Nintendo 3DS first impressions

3ds Cosmo BlackWhen I first take home a new system, I like to get a feel for it before I play my first game. I check out the menus, play with the options, and poke around for Easter eggs. I imagine most people brought home their Gamecubes with the intention of checking out the newest Death Star visuals ASAP, but I had just as much fun wandering around the system's cube-shaped GUI for the first time. The 3DS is no different. Before I popped in one of the launch titles, I took some time to feel out every nook and cranny on Nintendo's newest portable system.

This is a special case for two reasons. The obvious quirk is the system's ability to display 3D visuals without the need for special eyewear. Am I going to get headaches? My personal history with 3D movies says I'll have some cranial pounding and eye discomfort for a few minutes, then an unhindered experience following the adjustment period. On the other hand, when I checked out a 3DS kiosk at Best Buy for about 15 minutes, I had a headache for the next two hours. I'm willing to bet the experience won't be as bad in the comfort my own home. I'm gambling $250 on it, to be exact.

The second consideration is the apparent multitude of unorthodox, playful features that are bundled in with the system. Early reports have noted that there are a number of built-in features and games involving the system's cameras, data transfer tools, and other special features; there are even augmented reality cards that you'll be able to fool around with right out of the box.

I've poked around the 3DS menus for about an hour before checking out my first game. Here's what I found.


Home Menu

Situated between Start and Select below the bottom screen is a Home button. Pressing this will suspend whatever game or program you are currently using and allow you to browse the home menu, which is also the startup menu. Along the top row of the bottom screen are the following features, which can run while your game is still suspended:

Screen Brightness: Self-explanatory.

Icon Organizer: Customize the number of rows and columns that your home menu icons use.

Game Notes: Allows you to handwrite notes. This would definitely come in handy for writing down key information during a game, or just as a regular notepad.

Friends List: This is where you manage your Friend lists, find your Friend Code (only one per system this time around, huzzah!) and check out what your Friends are up to. You can set up a brief bio with a few strange questions and answers (dog person or cat person?) and let everyone know what your favorite game is. Apparently you can write brief messages to your friends, but I can't seem to figure out how...maybe that feature won't be available until a later firmware update? That's sort of a theme with the 3DS right now...

Notifications: "Welcome to Notifications. Here, you'll receive information about Games, Nintendo, StreetPass exchanges..." so far my notifications have been about system features, like the Pedometer, brightness adjustment, et cetera. It seems Nintendo wants to teach us about the many features of 3DS in piecemeal through this section.

Internet Browser: This is not yet available. It will be enabled through a later system update. It could be convenient to be able to browse GameFAQs with your game in a suspended save mode.


Health and Safety Information

Remember how the Wii and DS would boot to health warnings? 3DS has them tucked away in here. Stuff about kids getting eye damage from 3D games, taking a fifteen minute break every hour, seizures, exploding know, the usual.


Mii Maker

The Mii Maker functions a lot like the creation half of the Mii Channel on Wii. You can create Miis from scratch (using the same tools available on Wii) or have the 3DS assemble one using a photo. I've tried a few of these photo-builds, and the results start out horrifying but can be easily edited into something worthwhile. You can import Miis from your Wii, using a secret button command that I've never seen before to bring up a Wii to DS transfer option in your Wii's Mii channel.

Another interesting feature is that you can create a sort of Mii barcode, known as a "QR Code." If you scan this code with your 3DS' camera, it will create the corresponding Mii. For example, mine is below. If you go into your Mii Maker and scan that QR Code, my Mii will be added to your collection! Pretty nifty, huh? You can also save a picture of your Mii's face or full body to the SD card. That's how I got the Mii picture below.

3ds qr Nate

Go ahead, scan it. You know you want Mii.


StreetPass Mii Plaza

This channel, separate from the Mii Maker, is more like the Mii Plaza half of the Mii Channel from Wii. If that sounds boring, don't skip ahead just yet: it looks like there's a lot of fun to be had here. But before I get into StreetPass Mii Plaza specifics, I should briefly outline StreetPass.

StreetPass is a 3DS feature that lets you exchange game data with nearby 3DS systems while in sleep mode. For example, Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition features a trophy battling RPG minigame that will automatically duke it out if you and another 3DS owner (with SSF4 data on their 3DS) pass by on the street. It's one of many little incentives Nintendo provides to keep your 3DS on you everywhere you go. StreetPass Mii Plaza uses this functionality to automatically gather Miis from nearby 3DS systems. I assume these Miis will appear in the Plaza Gate section, though I haven't acquired any yet.

The Miis you gather aren't just for show: there are two games that use these Miis as players. The first is Puzzle Swap, where each Mii you meet will present a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Get enough pieces, and you'll complete the picture. The second game is Find Mii, which presents itself with the tagline "Gather heroes, fight ghosts, and collect special hats for your Mii!" The "heroes" here refers to the Miis you find on StreetPass. When you first boot up Find Mii, your Mii (which is apparently king of the Mii Plaza) gets kidnapped! You'll have to make use of the Miis you acquire to free it. I wish I knew more about how this worked, because it actually sounds pretty intriguing.

