For those who have yet to experience the machine with their own eyes, there are lots of questions hanging over the 3DS. Does the technology actually work? Are the graphics as good as we've been lead to believe? Will it avoid failing as spectacularly as the Virtual Boy did? At a Nintendo showcase held in London earlier this week, we got another chance to see the device in action.
The 3DS area of the event was centred around a long rectangular counter, with perhaps eight or ten consoles on each side. Each unit was propped in front of an incredibly attractive Nintendo rep, each demonstrating a different game or technology. The list that follows details each of those demonstrations, and what it'll offer the future of handheld gaming.
Pilot Wings Resort
Pilot Wings has been cooling its jets for the past fourteen years, patiently waiting for an opportunity to take to the skies once again. The 3DS has finally given the franchise that chance, making a lot of fans very happy in the process. The game is set on Wuhu Island, the very same island from Wii Sports Resort. The playable demo was split into two halves: the first plonked players in the cockpit of a biplane with a trail of hoops to fly through, while the second saw a little Mii-esque chap trying to pop balloons in a jetpack.
Visually the game was simple, but it looked more than competent with its vivid use of primary colours and fantastic draw distance. The plane (or jetpack wearing Mii bloke) popped out of the screen, while the Island sailed on by in the background. It looked great, and if you chose to ignore the task in hand you could jet off and explore a bit of the island - even carefully descending into the mouth of an active volcano. We've been waiting for a Pilot Wings sequel for a very long time, and Resort doesn't look likely to disappoint.
Hollywood 61, the only playable third party title being demonstrated at the event, is the three-dimensional lovechild of Professor Layton and Hotel Dusk. Developed by Ubisoft, the game combines bite-sized puzzles with an over-arching murder mystery narrative, wrapping the whole thing in a blanket of quirky cardboard cut-out visuals. At this stage in development the game looked more than a little rough around the edges, but it's obviously still early days.
The demo begins with a chap in a suit, presumably the yet-to-be-named protagonist's partner, explaining the story: There's a murderer on the rampage, and it's up to you to stop him. After driving to an abandoned movie theatre, the demonstration presents its first (and only) puzzle. By moving an arrangement of mirrors, the idea is to guide a beam of light into a lens to illuminate a dilapidated old cinema. It's not a particularly inventive challenge - a variant of this poseur has appeared in just about every JRPG ever - but it's nice to see the puzzle integrated with the narrative.
With the mirrors moved to the correct positions, the theatre is flooded with light and our attention is brought to the stage, where a body hangs ominously from the ceiling. Using the analogue nub, you can move the camera from left to right, panning across the murder scene. Behind the body is a message, painted onto a red curtain. Panning from right to left the text reveals "YOU'RE", and the opposite direction follows it up with the word "NEXT". The demo ended with your partner dropping the tantalising bombshell that 'He's obsessed with you!' Although the presentation and application of 3D needs some work, the premise here is interesting enough to warrant attention.
Resident Evil: Revelations
A short interactive trailer with limited control of the camera, Resident Evil: Revelations was one of several games proving just what a powerful piece of kit the 3DS actually is. The clip sees an unidentified man tied to a chair as fan favourite Jill Valentine dishes out some fierce interrogative questioning. It's not long before 'roid popping meathead Chris Redfield arrives on the scene, and after a verbal sparring match with Jill the pair end up training their guns at the each other's faces. Quite what the pair's beef is remains a mystery, but we're not here to speculate on narrative at this stage.
At any point during the trailer, the 'X' button could be pressed to pause the action, offering a detailed look at the gorgeous visuals. The game will make use of Resident Evil 5's MT Framework engine, with the character models themselves being lifted straight from Resi 5 too. More than once in the trailer we see a gun thrust into 3D space, with the main body of the character looming in the background. Pausing at these moments to scrutinise the models, it appeared that the demo was just rendering the arm and gun in full 3D, and simply using a carefully-shaded 2D render for the background and other broad surfaces. It still looked fantastic, but this does highlight the need to keep our guards up until we see some fully functioning gameplay footage.
Metal Gear Solid 3: 3DS
One demonstration got slightly more attention than the rest, creating a gas cloud of excitement that floated around the Nintendo event infecting everybody with its awesomeness. Like Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid 3DS was just an interactive trailer, but boy oh boy was it impressive. For anybody not clued up on the project, MGS3DS is a remake of 2004's Snake Eater, re-imagined in 3D with a host of new bells and whistles.
