As I am sure you are all aware, Nintendo has recently launched a revolutionary new handheld games device, the 3DS. If you were not one of the hundreds of thousands who pre-ordered the highly anticipated gadget and you have yet to have a hands on experience with one, then you may be wondering how it differs from its predecessors and whether it is really worth the $249.99 (£220) price tag. Well here’s all you need to know...
Undoubtedly the most exciting thing about the 3DS is the glasses-free 3D technology that has been built into the device's upper screen (it has two screens, by the way). This is the first popularly available game system to feature this technology and you really need to experience it firsthand to appreciate it.
Many of Nintendo's recent offerings (the Wii in particular) have been squarely aimed at the casual gamer. But the 3DS, with its snazzy screen and impressive 3d graphics, could also appeal to hardcore gamers. This seems borne out by the device's launch titles, many of which are "serious" games. Certainly, the list of launch games is not dominated by the casual motion-detecting type of games that make up much of the Wii's catalogue. Instead, we get a nice mix of casual and serious games.
Let's now take a look at the device's specs. Firstly, the 3.5 inch wide auto-stereoscopic top screen that everyone is talking about. This screen is half an inch larger than the device's standard 2D lower screen. The 3D effect is not like what you experience in a cinema . You don't need glasses, of course, and things don't pop out at you like they do on the silver screen.
Instead, the 3D effect - created by two separate images being projected at the eyes at once - gives games an illusion of depth. The 3D effect can take a bit of getting used to but once you learn to position yourself at the correct angle, you won't want to go back to boring 2D gaming. Well, if you do, there is a switch that allows you to toggle the 3D effect on or off. Both of the 3DS's screens have a higher resolution than previous DS models.
Although the 3D screen is grabbing all the attention, the 3DS boasts some other neat features. Impressively, the internal CPU and GPU are more powerful than the Nintendo Wii. Amazing considering the size difference. The device of course cannot match the number-crunching power of the XBox 360 and the PS3 consoles but it is nevertheless a big step forward for Nintendo.
The 3DS also has three cameras – two on the front and one facing the player. The player facing camera is capable of capturing video and stills whereas the pair on the front work together to do the same in 3D. You can even use photos you have taken of your friends to customise character avatars - or Miis, as Nintendo likes to call them. Miis have been a feature of the Wii since its launch but this is the first time they have appeared on one of the company's handheld models.
The 3DS is also the first of the DS series to offer an analogue slide pad control. This provides a more intricate and accurate control than the D-Pad (though this is also included). In addition, the 3DS also has a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope which means there is potential for future games to integrate motion sensitive controls.
It is not just the hardware that is cool however. Should you enable SpotPass, then your 3DS will connect to the internet wherever it can find a wireless connection. You can also wirelessly swap information with nearby 3DS owners. The handheld can also be used to play 3D movies - Nintendo have clinched deals with Warner Brothers, DreamWorks and Disney to bring many 3D movies to the device.
The technology behind the 3DS is clearly impressive but it is the games that will ultimately decide the device's success. The early signs are encouraging. At launch, there are more than a dozen games available, from 3D updates of classics like Street Fighter and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell to fun new titles like Pilotwings Resort. Nintendo is also planning a 3D adapted version of Mario Kart and we can even look forward to taking a trip down memory lane with StarFox 64 3D, a revamp of the legendary N64 space shooter.
Despite this, there does not appear to be a stand out title like WarioWare: Touched! was for the release of the original DS handheld. There also seems to be an emphasis on serious titles that might appeal more to the male audience (Pro Evolution Soccer, Asphalt 3D and the Tom Clancy titles, for example), an attempt perhaps to win over the male-dominated PSP market.
I hope that Nintendo does not think that gender stereotypical games like Nintendogs and The Sims will satisfy us girl gamers. So it is pleasing to see some universally appealing games like Super Monkey Ball and Rayman also included in the launch list. I am sure many girl gamers would also enjoy pummeling foes in Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition and I can personally recommend Pilotwings Resort as a fun game too.
You should also note that the console is backwards compatible with previous DS games, so if you’re simply looking to replace your battered old DS, a 3DS upgrade might be perfect for you.
It will be interesting to see what titles Nintendo releases in the future – there is a danger that they could lean too far towards the serious market and alienate the casual gamers (which to date has been their largest audience).
Kat Cole, UK outreach coordinator for game retailer GameStop, is a casual gamer who also likes to indulge her serious gaming side playing third person shooters. She has already pre ordered Gears of War 3 even though it is now not due for release until September. You can follow Kat on Twitter at @DeadBoomerang.