Nintendo World 2011 impressions

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[Reader “Rambo The Bear” is studying in Tokyo, and was fortunate enough to attend Nintendo’s Nintendo World 2011 event last week. He was nice enough to write up his impressions of not only the 3DS hardware, but a slew of games that were both in playable and hands-off demo form. Enjoy!]

Hey DToiders! If you weren’t able to make it out to the Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba, Japan this year, you missed one heck of a show.

This year the show may as well have been called “3DS World,” since that was the complete focus. Everybody has been dying to get their hands on Nintendo’s latest piece of oh-so-sexy hardware, though, so I doubt there were any complaints.

Even if you didn’t make it to the show, I was able to attend this year so I’ve got all the information you’ve been wanting to know. Keep reading and I’ll let you know my impressions of the 3DS hardware, and how some of the biggest 3DS titles feel in action, including Kid Icarus, Resident Evil Revalations, Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater, Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, and (of course) The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time 3D.

Look who I just happen to walk into on the way to Nintendo World. Mr. Tezuka and Mr. Miyamoto! They were walking towards their hotel, but were kind enough to let me take a picture with them.

The Hardware

Coming in to the show, I had a lot of reservations about the 3DS. Ever since Nintendo’s announcement that their newest handheld would be in 3D, I’ve been highly skeptical about the system, and worried that it would just be a gimmick ridden platform. I’ve wondered how well the 3D actually works on the system, and how functional switching between 2D and 3D is. I’ve been afraid that the sweet spot for the 3D effect would make it difficult to be able to enjoy the 3DS any place where you are moving, like on the train, the place I play my DS the most.

I also have been worried about how the 3DS feels in hand, because from shots I had seen of the new button layout, the d-pad looked like its new position in the bottom corner of device would make it awkward to use. If you have had any of the same worries, let me (mostly) put your fears to rest.

When I first laid my hands on the system (for the Resident Evil demo), it felt like I was embracing my lover after a long separation, one who had come back looking prettier and acting sexier than ever before. Oh, you have an analog stick now? You can do 3D? Your screen is bigger? Baby, how’d you know? What I mean is, the 3DS felt exactly like my trusty DSi in my hands, just improved in several ways, which is a very good thing.

The analog stick was very easy to use, and it felt very solid to the touch. Actually, with the exception of SSF IV, all of the games I played seemed to drop the d-pad entirely in favor of the analog stick. The analog stick is easier to use and has a better input method for most games you want to play anyway. (I had always wondered why it had not been a part of the original DS hardware setup in the first place.) An analog stick was something the DS had been sorely lacking, and it just felt right having it on the 3DS.

As for the new position of the d-pad, I did find it somewhat awkward to have to put my thumb in the corner of the device while trying to input commands with the stylus, which I held in the other hand. I could see this potentially being a frustration for people with larger hands.

Now, on to what you really want to hear about: the 3D functionality. Let me tell you, that is exactly what it is: functional. Like I said, I was highly skeptical before I got some one-on-one time with the system, but all of my fears about the 3D have been laid to rest. The 3D just works. It really is simply amazing. During my first demo with the device, I instantly turned from jaded, negative core gamer to that gamer I used to be all those years ago who could still feel the magic in gaming. My mouth was on the floor, and it stayed there for the majority of the day.

I don’t want to oversell the 3D here because, since it is glasses free 3D, it is not as intense of an effect as the one you experience with active shutter glasses when watching 3D movies. However, it was still definitely 3D, and definitely cool. The effect, as you may have read elsewhere, is more of a depth effect than a pop out at you effect. It felt like I was looking into a shoebox or through a tiny window.

The big caveat of the system though (besides the unfortunate recent news about the fairly abysmal battery life), was the sweet spot. For every game I played, I rotated the system in order to see how the viewing works from all angles, and I have to say that the sweet spot could definitely be a potential frustration for players. As you rotate the system left and right out of direct view, you see a light to dark flashing effect similar to what you see when you turn holographic trading cards.