I am worried that I won't come across other 3DSes in my travels, and thus won't have a very populated StreetPass Mii Plaza...but Nintendo's got me covered. You can earn Play Coins simply by walking around with your 3DS in sleep mode, up to ten in a day. These can be spent to hire heroes without having to gather them from other 3DSes. Play Coins can be spent in other packed-in games and game cartridges to unlock new features as well.


AR Games

The augmented reality games included with 3DS systems have been getting a lot of press in the weeks before release. And for good reason: they're very unique and an absolute joy. Using the AR Cards bundled with the system, players have access to six augmented reality games that use the system's camera and gyroscope functionality.

Archery: Move around and hit targets by aiming the system and pressing the A button.

AR Shot: A sort of billiards-style game where you shoot a ball across hilly terrain that warps out of whatever surface you put the AR cards on.

Fishing: Move a fishing rod around the surface of a pond by moving the 3DS. Catch fish by luring them to the bait and pulling up when they bite.

Star Pics: Use the included AR Cards of Nintendo characters to put them in poses in the real world (pic below).

Mii Pics: Same as above, but with Miis (pics below).

Graffiti: Draw 3D art against the real world backdrop (pic below).

3DS ARpics

These are terrible compared to some of the stuff I've seen online with these cards already.

These six games are all fun to mess around with, though the appeal of each won't last too terribly long. The first three games seem to last all of ten minutes, though I guess there are high score chases. Still, these are the first features you'll want to show off to your friends. They really are like nothing else out there. And there are at least eight more to unlock using Play Coins.


Face Raiders

Much like the AR Games, this is one of those silly things you'll want to show your friends right away. Face Raiders first has the player take a picture of a face using either the 3DS' outer cameras or inner camera. You can even capture an image of a picture of a face. Doesn't matter. Either way, you'll then shoot tennis balls at attacking faces with hilarious expressions, playing an unexpectedly tough little shooting game by getting up and moving around. It's surprisingly fun and absolutely hilarious to see these distorted versions of your face making crazy expressions.


Nintendo 3DS Camera

Pretty standard cell phone-quality camera software, with silly effect filters and features like a timer. The difference is that you can take and view pictures in 3D. This is also where you view the pictures stored on your SD card, from other games and programs. I haven't explored this too much, but I don't think there's much more to find here.


Nintendo 3DS Sound

This is the music playback and audio recording section, and I believe that many of its features are carryovers from the DSi's suite. But it's surprisingly fun to play around with and packs a lot more features than I expected. While playing music or recordings, you can add your own little sound effects with the shoulder buttons (claps, percussion, Mario sounds, etc.), alter the music's speed and pitch, and apply filters like a tinny Radio sound or an 8-bit setting that just seems to make everything sound like a digital nightmare.

There also seems to be some sort of social aspect to this. You can set your Top 10 Songs list, set a StreetPass list (that transfers songs? Just the list? I don't really know) and test your compatibility with those you pass based on your music choices, I guess. There's also a "Practice" list of up to 200 songs. I really don't know what's going on with these features right now, but maybe they'll be revealed to me over time, which seems to be the way Nintendo wants it.

But the fun comes in the interactive audio-visualizers. You have your standard equalizers you'll see on stereos, but there are some fun little games to play in the others: one is a soccer ball juggling game with digital visuals a la Game & Watch, another has a character hopping up stairs where you can make objects appear from his hands with the shoulder buttons, and the most impressive is an on-rails shooter with gemoetric polygonal visuals in the vein of the SNES Star Fox game. It isn't much of a game, per se, but it looks amazing with the 3D effect turned on and allows you to shoot away geometry with the shoulder buttons.


Download Play

This works just like it did on the DS. You can download 3DS or DS game info for playable demos and other features.


Activity Log

Here is where you'll see all the logged information from your play data, organized chronologically and by title. It also records how many steps you've taken while the 3DS is in sleep mode, organized the same way. Stat nerds will appreciate it. I'm sure I'll get some enjoyment watching my own trends as well.


System Settings

Internet settings, StreetPass functionality management, parental controls, and other assorted calibrations and data options.

3ds Hero Mess

So yeah, that's a lot of stuff built right into the system. And Nintendo's already loading even more onto it: I already had a firmware update that included a 3D-viewable music video from OK Go, though it will apparently be deleted with the next system update, whether or not I want to keep it. I hope this isn't how Nintendo's touted 3D movie trailers will be handled.

I hope those firmware updates keep coming, though. I'm eagerly anticipating the launch of the eShop, with 3DSWare, DSiWare, and the handheld Virtual Console launches. For the time being, however, there's still so much more I need to learn about what's already on my 3DS.

Oh, and I guess I could play some "real" games, too. Maybe later! For now, I've got a bit of a headache. Not nearly as bad as the trial at Best Buy, but it's still there. Hopefully that isn't a permanent "feature" of the 3DS, and is just a matter of acclimating to the stereoscopic 3D effect.