Well, as promised, I was at Nintendo's 3DS press event in New York City this morning, and as soon as Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime stopped talking, I was all over the demo units and didn't leave until they flashed the overhead lights and I was asked to wrap it up because they were closing down! (Heck, I only remembered to eat something because I passed the food on the way to the bathroom at one point!)
NaviFairy already revealed the crucial price point and release date, but as for the rest of the stuff, I'll tell you what I found out (which was sadly not a lot in some cases...).
I think I prefer the black unit to the blue one, but Nintendo never seems to bring out the really cool colors until about a year or so into a system's life cycle. I appreciate that it comes with the charging cradle and a 2GB SD card, but what made me even happier was that the stylus is telescopic, so adult hands like mine won't cramp up as quickly! The wireless function can be switched off to save battery power, but leaving it on with your 3DS in sleep mode will let you participate in Street Pass mode. That's what they're calling the thing where you walk around with your 3DS and it automatically tags the 3DSes you encounter along the way, exchanging everything from Miis to game data. Obviously, the feature will vary from game to game. Getting more time to actually play the system, I found that I actually didn't put the 3D slider all the way to the top. I usually found that just a hair below is the sweet spot for me. Everyone's mileage will differ, which is why the 3D slider is such a genius move on Nintendo's part. You can adjust it until it looks right to you. The graphics are crisp, clear and really detailed. I'd guess it's somewhere in between GameCube and Wii.
They had a bevy of titles on hand to demo, both first- and third-party. From Nintendo, you had Pilotwings Resort, Nintendogs + Cats, Steel Diver, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D and Kid Icarus: Uprising. From the other developers, I saw Dead or Alive Dimensions, Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D, Madden NFL Football, Super Street Fighter VI 3D Edition, Asphalt 3D, Combat of Giants: Dinosaurs 3D, Ridge Racer 3D, Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D and LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars. Reggie promised more than 30 3DS games across all genres would be released in the launch window (which covers from launch day at the end of March to E3 in June), but only Madden was promising to be out on March 27 with the system.
To my surprise, despite the massive crowd of journalists, there were around 150 3DS demo units, so there really wasn't any waiting around in lines to play games. Which means that I was able to play every single title that was on offer (even the sports games), and then go back for seconds! I went back to play some more Pilotwings because I wanted to try the hang glider, some Zelda because it's Zelda, and then Street Fighter IV because it was awesome. I'm not even the biggest fighting game fan, but it was so impressive that I went back for thirds! And then fourths!
I'll have full rundowns of the various games in detail over the next couple days, but first I wanted to talk about the 3DS system itself and the features included with it.
The system is roughly the same size as the regular DS, although a little thicker, especially on the bottom half. It was hard to gauge its heft because of the power cable/anti-theft devices attached to it, but it doesn't seem much heavier than the DS. I found the positioning of the thumbstick above the D-pad to be perfectly fine for playing games that used it. I'd worried it was too high and might be uncomfortable, but it wasn't a problem for me. Although having the stylus come out of the top by the left shoulder button is going to take some getting used to. I fully expect to have scratched a hole in the right side of my 3DS before I get used to the fact that the stylus doesn't go there anymore!
As with the DSi, there are applications that come with the system, although the grid layout is much nicer than the DSi's scrolling line of icons. There's an activity log app that tracks the games you've played and how long you've played them, and also includes a pedometer that will earn you in-game rewards depending on the title. (Street Fighter IV was one that included support for the pedometer walking around a lot will earn you in-game coins!) The Mii Maker helps you to create a 3D Mii by letting you set the skin tone, hair and eye color, then taking a picture of yourself to establish the rest of the face. I was a little disconcerted that my Mii had an absolutely ginormous nose, but thankfully, you can tweak the features to be exactly how you like them. Unfortunately, from my brief browse through the facial features on offer, it didn't seem like they were much more extensive than the Wii's. In fact, they looked exactly the same.