The 3D also becomes instantly less pronounced when you’re not viewing it from straight on. As you tilt the system towards you so that you see the screen from above, the 3D effect almost instantly breaks and the screen becomes a mess of incomprehinsible multiple images. Interestingly, when tilting the system away from you so that your viewing the screen from below, the 3D effect remained fairly consistent to a pretty healthy angle before it finally vanished. The sweet spot is a very real thing, and you definitely don’t want to leave it when playing the 3DS.

Another note is that on some games my eyes became fairly easily confused when there was a lot of movement on the screen, and I had to readjust my vision before the 3D worked again. The 3D to 2D control switch (which Nintendo is calling the “3D Volume” control) was an interesting setting to play with as I tested out the games. When I had the system tilted to an angle where the 3D was broken and I could not tell what was going on on the screen, switching to 2D instantly made the game viewable again.

In 2D the viewing was good from practically any angle. I did notice though, that contrary to what I had heard about the 3DS, the control was not so powerful that as I moved the control from 2D to 3D and vice-versa the screen remained clear and distinctly displayed the image at changing depths. It felt more like you could switch from a solid 2D image to a solid 3D image, but the in between was a jumble that was confusing for the eyes.

Now that I’ve played with it, I don’t believe that turning down the 3D so that it is less pronounced while still playing is a very viable play method: you either play it in 3D or 2D. With that said, though, the 3DS is trully an impressive piece of hardware that I think has strong potential to offer some amazing gaming experiences for gamers. This is, of course, up to the game makers and not just Nintendo, but with the already strong third party support the system has garnered, I can safely say that there are some pretty sweet things in store for the 3DS.

The Games

AR Games

AR, or Augmented Reality Games, is a really interesting new concept that is developing not just on the 3DS, but on high end smartphones, as well. Essentially, you use your device’s camera to look at the world around you, and a software program overlays some sort of interactive game that uses the environment.

It’s a blast to use, and I didn’t know Nintendo was planning on including this functionality into the 3DS, so I was pleasantly surprised. The way that Nintendo is implementing AR is by having you purchase special cards, and then when you aim your camera at the card while it is placed on a flat surface, a game will pop out of the card’s surface.

The demo game was a really impressive title that had you shooting at little targets on the table. It then made the section of the table that the card rested on disappear to reveal a hole where a dragon that you had to fight popped out. It was a lot of fun and really interactive. The dragon would make lunges at you with his claws or teeth, and you had to physically move back in order to avoid taking damage. If Nintendo aggresively prices these little card AR games (I would hope in the sub $10 range), then I think they have a hit on their hands.

Kid Icarus

For me personally, Kid Icarus stole the show. Not only am I a sucker for greek mythology or pseudo greek mythology, ever since Pit has been a playable character in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, I have wanted to see him in his own current gen adventure. Let me tell you, this game does not disappoint.

The demo was split up into flying sections and ground sections, and they were both really fun to play. At the start of the demo you could choose from different power-ups, such as circling orbs that would hover around you and fire extra bolts at enemies, or clawed gauntlets that improved your close quarters damage dealing.

During the flying section, it felt ever so slightly reminiscent of Panzer Dragoon. It was fun to maneuver Pit around the screen and shoot down enemies. The ground sequences have you running around, shooting enemies from a distance or attacking with your blades close up. There is a quick roll dodge system that will feel very familiar to God of War fans, and it is activated by flicking towards the direction you want to roll. The analog stick controls Pit’s movements, the stylus is used to control the on screen aimer, and the L button fires.

It was a pretty intuitive control system, but it woud be really hard to play without resting the 3DS on something while playing. Nintendo was aware of this, as this was the only demo where they provided chairs and you had to leave the system sitting on the display stand while playing. This could be an issue for me, but dang was the game a blast to play.

The end of the demo had you controlling Pit as he took on Cerberus, in another small hero versus huge boss creature that has seem to become the standard in post-GoW action adventure games these days. All in all, the game was really fun to play, the graphics were crisp, the 3D was fairly pronounced, and I left feeling confident that this would be a big seller for the system.

