The Nintendo 3DS goes on sale in North America today, and while my experience is limited to previews at trade shows and a public demo over the weekend, my sentiment is similar to that of full reviews: The tech is impressive, even if the first batch of games aren’t. (For more thorough analyses of the 3DS’s strengths and weaknesses, check out the reviews from Chris Kohler at Wired and Ben Kuchera at Ars Technica.)
But most reviews don’t offer a direct comparison between the 3DS and smartphones, which represent the handheld’s biggest threat. So allow me to share an anecdote:
Over the weekend, Nintendo showed off the 3DS at a kiosk on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade. Public demos like this are a big part of Nintendo’s strategy, because advertisements can’t really convey the feeling of glasses-free 3D. I stopped by the kiosk with my father, who’s in town for the weekend.
The public demo had the desired effect. My dad was wowed by the glasses-free 3D. But as we left the kiosk, he pulled out his iPhone and showed me a racing game — just as good, he said, and for free. With his Nintendo DS Lite already collecting dust, there’s no chance that he’ll upgrade.
It’s just an anecdote, I know, but I doubt that it’s an extreme case. After all, the non-traditional gamer demographic was so lucrative for Nintendo with the original DS. Replicating that success may prove impossible.
Either way, Nintendo should be congratulated. The Nintendo 3DS works. As the advertisements suggest, it really does look like you’re peering into a tiny video game world.
And yet, we’re about to see a wave of 3D smartphones, such as AT&T’s LG Thrill and Sprint’s HTC Evo 3D. I’m not sold on the 3D smartphone concept, but I bet Nintendo is already worried. 2D smartphones are dangerous enough.