The Augmented Reality games are probably one of the coolest things about the 3DS. During his speech, Reggie claimed that they were a favorite of the testers, and I thought he was exaggerating, but he wasn't. They're really fun. Included is a game called Face Raiders, where you take a photo of someone and it plasters their face onto a ball which then floats around you. Using the external cameras, the space around you becomes your playing field, and using the accelerometer/gyroscope, you physically move the 3DS around to aim at the bouncing heads and shoot them away. In a particularly cool effect, the background actually breaks and pieces fall away, revealing a cosmic field of stars and such behind it. I was told that if you play around someone whose face was already scanned into the game, they'll be recognized, and their face will come off to join in the fun! It's hard to describe, but trust me, it's really sweet. There are also AR games, which spring to life (literally) from AR cards. The one they had to demo was a small playing card with a Nintendo logo and a question mark block on it. Holding the 3DS at the right distance, you activate the card laying on a table, causing a little box to pop up out of it. It then creates the illusion that the tabletop opens up and a little shooting range slides up into view with targets to shoot at. You physically move around with the 3DS and fire arrows, and the background moves with you. Then things got even more awesome when a dragon popped up out of the table and started breathing fire. You have to move around the table to shoot at it (because it moves, covering vital spots) in order to defeat it. Oh, and of course, it's all in 3D, so when it snaps at you with its teeth, it's wicked!
The 3D camera can be used to take 3D photos, and while the actual photo quality is quite low, the 3D effect more than makes up for it. It also probably took a grainy photo because the lighting was bad and there's no flash. Perhaps outdoors in the sun, it would look a little better. The real problem with the 3DS camera is that you can only look at the photos on a 3DS. So while you can share them, you can only view them on a 3DS, so no Facebook or Twitter, sadly. (It's too bad, because if they could work out a way to translate the 3DS image into a traditional stereoscopic red/blue 3D image, you could upload that to the internet and people with the 3D glasses could enjoy the effect, too!)
There's also an internet browser and 3DS sound app, just like on the DSi for tweaking sound effects or listening to music. The system will also connect automatically to WiFi if you authorize it, so you can download updates and the like without even having to worry about it. Nintendo is sticking to their Friend Code system, but thankfully, you only need to worry about the one that comes with your system. Gone are the days of having a different one for each game! Once you exchange Friend Codes, you can automatically see if your buddies are online and what they're playing.
The Nintendo eShop offers an upgraded buying experience, offering Nintendo DSIWare downloadable games as well as Virtual Console games. While only Game Boy and Game Boy Color inclusion has been announced, I don't see any reason why that couldn't expand as far as the N64, given the power of the 3DS. And yay for using actual cash money for purchases instead of points!
The 3DS also plays 3D video (and I've heard tell of possibly being able to use the 3DS cameras to shoot your own 3D video), and it looks pretty good. I have to say that the Tangled trailer that I watched at E3 was a little more impressive than the trailers they had on hand here. And it's not just because it was Yogi Bear and Born To Be Wild (a documentary about rescuing animals). I think the fact that it was CGI made it look better on the system than actual people. I found the 3D in the trailers to be somewhat flat, but that might just be the way the films were made. Some 3D movies are just more impressive than others. But the few times that things popped out at you, it was actually a good effect. It was the depth that didn't look as realistic. You know, like the mountains way in the background didn't look nearly far enough away from the characters in the foreground. Also, sadly, there was no official word about what movie studios or movie titles were in the pipeline or how they would be distributed. I suppose you could download them, but it might be easier (and easier to copy protect them) if they were released on their own 3DS cartridge. More information will be forthcoming as the release date nears.
The 3DS will be region locked (sorry!), and retail pricing for games still has not yet been revealed. I even asked some of the third-party PR reps, and they were tight-lipped as well. As far as battery life goes, it'll depend on which features you have running, how bright you made the screen... the usual stuff, really. And as for eyestrain, it was hard to get a feel for it because all the demos timed out after a few minutes. So I don't know how much it would take to make your eyes bleed out of your skull! Honestly, though, I didn't have a problem with it, but then I've been a 3D fanatic from back since I was a little kid. (And no, before you go making any jokes, I wasn't around in the 50s when it was invented!) Oh, and things weren't all perfect. I will admit that a couple times, the 3D went a little flooey on me (that's a technical term), and surprisingly it was with first-party titles Pilotwings and Legend of Zelda. For a second, there was a double image, and I had to adjust to get the 3D to line up again. Luckily, since it's a handheld, the adjustment is as easy as tilting the system a little to the left or right. Although I can see this being a slight problem when playing games that use the gyroscope you'll be moving around so much the 3D effect might be lost.
Obviously, the best way to decide whether the 3DS (and its 3D effect) works for you is to get your hands on it. I've tried explaining how cool it is to people, but really, you have to see it to truly grasp what Nintendo has accomplished here. And to help out with that, Nintendo is launching a massive launch campaign with thousands upon thousands of 3DS units in stores and in roving tours to make sure that everyone gets to see it for themselves. If you're even only remotely curious, you have to check it out!