Nintendo 3DS Review

By April 4, 2011Editorial

Stereoscopic 3D Performance

The main selling point for the Nintendo 3DS is its glasses-free 3D display.  But as innovative as this may be, this is not Nintendo’s first foray into 3D gaming!

Virtual Boy Commercial

In the 80’s, Nintendo actually released a pair of shutter glasses for the Famicom (NES in Japan), although it was only compatible with a handful of games.  In 1995, they brought out the Virtual Boy, a pseudo head-mounted-display gaming console.  While the stereoscopic effect was novel, the system only supported one color…red…and the complicated setup made using it unwieldy.  The Virtual Boy also wasn’t capable of rendering the detailed 3D polygons of today, so most games used “cardboard cut-out” style 2D sprites.  After less than a year, Nintendo discontinued the system, and The Virtual Boy was widely considered one of the biggest commercial disasters in video game history, and certainly not one of Nintendo’s greatest moments.

Fortunately, the 3DS is nothing like the Virtual Boy.  In fact, the 3DS has more launch titles than the Virtual Boy had in its entire lifetime!

The 3D display on the 3DS is really something you have to see to believe.  The 3D effect looks solid, and you don’t get much ghosting all.  As far as I can tell, the brightness doesn’t diminish in 3D mode very much, but it still might be slightly darker than some other portable devices.  Even so, what you get is a crisp, clear, and bright 3D image that looks absolutely fantastic!  All without any glasses involved.

Unlike what some advertisements may lead you to believe, there are not many cases where objects come out of the Nintendo 3DS’ screen.  Instead, what you see is more of a window into a virtual world.  This results in characters and environments looking more real – more tangible.  Again, this is the kind of thing you must experience for yourself.  2D screenshots and reading a review can never really explain what the experience is truly like.  It’s the same as how screenshots of a touch or motion-controlled game never really conveys the actual experience of being there.  But take my word for it: this is the future of gaming, and it’s here today!

Below are a couple of 3D videos of the 3DS in action.  Keep in mind that the quality of these videos does not reflect what you would experience in real-life…it’s just a taste.

Street Fighter IV

Nintendo was smart to include a 3D depth slider on the face of the system because it allows users to adjust the 3D to their personal taste (or to even turn it off completely).  The slider works great because it’s smooth and allows a wide range of visual flexibility to choose from.  At the lowest setting the game runs in 2D, and the highest setting can border on extreme for some.  For me, 50-60% was the optimum 3D experience.

Each game has implemented the 3D slightly differently, so you may have to adjust the slider on a game-by-game basis.  Some titles like Pilotwings Resort look fine even on 15-20% depth.  Other titles like Ridge Racer can be enjoyed at settings as high as 100% on the 3D slider.  It’s all up to you, really.  If it’s your first 3D setup, I recommend beginning at around 30% on the slider, and gradually working your way up as needed.  

What I would like to see is game developers adding additional 3D parameters in an advanced options screen.  For example, a “convergence” control would allow gamers to determine how much 3D is inside and outside the screen.

In terms of ghosting, the parallax barrier display on the 3DS comes up as favourable.  There is still a small amount of crosstalk in high contrast scenes, but it really isn’t an issue because most games use diverse color palettes.  Even for the trained eye, ghosting will only present itself if you look for it.  You can see a ghosting test image below that should give you some idea of how the 3DS display compares to other 3D solutions in the market:

Nintendo 3DS Ghosting Test (DDD Image)

The only gripe I have with the 3D screen is its narrow viewing angle.  You have to hold the unit directly in front of you at the recommended distance, and not move much at all.

Nintendo 3DS Viewing Angle Demonstration

While Nintendo recommends holding the device 10″ to 14″ from your face, it’s more important that the angle is spot on with your eyes.  There is some room to breathe… but not much.  Once you go outside the “sweet-spot”, you end up with a darkened or doubled image, so you have to make an effort to keep the system still in your hands while you play.  While this is easy for most games, it’s problematic for motion based games that require you to move the 3DS around (e.g. augmented reality games).

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