Judging by intimidatingly long lines alone, Nintendo’s 3DS was the star of E3. Crowds made a beeline to Nintendo’s booth every morning and formed a queue that snaked around the booth for the remainder of the day. Fortunately, the crowd thinned in E3′s final hours, and I finally got a better picture of Nintendo’s 3D handheld hardware.
Before the show, I was concerned that seeing a crisp 3D image on the Nintendo 3DS would require a very specific viewing angle and little fidgeting. There’s some wiggle room, but some obvious flaws as well. The image gets fuzzy when viewed from too high an angle, but the most noticeable issue arises when you tilt the screen horizontally. Even the smallest shift produces a momentary flicker across the screen, enough to be distracting if you move around a lot while playing. There’s also a sweet spot in distance, and it’s a bit more than a foot away from your face. Hold the 3DS up to the nose, or at arms length, and the 3D effect won’t be as easy to see.
Once inside the demonstration area, I had about 10 minutes to look around at various games, non-interactive demos and movies. The one that stood out was Dinosaur Strike, a simple head-to-head brawling game with Jurassic beasts. The 3D doesn’t change the way you play the game, of course, but I couldn’t help cracking a smile after winning the match, my T-Rex nearly popping out of the screen during his victory roar. That’s funny because the 3DS’ glasses-free display gives images the appearance of receding into the screen, rather emerging from it. My Dinosaur Strike moment had more to do with the shock of a T-Rex jolting towards the camera.
Not all the demos fared as well. A non-interactive demo of Resident Evil was particularly awful, always displaying a ghost image rather than the intended 3D effect. And I viewed this 3DS demo on two units just to make sure it was that bad.
Fortunately, Nintendo was clever enough to include a slider on the side of the 3DS to control the 3D effect. In some of the demos I played, full throttle 3D produced some flicker around main images. Pulling the slider down to about the halfway point was perfect, preserving the 3D effect without getting in the way.
In addition to 3D, the 3DS adds an analog control nub, similar to the one on the PSP but larger, and Nintendo said it is partnering with Hollywood studios to offer 3D movies. One feature that wasn’t on display was the 3DS’ dual cameras, which can reportedly snap 3D images. The company hasn’t announced a price or release date.
Nintendo is on the right track with glasses-free 3D. The execution wasn’t perfect, and the demos weren’t packed with jaw-dropping moments like the one from Dinosaur Strike, but the 3D slider means you don’t have to play games in 3D if you don’t want to. The challenge for Nintendo will be pricing the 3DS in a way ropes people in, instead of pushing them to buy an older DS instead.