Nintendo 3DS three weeks in: Less touching

Has the 3DS lost any of its new-gadget shine a few weeks in, and is it a different-feeling system than its predecessor? We revisit our 3DS and evaluate.

3DS: Does it do the trick for you?
3DS: Does it do the trick for you? Sarah Tew/CNET

So, I got a Nintendo 3DS roughly three weeks ago, ahead of the officially released one that's now in stores everywhere. Nintendo's handheld is in the wild, and while I've used mine a fair amount, I'm curious how those not in tech journalism feel about the product.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the 3D effect on the 3DS, but I wondered whether 3D would be a gimmick whose appeal faded quickly. Much like any shiny new gadget, there's a quick fascination period that tapers off pretty fast, especially if you're the type (as I happen to be) who plays with a lot of gadgets over the course of any given month.

Several weeks in, here are my observations.

I (almost) never use the stylus.
The DS' chief appeal, along with dual screens, was its touch element. The 3DS still has a stylus and a lower touch screen, but the stylus is tucked away in the back behind the display, instead of easily accessible on the side. Maybe this was a wink of acknowledgement on Nintendo's part, because so far I've barely used touch. Why? Because I'm too busy staring at that big 3D screen, that's why.

The addition of a great analog pad also means I'm far more likely to use physical buttons. The 3DS is an immersive portable experience, and I'm far less interested in pulling back and tapping away with a stylus. I think most 3DS games will make little to no use of that touch capability, except in cases like Super Street Fighter IV, where virtual lower-screen buttons are simply pressed with a finger.

I still prefer to play in 3D.
While the Nintendo 3DS has much-improved graphics over its predecessor, 3D's the big draw. All games can be converted to 2D by sliding the analog 3D slider all the way down, but my attitude was the opposite: if I could choose 3D instead, I'd rather. The 3DS games don't require 3D in order to work, but in nearly all cases I felt like 3D helped me discern objects--especially small ones. It also creates a greater sense of depth, effectively increasing the virtual size of the screen. The viewing range of background objects even seems to be slightly better in 3D. I've learned how to deal with the limitations of 3D on the 3DS--namely, I try not to move the system too much. Racing, flying, and sports games seem to work best.

StreetPass is an interesting viral trick. I think I want more.
Nintendo's support of true online play isn't great--and can't really be determined until the full system update in May--but the 3DS' ability to trade info wirelessly while in sleep mode, called StreetPass, is actually kind of fun. I'm weirdly hooked on the "Find my Mii" game built into the 3DS, which uses Miis found while wandering around NYC to battle creatures in a weird RPG-style minigame. I've come home and found strange Miis and game trophies--even racing data--appear on my 3DS after a day carrying it around. Used well, this could be the source of some fun bonus content. Dragon Quest IX for the DS used this feature liberally. Of course, I'll need to find more 3DS owners...right now, they're few and far between. Most of the Miis I discovered were at gaming press events.

Related links
• CNET's 3DS launch game roundup
•Nintendo 3DS: the CNET review
• 6 things the 3DS needs to beat Apple at its own game

The battery life still feels bad.
I haven't really played enough to run out in a day, but the battery life's bad enough that I have to always keep an eye on my usage and fiddle with the brightness controls, things I never had to worry about with previous DS hardware. One bright side: the quick Wi-Fi toggle button on the side of the 3DS makes turning wireless on/off a relative cinch.

Augmented reality is gimmicky.
The AR Games app built into the 3DS is one of the system's show-off centerpieces. Included coded cards enable eye-popping reality-invading 3D effects. Yet, the 3D effect tends to disconnect whenever I tilt the system too much in AR mode. AR gaming needs more killer apps and ideas to really be more than a quick one-trick pony. Will more cards or downloadable games become available in May? I've lost interest at this point, mostly because I never feel like whipping out that packet of cards.

I wish there were quick-fix 3D puzzle games.
I'm sure the eShop launching in May will fix this craving, but the 3DS really needs some cheap, intriguing "art style" 3D games, stat. Puzzle games in 3D (Picross 3D seems like a slam-dunk) seem like a particularly good fit.

Game I've played most: Pilotwings Resort (runner-up: Ridge Racer 3DS)
Game I've played least: The Sims 3 (runner-up: Steel Diver)

For the 3DS players out there: how are you feeling?

 

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