Kingdom Hearts 3D

There were several titles that were viewable on 3DSs displayed in recesses in a long wall that were running trailers and gameplay of upcoming titles. One of those games was Kingdom Hearts 3D. It had looped footage of Sora running around on the starter island from the first game, but it looked smooth as butter and the 3D was fairly pronounced. I have high hopes for this game, and can’t wait to get my hands on a playable form sometime soon.

Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater

This was probably the game I was most curious to see in action. Man, did Konami deliver.

The demo was not really a gameplay demo as it was a game engine demo. I controlled the camera as Snake was crawling through tall grass, and various things popped out of the screen, such as a snake, birds, and bees. There was also a sequence with some bad guys, and the models were impressively detailed. The 3D effect was really pronounced in the game for the things that were designed to utilize the 3D.

However, there was a sequence where Snake is edging along a cliff and helicopters fly by — the helicopters had the 3D effect, but all of the landscape behind the helicopters was completely flat. It was from Snake’s view looking off of the edge, and there is a forest in the distance, but for some reason nothing behind the helicopters had a 3D effect, so it was like there were 3D helicopters and then a wall of flat animation behind them. It created a really fake, disappointing effect that kind of ruined the coolness of the rest of the demo. I’m hoping that this was a bug or something that will be fixed, and not something Konami allowed intentionally, because it really killed the feel of the game.

Besides that, the rest of the demo was pretty impressive. I can’t wait to hear “Snake? Snake! Snaaaakeeee!!!” from my 3DS. (Not that I’m looking forward to dying, but I want to hear Otacon yelling from my 3DS. Is that wierd?)

Nintendogs +Cats

Alright, I love football. I love action movies. I love westerns. I definitely love to look at explosions. However, I found myself loving those cute little fluff balls running around on my screen.

The demo let me choose from three preset dog and cat combinations. I chose the puppy husky and some cat (maybe a tabby? I’m not a cat person so I don’t really know or care). Anyway, the demo showed that there have definitely been graphical improvements on the animal models since the last iteration, and the pets and toys moved really fluidly and realistically.

You are in looking into a room just like previous versions of the game, but it was really cool on the 3DS because the depth 3D made it really seem like you were looking into the animals’ play room. You can dress them up, pet them, play with them, and all of the other fun stuff that you can do with a real pet, without any of the shedding or pooping! Sometimes I wonder if this game series gives kids unrealistic pet expectations like all of my ex-girlfriends say Disney movies gave them unrealistic expectations of love. Hmmmm.

Anyway, a neat feature that the booth companion pointed out to me was that when you call one of your pets to you, if you put your face towards the screen, your pet will “see” you through the camera and show its affection by licking you, pawing at you, or other doing other darn cute things. This game was really cute and decently entertaining. I’m betting fans of the series will enjoy it.

Resident Evil Revelations

In the graphics department, Resident Evil easily took the cake. The demo had you controlling Jill as she wandered the tight corridors of a ship at sea. The dynamic lighting and shading engine that Capcom is using to run this game made it a treat for the eyes, and it honestly looked hands down better than anything else at the show.

Jonathan Holmes, you can rest easy about the control system. While you can run around, all of the zombie encounters were in closed, tight scenarios where running was useless, and when you bring up your sights to aim at the zombies, the speed at which you could move your aimer was painfully slow. It was also not easy to simultaneously strafe. In other words, the controls are just as annoying and claustriphobia inducing (at least in my case) as always!

The zombie character models were gorgoeus though, and I found myself letting them come up and gnawing on Jill’s neck so I could get a closer look at them. (Sorry, Jill!). The environment was similarly detailed and, in combination with the 3D, made it the most immersive eight minutes I’ve ever experienced on a handheld.

By the way, the 3D in Resident Evil was one of the most pronounced of the games on demo. Man, I hope that Capcom licenses out whatever magic it is using to make this game look so good, or that other developers catch up, because… man. Butter, just butter.

