All I want for Xmas is a 3DS

I really was going to be good. I’ve cut down my hours at work, you see, because space ants or sentient triffids or Tories might destroy the world at any moment, and I just can’t stand the idea that, reflecting upon my life in the last moments before the Earth crumbles under the weight of hordes of slimy, repulsive monsters (or the ants or triffids), I’d be left with the thought, “I really wish I hadn’t wasted all that time at a boring job.”

So, I made a plan to be sensible with outgoings, to spend less on games, to only buy budget releases and get more creative with my articles.

Then I disregarded that plan and bought a Nintendo 3DS. And you know what? I’m not even sorry. What follows are my first-week impressions…

The blowing, is what sealed it for me. Not to say I didn’t like it from the start — a sexy case (in black; the blue model looks naff), a home menu taking cues from Apple, yet unmistakably Nintendo, a mini analogue stick as comfortable and accurate as you’d like, a 3D screen that just works — but it wasn’t until I blew on the thing that I fell in love. When you’re navigating the menu icons, blowing at the 3DS (it has a microphone on the front) causes the logos to leap and spin as if they’ve been caught by a breeze.

I don’t know if this happened on the DS — I only owned the original, ugly-as-sin model for a few months, and never had a game that utilised the mic — but regardless it’s a gorgeous idea, and proof that the Nintendo of my childhood is still alive. Up until that point I’d been scrutinising the 3DS from a critical perspective; once I saw the little wheel of Mii faces twirling madly from an accidental sigh I was beyond all that. I was smiling.

This is Nintendo’s true strength. They don’t create technology you can show off with, technology that integrates and synergises with your hip connected lifestyle (despite what their ill-conceived marketing campaigns may tell you). They create technology that makes you happy.

My hours with the 3DS confirm this. The booting up sequence, scrolling the menus, taking 3D pictures with the camera, the excellent pre-loaded augmented reality game Face Raiders — it all makes me gurgle and splutter like a newborn infant caught up in the joy of existence. I simply don’t want to speak of screen resolution or battery life; I want to tell you about how I shot at a floating 3D replica of my friend’s face, covered in make-up and sporting an afro, how I played golf on a course that deformed and sank into my dining table, how I blew bubbles and love hearts onto the screen when taking a picture of myself, making me laugh out loud as the photo took.

Playing on the 3DS has become routine for me, a break from writing, replacement for listless Facebook scrolling, wind-down in bed after an evening shift at work. It’s in this traditional, almost quaint way that Nintendo’s handheld — like their previous handhelds — will enter your life: not as a sleek multimedia device to replace your iPhone or Blackberry, not as a sexy piece of kit, but as a little bundle of fun. I don’t think I want to check my emails on it (though that’ll be possible soon) or use it as an mp3 player (already possible) — I want it to play games.

As for the 3D effect: it’s … nice. It won’t revolutionise gaming, if only because the tech isn’t inclusive enough (you do have to view from the exact right angle and distance, and some people get eye-strain), but it offers an extra layer of immersion you’re sad to lose if you turn it off. With 3D off you can appreciate how crisp the screen is — but turn it on and you don’t see a screen at all, only a window into another world. It’s … nice.

The reservations — those that I have — are mostly to do with pricing. Firstly, for the machine itself. Looking to the current home consoles, a parallel can be drawn between the 3DS and the Wii, both sold on unique features rather than raw processing power, and both positioning themselves more as dedicated gaming platforms than multimedia hubs. But where the Wii launched at £180, the 3DS is currently retailing for around £200 — a testament to the costs of its 3D technology, perhaps, but still high for a traditional handheld.

Secondly, there’s the price-point for the games. I’m not entirely with the camp that sees selling full priced games in the age of the downloadable app as wholly outdated — I’d take a single new Mario or Zelda title over a million Angry Birds clones — but they at least have a point. Our attention spans are dwindling, and we’re growing used to devices that do everything, where functionality is added and personalised, where application costs are low and choice broad. Charging £35 per title just might put off too many consumers, especially as handheld games have a reputation for being shorter, more bitesize affairs than their big brothers on the home consoles. Personally, I find £25 to be an acceptable figure (bought my only game, Pilotwings Resort, second-hand for £23), but more than that and I’m getting sniffy.

The upcoming firmware update, adding an online eStore to the console, could go some way to assuaging my doubts. A plethora of lighter titles, indie games and older re-releases would be welcome — providing once again the pricing is reasonable. I never tried the DSiWare service, but my experience with the Wii’s online store is that Nintendo aren’t embracing downloadable content to the same degree as their competitors. How much will the twenty-two year old Super Mario Land offered at the eStore’s launch set us back? Looking at their track record, I’d say not so much people won’t pay, but enough to seem miserly and corporate.

Then again, this has always been the contradictory nature of Nintendo. A corporation ruthless and removed, at times almost willfully disdainful of their audience, who even so employ the sweetest bunch of designers on the planet.

And it’s this second side, ultimately, that I care about. I’m not bothered if the money men want to make their money — I know better than them. Because when I’m shooting my friends’ rouged up faces, and blowing bubbles, and smiling and laughing, I’m not holding a robustly-priced consumer product; I’m holding a magical toy. And that’s what it’s all about.

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