Originally written for www.7outof10.co.uk
Most hardware releases rely on the strength of their software catalogue to reinforce the “bigger, faster, harder, stronger” message that polished marketing executives have been pumping out over the preceding months. From the sublime Mario 64 to the surprise of Halo, big hitters can kick-start a generation.
What the 3DS presents us with, however, is somewhat of a surprise. Its most impressive collection of software sits not alongside it in plastic, cellophane wrapped cases, but rather unassumingly comes preinstalled. Just as with Wii Sports, the packed in games are there to show off all possible features of Nintendo’s new hardware. This goes beyond just the 3D, too, as the stereoscopic cameras, the gyroscope and the much trumpeted Streetpass each receive top billing in their own little showcase.
Most likely to impress both technophiles and technophobes alike is Augmented Reality. By simply placing a branded playing card down on a flat surface, the 3DS can turn your tabletop into anything from a shooting gallery to a petting zoo for your Nintendogs. Worktops can open up to reveal deep target-rich chasms, mountains can rise up, or a fishing lake can appear as if from nowhere.
The truly impressive trick here is turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. If this were any other shoot ‘em up or Sega Bass Fishing knock off you wouldn’t give it the time of day, but given the fact you not only can see the real world morph in front of you but you are also given the chance to move around it, experiencing it from any angle you wish, lifts the experience beyond the expected. Don’t underestimate the ability to plant a gaming world on your desktop.
Though there is a heroes’ parade, able to render many memorable Nintendo characters into your home, and the virtual graffiti, the highlight is the shooting gallery. Initially laying a series of basic targets around your designated plane, it soon evolves into creating pits and secreted nooks in your tabletop, with each new hidey-hole causing renewed consternation at what is possible.
Rather than a fully fledged game, each AR mini-game is more akin to a toybox or a a feature you will call on time and time again to show off your 3DS. Though in equal amounts they are also the stand-out experiences that will see you too return just to remind yourself what wonders can be achieved with such a simple piece of kit.
For those seeking more long term satisfaction, Faceraiders is at hand. This again uses the cameras but this time takes photos of friends’ faces and implants them in an almost Gradius style game that will have you spinning on the spot. For though you may have played titles where you must defend yourself from wave after wave of oncoming foe, they have never attacked you literally from all sides before.
Gyros and cameras work overtime, displaying the scene seen before you but overlaying it with the floating heads of your friends, who seem intent on launching marbles of doom in your general direction. They’ll appear behind you, above you, and in formations that are as humorous as they are frantic as you spin around launching tennis balls in a bid to repel them.
The lovely incentive here is that the more faces you collect, the more the variety of your games increases. Though newly scanned friends will be the “boss”, images scanned weeks before may crop up as bonuses in the background. And it’s not just normal faces; my 3DS is packed with BAFTAs, Spartans and Piñatas, all mixing in and amongst office-mates.
What rounds Faceraiders off nicely is that it offers a real challenge. So often pack-ins are wrung through User Testing and Market Research so frequently that become insipid, tasteless affairs, but here some teeth still remain. And as such the best advice I can offer for later levels is a sturdy, well oiled, office chair.
But as impressive as the AR maybe, and as fun as spinning round and round on work’s furniture proves, the trump card of the 3DS is possibly the least flashy: Streetpass.
This is the Pokemon of the real world.
Pop your 3DS in your back pocket when you go out and about and should you pass similarly minded folk then you’ll trade Miis. Sometimes they’ll pop up in Nintendogs to walk their pooch down your road, or challenge you to a duel in Street Fighter, but every time you’ll find them waiting to enter your Streetpass garden, lining up to greet you with a friendly smile and little titbit about themselves.
For those not wishing to partake in virtual dog walking or fisticuffs, newly discovered Miis can be put to good use in the built in sticker album and RPG. The former allows you to trade stickers in order to create classic Nintendo scenes, whilst the latter has the potential to become an obsession.
Refreshingly your Mii is not the star, instead they are locked in a tall tower with your many visitors battling through the many ghosts and ghouls that hold them prisoner. Each time they visit they’ll level up and become more effective, slicing through lesser opposition with ease.
Initially the concept seems extremely simple and almost achievable through grinding alone, but the ability to hire wandering heroes and combine any of the dozen magical talents soon unlock unexpected depth. It’s still not Dragon Age but a compelling dungeon crawl is not quite what I had expected to see top my Most Played list (data courtesy of the inbuilt Activity Tracker).
If truth be told, I have spent far more time lost in the many small time-wasters that can be instantly found on the 3DS “dashboard” than the three full games I have picked up since launch. A mixture of variety, innovation and, let’s be honest, novelty, should mean that those who eagerly await the second wave of dimension popping releases should be able to bide their time by earning special Mii hats through Street Pass, collecting faces in Faceraiders and watching relatives faces contort at the uniqueness of AR.