Widely considered the king of handheld gaming, Nintendo's had an illustrious history, dating back to the Game & Watch and Game Boy.
The company's winning streak continued when it launched the DS handheld, going on to be one of the fastest selling consoles in history (despite an initially sluggish start).
Now, the Japanese giant has launched the Nintendo 3DS, and we got our hands on one.
On paper, the 3DS seems very underwhelming when compared to its peers, with a 200MHz processor and a relatively meagre graphics processor. The screen resolutions are nothing special either, looking a bit miffy when compared to your standard smartphone, let alone the PlayStation Vita.
Then again, Nintendo's never really been one to trump their technological prowess, preferring to let the gameplay experience do the talking.
Upon unboxing the 3DS, I was pleasantly surprised at how solid it felt, despite the plastic casing.
The control layout is comfortable too, more or less mimicking the Nintendo DS layout, with a few alterations though.
The most noticeable addition is the Circle Pad, an analogue control akin to the PSP's control "nub". The Circle Pad is accurate enough for most games, while also being comfortable thanks in large part to the thumb indent. The indent is a great design feature, as players don't need to "fight" the controls as one would do with the PSP nub and rubbery PS3 analogue sticks.
Other control tweaks include the addition of a home button in between the start and select keys. Much like console home buttons, this takes users back to the system menu, suspending your game or software in the background.
These buttons, possessing the same colour as the rest of the console and hidden under the lower screen, lack the tactile feedback of "proper" buttons. So it can become rather difficult to hit one of them during frantic gameplay.
Other hardware features are the audio jack at the bottom, WiFi switch and 3D slider on the right-hand side, volume rocker and SD-card slot on the left and the stylus port and game card slot on top.
The 3DS also has its own array of software, such as a decent web browser, Mii functionality and a fun augmented reality game, Face Raiders. This neat title makes use of the front-facing camera to model your face onto flying enemies, with the player then having to shoot them down using the 3DS motion control. It's a lovely concept, demonstrating what kind of innovation the 3DS is capable of.
The aforementioned cameras aren't going to give your top-shelf smartphones a run for their money, but they're adequate nonetheless. The front-facing camera is your run-of-the-mill shooter, but it's the rear-facing pair of cameras that are pretty innovative. The cameras are capable of taking 3D photos and, with a recent firmware update, 3D video clips.
Speaking of 3D, the Nintendo 3DS certainly brings the goods, with visuals displaying plenty of pop – no glasses needed. If you're not a 3D fan or it gives you a headache, you can scale down or completely turn off the effect thanks to a slider bar on the right-side of the console.
The 3D effect is only visible when the console is being held by the player; anyone else watching the action unfold will see a blurry image unfortunately. Still, I'd gladly trade in viewing angles for effective glasses-free 3D.
One thing you won't have to trade in however, is your DS library, as Nintendo has also included backwards compatibility. The titles are either stretched to fit the screen or surrounded by a black border.
If older games are up your alley, you also have the option of visiting the Nintendo eShop, offering games for the Virtual Console service as well as DSiWare indie titles. While I initially wasn't able to visit the eShop, I was able to use the service after a system update, albeit with very little content. Whether the update was related to the service now being available wasn't clear.
Another neat piece of software is the Game Notes feature, giving you a notepad for in-game use. This nifty feature is ideal for gamers wanting to make strategy notes and the like. But if this still isn't enough, you can also use the included web browser to search for a guide, then go back to the game seamlessly.
The StreetPass feature is another touted by Nintendo, letting users passively exchange Mii avatars, virtual gifts and items with other 3DS owners. All you have to do is turn the feature on and it will run while your 3DS is asleep. Games also support this functionality, letting you trade items and other goodies. For instance, Super Street Fighter 4 sees players exchange trophies by battling each other as they walk past.
In the all-important gaming department, the Nintendo 3DS didn't exactly have the best launch line-up, but things are quickly changing. Mario Kart 7, Super Mario 3D Land and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time have all bolstered the holiday line-up. And with titles like Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater, Monster Hunter and Tekken 3D looming, the immediate future is looking pretty rosy.
Visually, the games are an evolution of the DS rather than a full-blown leap in quality. There are a few titles like Super Mario 3D Land and the upcoming Metal Gear Solid look fantastic, reaching PS2-like levels of quality in many areas. But in this early stage, games like Mario Kart 7 are more or less using the extra oomph for a smoother framerate and the 3D effect, it would seem.
Of course, battery life is another important factor and the 3DS doesn't quite compare to the original DS, with between six and ten hours of juice available. Still, it's better than the PS Vita's reported 3-5 hour life.
Battery life and spec sheet aside, the Nintendo 3DS is a pretty amazing device, with a growing library of games and some nifty on-board software. And at a recommended retail price of R1700, there's no excuse not to get one.
Score: 8 out of 10