The whopping seven minute trailer kicks off with Snake crawling through the undergrowth of a familiar Soviet jungle. A snake lunges at the camera (an actual reptile, not a snake of the Solid variety), jumping through imaginary 3D space and narrowly missing your nose. Shortly after, Snake arrives at a clearing where the game title stands proudly amongst the trees, beaming out of the screen with its clever 3D trickery. As always Hideo Kojima has a complete disregard for breaking the fourth wall, with snake walking and weaving through the very tangible letters of the title, demonstrating how well the team have become acquainted with depth perception.
The best bit of the demo sees a soldier, probably the infamous Johnny, who always seems to be having bad luck in the series, drop a packet of cigarettes into the jungle. Snake happens to be hiding behind the log where the cigarettes fall, and narrowly avoids being hit by an arm searching the area through a hole in the log. At one point, the guard pokes his head into the space to have a look around, showing off the impressive character models and fantastic use of the 3D technology. Snake casually inserts the cigarettes into the guard's hand, and he wanders off.
Unlike Resident Evil, this trailer appeared to show actual gameplay footage, including a HUD and option to rotate the camera 360 degrees around Snake's position. In a recent interview with Famitsu, Hideo Kojima stated that the finished game will probably look better than the demo. "The high level models are about the same quality as the stuff we made on the PlayStation 3," he said. If this is true, then MGS3DS could well be the best looking handheld game of all time. Time, as always, will confirm or deny this hopeful speculation.
Mario Kart 3DS
Mario Kart is a staple ingredient of any Nintendo handheld console's diet, and the 3DS is ordering from the same menu as always. Another one of those new-fangled interactive trailers, Mario Kart 3DS saw Mario and Luigi (his other chums were nowhere to be seen) putting pedal to the metal as they flew around the very colourful, and now very three dimensional, Mushroom Kingdom. From the looks of things Mario Kart 3DS will also use locations from Wii Sports Resort in its roster of tracks, much like Pilot Wings Resort.
The most impressive section of the demo saw Mario navigating his kart up a steep hill as boulders hurtled towards the camera in the opposite direction. As you might expect, this is the perfect excuse for some three-dimensional shenanigans, and looked absolutely fantastic in combination with the crisp graphics and smooth 60fps action.
Nintendogs + Cats
3D technology will allow Nintendogs to be cuter than ever before. Not only can you stroke your polygonal pup using the touch screen, but you can now watch it jump right up into your face and drag a big pink tongue across the screen. It feels very much like being licked by a real dog, except without all the drool. It's essentially the same game from before, but now the dogs are joined by some much needed feline company - although they didn't appear in this particular demo.
After choosing a breed (we went with Golden Retriever), your little pooch will contently stroll about the screen until you catch his attention. The game makes use of an impressive face recognition technique, and if you hold the camera at the right angle and distance from your face, the puppy will rush up to the screen and give you some 3D loving. Once (or if) this loses its charm, there are options to dress the dog in a selection of glasses and hats (one being a Mario hat), or to throw a Frisbee or a tennis ball for the little fella. Suffice to say, it's disgustingly cute, and - just like the original - will undoubtedly sell by the bucket-load.
Legend of Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (Movie trailer)
Although it doesn't qualify as a game, Legend of Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole is also worth a quick mention. The 3D trailer (which you can check out yourself here, albeit without the 3D) introduces the next animation from the studio behind Happy Feet, directed by Zack Snyder of 300 and Watchmen fame. With Avatar paving the way for 3D technology on the big screen, many animations including Alice in Wonderland, Shrek 4 and Toy Story 3 have followed suit. Legend of Guardians is the next film to join the ever growing list, and follows a mythic band of winged warriors as they fight a great battle to save all of owl-kind from the evil Pure Ones. There's little else to say about the trailer other than it looked great; the option to watch 3D movies on your handheld console is obviously a huge selling point and another reason to side with Nintendo over Sony and their expensive 3D alternatives.
To summarise the sentiments of the round-up: The 3DS is something to be very excited about. It has huge graphical potential, strong third party support, and hey, the 3D technology actually works pretty gosh darn well. The line-up of games is already looking incredibly strong, and that's without having seen the likes of Star Fox, Zelda, Street Fighter IV, Assassins Creed, Ridge Racer or Paper Mario. Rest assured that the machine's future is in extraordinarily capable hands. The only thing to concern yourself with at this stage is how much it'll cost, and when it'll hit store shelves.