3DS Demo Event: Reactions and First Impressions

This weekend, Nintendo sent the 3DS on tour to many locations around the U.S., hoping to give everyone a chance to check out their newest portable device. I was able to head over to San Francisco’s famous Pier 39 to get some hands-on time with the 3DS and also got some fan reactions to their first experience with the handheld. The verdict: it was a mixed bag, with some people loving it right away and others being very skeptical.

This was my first opportunity to play a few games on the 3DS and my first impression of the launch titles available wasn’t the best, simply because the demo titles aren’t franchises that stand out like a Mario or Zelda. They did have Nintendogs on hand which is certainly a system seller, but it doesn’t have the same broad appeal as Mario does.

The games available at Pier 39 were: Pilotwings Resort, Steel Driver, Asphalt 3D, Nintendogs + Cats, LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars, Madden NFL Football, and Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition. Of these games, Nintendogs, Star Wars and Street Fighter drew the biggest crowds. I headed to the same stations minus Nintendogs.

LEGO Star Wars has always been a great pick-up-and-play title and perfect for a handheld, so when I got a chance to play I wasn’t all that surprised to see that it was really fun. Obviously, if you’ve played one LEGO game you’ve kind of played them all, but at least this one is in 3D! Speaking of which, the 3D effects during the cutscenes were a bit worse than during actual gameplay. During cutscenes, the screen looked like it was out of focus, but once you get into the game the 3D effects really stand out. Not as in a popping out of the screen effect but instead, the effects give the game a nice sense of depth and look especially nice when using force powers.

For those who don’t know much about the 3DS, there’s a slider on the top half of the screen that you can hit to change the 3D effects. The Nintendo reps at the event were telling everyone that the 3D slider is there to adjust the effects to your eyes, which makes sense. It’s also there to turn off the 3D effect. With LEGO Star Wars in 2D wasn’t that great, but it wasn’t that bad either. The game is meant to be played utilizing the 3D effects, but it’s nice to see that when you play in 2D it doesn’t look horrible.

My time with LEGO Star Wars wasn’t that long, ten minutes, maybe, but in that time I really saw the appeal of the game and its 3D effects. The gameplay itself didn’t impress me as much, but it’s not like I went into it thinking this LEGO game was going to be that much different from the previous Star Wars titles.

Street Fighter was next on my demo tour and it was definitely the most impressive title there. I didn’t get to try out the various modes, but Super Street Fighter 3D will be packed with a ton of modes one would expect to see in a console version. All 35 characters (with alternate costumes) will be included in the game, along with the barrel and car busting bonus stages, trial challenges, versus, online and arcade play. You can even turn on the function that allows you to randomly search for nearby players while in arcade play.

With all of these modes included, the game still looks pretty solid. The 3D effect, when set at the optimal settings (for your eyes), adds a good amount of depth to the game which is a nice effect for the 2D fighter. While in 2D the game looks just as good, but the 3D surprisingly adds a good amount to the enjoyment of the game.

One thing that surprised a lot of gamers at the event was the touch screen controls for Super Street Fighter. Using one of the two control modes, Lite and Pro, you can assign specific moves to touch screen panels. In Lite you can assign any move, special moves, EX variations and Ultra Combos to the touch screen panels.  In Pro you can only assign special moves to the panels. What this means is gamers won’t have to go through the normal button combos to execute things like Fireballs.

To the “hardcore” gamer, this might be a bit disappointing, but for someone like me who doesn’t play that many fighters, I welcome this control style. Especially for a portable device as small as the 3DS, I don’t want my hands to get all blistered or cramped up because I have to hit every button combo.

As far as the device itself, the 3DS is about the same size and weight of the DS Lite, a bit heavier, but smaller, with a bigger screen. It comes with two cameras on the back, which is can take 3D pictures (I could not test this function, though), an analog stick, SD Slot, and a nice Home button that takes you into a PlayStation XMB-like menu that can be accessed at any point during a game. The analog stick worked well and didn’t feel like it was an afterthought when Nintendo developed the hardware. I actually preferred using the analog to the d-pad which is the opposite of how I feel about the PSP’s controls.

One thing that I was most eager to test out was the glare, and it was a bit of a problem. The Nintendo rep couldn’t tell me how to brighten the screen and suggested that I just turn away from the sunlight. For a 3D device, glare is obviously an issue to be concerned about and at Pier 39 with the sun beaming down right on the demo area, some gamers had a very hard time seeing the screen. The glare also seemed to make the screen blur more which did bother my eyes a bit.

While at the demo, I took some time to talk to some of the people who were seeing the 3DS for the first time, and I got some mixed reactions to it. There were some that were ecstatic about it, and only after a few demos knew they were going to get it right away. In fact, I talked to one particular person who was a bit older and he was amazed by all the of the games there and was blown away by the 3D effects. Every kid I saw at the demo couldn’t have wanted the 3DS more; they went from demo to demo with the same reaction every time, “this is awesome.” Almost everyone who was excited about the 3DS asked about their normal DS games and the compatibility with the device (all DS games are compatible with the 3DS).

I only spoke to one person who said that she was getting it just because it’s new and she wouldn’t be getting any of the games shown at the demo, but I have the feeling that a lot of people will be doing that. Especially if they already have a good DS library built up, I can see them wanting to get the latest and greatest device even if they aren’t going to be buying any games.

The skeptical bunch had a lot of the same things to say about the 3DS. Most of them said that it makes them dizzy or that they don’t really see the appeal of the 3D effect. When I or the Nintendo rep told them about the slider to change it to 2D, a few responded by saying “what’s the point of getting the 3DS if I’m not going to use the 3D?” The 3D market is much bigger than it used to be, but there are still a good amount of people who just don’t enjoy the effect. One gamer I spoke to didn’t enjoy any of the games that were shown and would wait to see what games come out before making the decision whether to buy the system or not.

Though the sample size was small, the reactions to the device was something I didn’t expect. The group was diverse with many older gamers, parents, teenagers, and of course kids, but not everyone was as excited for the 3DS as I would have thought they would be. The one thing most people agreed was a nice feature was the ability to use the camera to create your Mii.

As skeptical as I am about certain things about the 3DS (screen glare, battery life, software support), I love 3D, so the 3DS is right in my wheelhouse. Street Fighter did look great, and I’m excited to see what third party companies will be bringing to the table. One concern I have is the fact that they have to make sure the game runs well in both 3D and 2D, which could limit the developer when it comes to making “true 3D effects.” But it is clear that the 3DS is a more powerful machine, so I am very optimistic that the 3DS will eventually create some very unique and great titles.

The 3DS is set to launch on March 27 across the U.S., and has already launched in Japan, with the Japanese already embracing the new handheld.

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