Thursday, 11 November 2010
The official Nintendo 3DS announcement was bizarrely unbrazen - merely a matter-of-fact detailing.
Oddly, it didn't warrant an explosive E3 reveal - nor a triumphalist gathering of the world's media. Just some plain, unexciting words - and a meat-and-potatoes press release.
The lack of fanfare was more resonant of a new coloured console - or even a revised Stock Keeping Unit. Nintendo may be the ever respectful Japanese company (even when others are pilfering their motion control innovations) - and aren't prone to bombast. But even for Miyamoto et al, this was alarmingly subdued.
Whispers arose that this was Iwata backed into a corner; thinking on his feet to appease shareholders, whilst battling with the spectre of market saturation and a full-blown recession.
Other evidence also pointed to a rush job. The tech behind the device was supposedly a last-minute buy from Sharp; a smash and grab for the mantle of Interactive Innovator as Microsoft and Sony's vultures begun to circle.
And then there was Miyamoto-san. Or wasn't, more to the point. Nintendo's universally loved talisman - whose endorsement is all we need to know there's something special on our hands - was nowhere to be seen.
Today, the smoke finally cleared - and CVG is able to share the truth: 3DS has no chance of emulating the impact big brother Wii had on the video games market four years ago.
It's much more important than that.
For what it represents, for its potential to wow the non-gadget freak while leaving the hardcore open-mouthed - and for being far more than a novelty - Nintendo has pulled out its trump card just when it needed it most.
Five years ago with the original DS, the firm promised us a 'new way to play' video games. Now they've given us an entirely new way to see them, too.
Whilst Sony blares out that it's ushering in the 3D revolution - slapping weighty, £100 glasses on the bridges of our noses to make it happen - Nintendo may have just created the most important piece of entertainment technology in decades.
Attractive, lightweight, (no doubt) affordable, it's a marvel. Those who previously scoffed at the Nintendo 3DS as a 'mere' hardware update will be left dumbfounded.
It may be backwards-compatible with old DS games, but this is a new console - and one that well and truly sparkles with the ageless magic we'd started to worry had deserted Nintendo.
The first thing that hits you is the screen. 3.5 inches wide, it fills you vision in a magnificent way. Make no mistake: Any bigger would be a distraction. We've just seen a special Metal Gear Solid Snake Eater demo, and we're blown away.
A slider on the right-hand side of the machine allows you to adjust the depth of perspective that you require. We begun in Metal Gear in a jungle area - and it took some customising to correct our field of vision. But once we did, the super-sharp splendour that fell out in front of us really was something to behold.
Robust, spiky foliage poked out of the ground and seemed to tickle the back of the DS screen. Meanwhile, arrows flung in our direction soared through the air towards us - from what seemed like 50 metres away.
The neatest touch was some searing orange butterflies, which at one point (in our peripheral vision), we would have sworn actually flew out of the machine. Yes, we ducked.
The one slight letdown of 3DS is that nothing actually 'jumps out' of the screen in your direct line of sight. This is much more about what's going on in the background.
But occasionally, just when you're not looking, something tricks your eye by poking out just to the side of your glance. It's a pleasure to be fooled.
This all has to be taken, of course, in the context of not wearing any glasses at all.
These visuals aren't filtered through clever technology in front of your eye. It's an immediate, comfortable experience - one which it's little wonder third party publishers are flocking towards.
Playing Snake Eater, we also got to test out the new 360-degree stick control, which allowed full command of our vision - something very useful when there's a complete, breathing world in front of your eyes.
It's a comfortable, instinctive control that is less 'clicky' than the equivalents seen on Sixaxis etc., and responds better to a gentle rub in any direction.
We also got to test out the camera - yet another major step forward from anything we've seen before. Considering 3DS is effectively a knockabout, playground machine for all ages - and its camera is a tertiary function - it's astounding.
Two cameras on the back of the device take a snap of your mug, which is then displayed in super-blurry mode on the 3DS's top screen.
Using the analogue control, you then slide the images together until you hit the sweet spot; that perfect blend that shows off the differentiation between you and your background.
No disrespect to Nintendo - they're the first games company to this tech, after all - but when a 'proper' mainstream camera firm gets hold of this and runs with it at an affordable price, it will will change everything.
There's even less in the way of 'protruding' elements - the sort of thing that wowed when you went to see Avatar - with the resultant photos, which rely heavily on a sense of depth from the background of the image. But it's still a stimulating moment to take in your first 3D portrait - all due to a games console previously considered cheap and cheerful.
The final thing we witness is a movie demo: Disney's How To Train Your Dragon. The 3D mixer is all-important again here; the movie made us blink quite wildly until we achieved the right mix.
However, after we'd done so, we didn't need to touch it again - a good sign for those that don't want to be constantly tweaking their entertainment. Tilting the device had a negative - if not catastrophic - effect, and to be fair, the 3D image can put up with a normal bumpy Tube journey's-worth of movement without being greatly affected.
The movie - like the photos - wasn't as revolutionary as Kojima-san's demo, and seemed more like a layered 2D experience.
However, the sensation of - once again - not wearing any filter device and yet experiencing such a thrilling immersion is something we're sure won't wear thin easy. And once the Kojimas of the movie world (hello, Mr Cameron?) get involved, this could really become something special.
Sound was rich and cinematic - helped by Nintendo's investment in pricey BOSE headphones, mind - and certainly as good as anything we've heard through PSP. The image is bright as a button and colours are convincingly high-def.
At this stage, we can't judge the software of the system with any sense of true perspective - but with 73 games in development (including a bunch of classic Nintendo remakes) we reckon there's no real worries on this front.
In fact, we're fully confident that the new software from Miyamoto and Kojima alone is capable of causing revolution. 3D Kid Icarus cannot come quickly enough.
We didn't see the improved WiFi functions - which download extra applications and software 'as you sleep', a la Wii - but connectivity is subscription free: Another big plus point.
In addition, the glossy, dual-coloured shell makes this the sexiest-looking DS yet.
"The best thing I've ever worked with". They were the words of the source who revealed to CVG earlier this year that Nintendo was beavering away on a new DS.
Back then, he couldn't tell us what was quite so special about this beautiful machine - for fear of being rumbled. But today we realise why we'd be fools to argue.
No wonder Nintendo didn't shout about it from the rooftops back in March. Gamers everywhere are about to do that job for them.