Nintendo 3DS: One month later

3ds Cosmo BlackMy first encounter with a 3DS was less than perfect. I had the privilege of playing Pilotwings Resort for about fifteen minutes in the midst of a particularly loud and busy Best Buy. The stereoscopic 3D was hardly noticeable, though it may have been because the system was locked into the cabinet a few feet below my face. And Pilotwings was...well, Pilotwings. A fine game, but hardly the one I'd choose to impress somebody.

What was impressive, however, was the strength and duration of the resulting headache. The drive home was almost unbearable, with temples flaring to the beat of my heart and some eye strain to boot. I went to bed and nursed a hangover-level headache for about three hours.

Maybe I'm just a glutton for punishment, but I decided to buy a 3DS anyway. It's hard to believe that the system's already been on the market for a month, but here we are. I've found plenty to love (+) with Nintendo's DS successor but have some concerns (-) as well.


- Acclimating to 3D
The first few days with the 3DS, I reluctantly kept the 3D effect going. Frankly, it was making my head hurt a bit, and my eyes felt like they were working overtime. I mostly kept the 3D off for the next week or so, then slowly reintroduced myself to it...

+ The 3D effect
...and now I love the stereoscopic visuals. I haven't had a headache in weeks, even after nonstop sessions of well over an hour. And my eyes are no more strained by the 3D effect than they usually are when handheld gaming. I was skeptical that the effect would be as useful as Nintendo claimed, but my performance in Pilotwings definitely dips when I slide down to 2D. And sometimes, it just looks amazing: you wouldn't think a 2D fighter would really benefit from 3D display, but Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition's detailed character models and cool ink effects absolutely POP in 3D. It didn't make my Hadokens any stronger, but they at least looked more dangerous.

+ The online play
Admittedly, the only game I've played online is Street Fighter. But man, what smooth games! My internet connection isn't even remarkable by DSL standards, but the framerate was perfect and I didn't even get enough lag to blame my losses on it.

- The online features
Or, more precisely, the lack thereof. Your communication with friends is limited to what's on your Mii Card in the Friend List. You can write a very short sixteen character "message," let your friends know what game you're currently playing, and have a favorite game listed on your card. It's nice that friend codes are now universal, but there's barely any incentive to even put in that tiny bit of effort yet.

+ Buttons, sticks, screens
I'm picky when it comes to stick and button feel, but I'm loving the 3DS' inputs. All the buttons and the D-pad are nice and clicky, providing plenty of feedback and a huge improvement over the DS Lite. The circle pad is just as good as any analog stick once you get used to its flat movement. The touch-screens and motion controls work just as expected.

- Ergonomics
I was worried that the D-pad's position in the southwest corner would be uncomfortable, and it does give my thumb a bit of a workout attempting all those directional inputs in Street Fighter. As a whole, the 3DS' layout will require some getting used to for those with bigger hands, though that's par for the course with handhelds. And what's up with the start and select "buttons"? They are flush with the case south of the touch-screen, making them difficult to locate by feel and awkward to press. Minor complaint, considering how sparingly they are used, but it's there.

+ Incentive to carry
The StreetPass functions and pedometer-fueled Play Coins that contribute to built-in activities and retail games will make sure 3DS owners carry the device everywhere they go, ready to show it off when a situation provides an opportunity. I've taken the system out with me almost every time I went out into public in the last month, trading data silently with other 3DS owners in the vicinity and building up my stock of Play Coins with every step I take. Unfortunately, I've only made a shadow exchange with two other 3DS owners in all that time. This is something that those in busy urban areas will get more use out of. Seems like it's tailor made for Japan, actually.

+ The bundled goodies
Nintendo knows that 3DS will live or die by word of mouth and first impressions. I can't help but be impressed by the lengths they went to help the cause. With built in AR Games (augmented reality) and Face Raiders, every 3DS owner will have two hilarious and memorable ways to show off the system's 3D effects and camera capabilities. Even features that seem to be afterthoughts, like the 3DS Sound and 3DS Camera applications, have plenty of charm and trinkets to play with.

- The tardy features
For all the neat little surprises Nintendo packed into the system, there are still a number of promised functions to be added in later firmware updates. Where's the internet browser? What about the ability to transfer DSi purchases to the 3DS? And where's the entire online shop, with 3DSWare, Virtual Console games, and demos to download? These features should start to show up sometime in May, according to Nintendo. What exactly will be included in that first major firmware update, however, is not clear. And will we ever gain any communication features worth a damn? Put the camera and/or microphones to use, Nintendo! Heck, just give me a way to send text messages to my Friends and I'll be placated. Nintendo's already made some improvements on their sloppy Wii and DSi feature sets in the 3DS as it is, but I'll stay reserved in my hopes for the immediate future. Surprise me, Nintendo.

- Battery life
I don't think it's as bad as other outlets have made it out to be, but it's a simple fact that the 3DS' battery life is nowhere near the marathon-running DS Lite. While my DS Lite could last on a charge for weeks, I have to set the 3DS on its charging cradle at least every few days when I'm using it somewhat regularly. The battery life really does depend on what's being used, however: if I'm especially concerned about running out, I can set the brightness to its lowest setting, turn power-save on, and keep the 3D effect low to make it last through a full day of gaming. Playing motion- and camera-function applications like AR Games and Face Raiders in full 3D with the sound on, however, will drain your battery within a few hours at most.

+ The sleek design
I didn't really notice much different about the 3DS from its predecessors until I checked out my DS Lite again. Though the 3DS has an odd, tiered shape to it, it actually seems like the more elegant device when I compare the two, even with the DS Lite's iPod inspirations. I think the 3DS is actually lighter, too. And shiny. So shiny and pretty...

- Dust and fingerprints
Every time I open the 3DS up to play, I see dust all over the screens and thumbprints on the face. I hate seeing my shiny pretty precious tainted with specks! I always keep a microfiber cloth on hand to wipe off the dust and smudges, but by the time I'm done playing, it's all back. Such is the pitfall of wanting to keep your shiny new electronics looking shiny and new, I suppose.

All in all, I've been having a great time with my 3DS so far. I was prepared for some post-purchase dissonance after shelling out $300 for the system and a single game, but I think it was worth the price of entry, even with a launch lineup with only a few niche hits. That said, I can see why so many are waiting for just the right game to jump in. All I can say is, I don't think you'll be disappointed when you finally do drop the cash. Just be prepared to deal with some headaches for the first few weeks.