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Hands-on AR Games 'Archery' for the 3DS

1:40 PM on 01.20.2011 // Nick Chester

Without a doubt, Nintendo is hoping to pack the experience of using the Nintendo 3DS with a ton of “oh wow” moments. The first will be the handhelds glasses-free 3D, arguably the systems biggest mainstream selling point, and one of the features that lets Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime confidently call it “a category of one.”

But perhaps just as impressive are the handheld’s “augmented reality” capabilities, or its AR Games that will come packed with the system at launch. While alternate reality games using a handhelds camera are nothing new -- Sony’s PlayStation Portable and the iPhone have their share -- Nintendo still managed to capture that “oh wow” moment with the “Archery” demo it showed me this week.

This is one of the cards for Nintendo’s AR games:

Without getting into technical details, you use the 3DS cameras to focus on the card, which you’ll throw on a table or another surface, like the floor. The 3DS system will look for the card, and provided there’s appropriate lighting, move to the next step. That step involves judging the distance to the card, something the system will do in real time. The requirement is 14 inches, and as I slowly pulled away from the card, the system counted up and alerted me when I was good to go.

At this point, the game begins. Through the 3DS camera and the game screen you see the card flip over, and from “the table” emerges targets. You then physically move the 3DS around the card, the images on the screen shifting in real time. Again, this isn’t a new effect for anyone who has tried similar things using an iPhone or even the PSP and its camera add-on, but it’s still impressive nonetheless, particularly when married with the glasses-free 3D screen. Watching pieces of the table I was “playing on” rotate and flip in real time was an especially neat effect.

This particular game, “Archery,” had you lining up a reticle to take out targets. The first few levels had me moving left and right around the card; another had me leaning over the card to find a target “inside” a hole in the table, the 3D screen offering up the impressive illusion of depth. The final stage featured a dragon slithering out from the table, and I had to get down low with the 3DS camera to target its trunk, pelting it with ammo before it dropped.

It’s unclear how many AR Cards (which work with the built in AR Games software) will ship with the 3DS, or even how many will be available after launch. There’s potential for this unique style of play to fall off as an interesting use of tech, but ultimately one that finds itself dying off a “gimmick.” That doesn’t mean its any less impressive, and there’s certainly potential for some fresh experiences.

Whatever it means for the future of gaming remains to be seen, but it unquestionably nails that “oh wow” factor that Nintendo is banking on to make the 3DS the next “must have” tech.

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Nick Chester, Former Editor-in-Chief (2011)
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