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So a little while ago I was going through my emails, routinely hitting delete on every one when I noticed something about a 3DS event from club Nintendo. It said that there were going to be a handful of preview events around the country and as a member I was entitled to enter the draw. These things rarely come to bare fruit but I thought what they hey so I entered. Within minutes I got an email back saying I was off to Bristol that evening to go and play one! I actually called the venue in question (Bristol’s Arnolfini) to check if it was legit and sure enough I got my confirmation!

So after a 13 minute train ride and a brief stroll me and my amigo Scott arrived at the Arnolfini all decked out in Nintendo-themed decor. The venue was impressive in itself, regardless of the event being held and I would like to commend them for their efforts, I very much hope to go back there in the not too distant future. Now before I continue I should probably apologize for the poor quality of the photos, they were taken from a phone camera (all I had available at the time) and the dim lighting didn’t help matter so think of them more as evidence…

So the tour began with us being greeted by a bunch of girls who  I assume were from an events company as there was only one bloke there. Now I will probably sound like I bat for the other team by saying that I didn’t really appreciate being shown around by lots of hot women but the thing is it was a little forced and unsettling. See everyone at the event was there by means of registration and was there for one reason only: to play the 3DS! They didn’t need to be seduced into it by a parade of sexy girls. But I digress…

The first room was lined with an impressive podium display of all the handhelds from yesteryear, sort of a visual history lesson for the uninitiated. Then a demonstration of spot and street pass, 2 features which I think its fair to say I was initially less than impressed with. However, since the event I’m coming round to the idea. It basically boils down to a way to play individuals online who you might not have otherwise met. When you pass in the street, assuming you both have the feature enabled, your information will be logged and next time you turn on your 3DS, it will ask you if you want to play. On that subject, I felt this was the only area that was left untouched; the team neglected to either tell us about or demonstrate decent online capabilities. Now Nintendo doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to online play and it has been touted that this will change with the 3DS, however, we saw no evidence to support that claim here.  Before we were treated to the main event we had to endure what has to be the most tortured bit of entertainment I have been a part of in some time. A live Street Fighter show followed by a mercenary hurriedly escorting us through a corridor of resi-evil style zombies…. To their credit, ‘Ryu’ and ‘Ken’ were obviously talented and played out a well choreographed fight (see the pictures) but again given the audience, it was less than necessary.

Now onto the meat of the sandwhich..the play test. For a long time I was very hopeful about the 3DS, then recently after reading a few more negative articles on the handheld, I was a bit more skeptical. Now however, after the play test I can reaffirm that I am very much looking forward to playing it again when I get the chance. When I first set eyes on it, the 3D isn’t quite the shock you think it would be, its more subtle than that, impressive but nothing to blow you away. But the more you play with it the more impressive it looks, and for the most part it really does enhance the visuals of the games (with the exception of Ocarina of Time which I personally thought looked crisper in 2D). I got to play almost the entire catalog of games even those that aren’t scheduled for  release on launch day. Among the best were Street Figher 4 which plays and looks like a dream. It even plays rather well in the new perspective mode and it does add something else to the gameplay. They thumb stick/slider is unbelievably precise and I instantly fell in love with it. Even NGP’s proper joysticks will struggle to best this. The touch screen, whilst not capacitive, is this time much more responsive, for a resistive screen anyway (I assume the decision to opt for it was a cost issue).

Ocarina of time was as you’d expect; a prettier version of the old classic which I very much look forward to playing through at home, especially now that the HUD is all devoted to the touch screen. Steel Diver, I have to say I just didn’t get, for one reason or another, it just seemed rather quaint for a 3DS launch title. Kid Icarus, a game which despite everyone else’s slavering, I was quite indifferent about, turns out to be fantastic! The controls and visuals are superb, particularly the former. The combination of the brilliant thumb stick to control movement and using the touch screen to aim works like a dream and it was one of the few games to truly benefit from being in 3D. This leads me to the aspect I found least exciting about the whole event. From the games I’ve played (and I played almost all launch games and more) none really  utilized the 3D in a way which really benefited the gameplay, it was mostly just eye candy, with the exception of Kid Icarus, Street Fighter 4, Star Fox 3D, and Snake Eater: Naked Sample  (the last 2 I should point out were unplayable demos only). Infact the thing I felt that used the 3D the best, wasn’t any of the games or even the camera function, but the augmented reality games where you place a card on a table and watch it change, shooting at it from all angles if enemies pop out of it. It was actually very impressive, just the way it truly did change as you moved around it. It may be little more than a tech demo but it certainly got my attention.

So all in all I was very impressed with what Nintendo offers in the 3Ds as a piece of gaming hardware. However, I will end on a slightly downbeat note in that at £230 at launch, I will not be buying one (at least not until they come down in price). I can’t help feel that although the cost may be justified in hardware costs, you could get an xbox 360 or even a ps3 for that money and Sony isn’t looking like its going to change things up with the NGP either. It’s just that in todays handheld market where smartphones like the iPhone continue to offer games almost or in some cases as complete as anything you’d find on a true handheld at only £5 tops, how can anyone not be tempted to go down that route, especially when so many people already own iPhones or other smart phones. I just don’t want to see a company like Nintendo crash when they’ve put so much effort into something like this..I hope my skepticism is unfounded.

For more info and details on our play test, check out episode 11 of the podcast.

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