg brings to the project (his name is featured prominently on the box) would loosen the wallets of customers. I rented it via Gamefly myself, and will pick it up once the price drops some.

Nevertheless, the game is great fun, and should be at played by everyone with access to a Wii.