Nintendo 3DS Hands-on: Is it Worth $249?

Today Nintendo announced the pricing and release date of its much-anticipated Nintendo 3DS portable gaming system. Riding on a wave of 3D popularity, this update to the Nintendo DS and DSi features a 3.5-inch glasses-free 3D display and 3D photo taking capabilities. When it hits store shelves on March 27th the 3DS will cost $249.

Beyond the 3D display, Nintendo also included a slew of new upgrades both on the outside and inside of the device. The company added an analog circle pad on the left above the arrow controller that allows for finer control, similar to the joysticks found on a PS3 or GameCube controller. There are now three cameras — one that faces inward and two that sit on the back for taking 3D photos. The 3DS doesn’t shoot 3D video yet, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Nintendo added that feature in a later update.

$249 is a little steep for a mobile gaming console. Heck, the Wii costs 50 bucks less. So, is the 3DS worth it?

The glasses-free 3D experience is very similar to what Toshiba showed us at CES. Since the screen is so small, we had to angle it just so in order to get the full 3D effect. Drift in any direction away from the sweet spot and the images get a little fuzzy or hard to see. In addition, we experienced a bit of eye strain. With practice, it will probably be easy to keep the device in the right position, but when we first tried it is seemed every little movement knocked us off course.

You can get around this by adjusting or turning off the 3D effects. To the left of the upper screen there’s a sliding 3D adjustment switch that goes from full depth 3D down to 2D. As Nintendo recently warned that 3D isn’t good for young eyes, it’s nice that the 3DS gives parents the option to shut this effect off without denying their kids the latest game system.

The straight-on view necessary for the full 3D effect also means that anyone looking over your shoulder while you play probably won’t get the best view, either. That makes it hard to share the screen with others. However, the 3DS is definitely designed with social interaction in mind. Like the DSi, the 3DS has wireless connectivity, but also connects to nearby 3DS devices to form local area networks. Networked handhelds can play games in multiplayer mode or exchange information. Even when the 3DS is in sleep mode it can still communicate with other devices. With StreetPass technology and compatible games, a user’s Mii avatar can go visit another 3DS or a character from a fighting game can challenge another to a fight. You’ll find out if your characters have been winning or losing once you reopen the device. Yes, you can turn this feature off.

Also included is both and accelerometer and a gyroscope, which game developers can access and utilize in gameplay. The 3DS now has multitasking capabilities as well. When users press the Home button from within any game, the device will pause it and allow users to switch to another game or app, then come back to the game in progress.

There will be over 30 games available for the Nintendo 3DS at or soon after launch in late March. Titles range from fighting to racing to Zelda (Ocarina of Time 3D, yes!). There are even cool augmented reality games available. These title utilize the two outward-facing cameras and the gyroscope to allow interaction with real and virtual objects.

At launch the 3DS will come in Aqua Blue or Cosmo Black. If you’re not convinced of plunking down $249 based on the feature set alone, Nintendo is launching an aggressive marketing campaign that aims to reach over a million customers and allow them to try the 3DS for themselves. In the meantime, check out our gallery below.

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