Resident Evil Mercenaries 3D

While not a floor demo, during the Resident Evil presentation, a Capcom employee gave a gameplay demo live from the stage. I have never played a RE: Mercenaries game before, so I’m not really sure how they are supposed to look/feel, but the demo made it look decently fun. I imagine this is the sort of thing with a pretty dedicated fan base that isn’t really going to expand or shrink based on this release. The map was in an African village setting from Resident Evil 5, and the player was able to choose different characters and mow down as many “zombies” as he could within a time limit. Special crystals gave time extensions. I couldn’t judge the graphics or 3D since it was blown up on a giant screen, but the graphics weren’t horrible or even bad on the big screen, so I imagine the game will probably look equally as impressive as Revelations when it is shrunk down onto the 3DS’s screen.

Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition

This game was a mixed bag for me. Capcom is doing a lot of cool things with this release, like 3DS exclusive costumes, a new figurine collection system, a dynamic over-the-shoulder-esque camera mode, 3D implementation (duh), and new local/internet multiplayer features like local sensing of other SSF players, letting you challenge them or watch their matches.

Graphically, the game is now a little more cel-shadded than its console brethren, but not much more so, and it actually feels right for a handheld release. (I’d imagine Capcom did this to improve system performance, but I can’t say for sure.) The new camera mode, which is called Dynamic mode, hovers behind and slightly above the player’s character in an almost over-the-shoulder view, but it is a little further back and more to the side than what I would consider tradititional over-the-shoulder. From the amount of time I was able to spend with it, the camera did not make fighting any more difficult or confusing. In fact, I rather enjoyed it since it made me feel more like I “was” my character (Hakan FTW, suckas).

The biggest change for the game though, and what possibly ruins it for me, is the addition of preset button mapping to the touch screen. The touch screen has four buttons, which include your character’s super and ultra combos and a couple specials. Once your bars are charged enough, the buttons light up to tell you that you can use them. Then, all you have to do is press the button, and your character instantly does his or her super or ultra. I don’t know about you, but for me, part of the skill in the SSF series in general is being able to pull off the moves.

The fact that Capcom made the moves that are the most difficult for almost all of the characters just one button press breaks the system for me. It just felt too easy, and therefore “casual” (one of the worst words I can think of that you could call a fighting game). The game has essentially been reduced to a button mashing match until the first character’s super or ultra meter fills, and then they just tap a button and the fight is over. Maybe I am being pessimistic and this system can work, but I’ll have to see it to believe it. Otherwise, the game was cool to see running on a handheld.

The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time 3D

Hey Jim from 10 years ago, you can play Ocarina of Time on a handheld. Yeah, I know. Need I say more? This title sums up the game. It’s the same game we all know and love, just in a portable, 3D package.

I got to play the deku tree sequence, which brought back memories (skulltulas used to make me poop my pants). A cool feature they implemented is going into first-person mode to do things like use the slingshot or hookshot. The accelerometer in the 3DS makes it so that, instead of having to drag your stylus on the screen to look around or use the analog stick, you just physically turn with the system in your hands and Link’s view turns with you. It was a really cool and immersive effect. It was a little hard to aim like that though, so I wouldn’t want to have to rely on it in a first-person shooter game, but for the occasional use it helped pull me into the game. I can see this getting some pretty strange looks from people in public though.

I will say that, out of all of the games I played, Ocarina of Time had the least pronounced 3D. For the majority of the time I didn’t even think the game was displaying 3D, but sure enough, it was. I would have thought that an in-house developed title would utilize the 3D effect the best, but I was surprisingly let down. Hopefully it was just because of the section of the game I was in, or something unique to the demo or 3DS unit I was using, because man, if that is how the game looks at retail, there are gonna be some sad kids.

Winning Eleven 3DSoccer

Not a huge sports game fan, but the line to play was short, so I thought what the heck. I actually found myself pleasantly surprised at how fun the game was, after I figured out the controls. The 3D effect was really pronounced in the demo, with the passes and shots coming in and out of the screen. The gameplay is probably the same to nearly every other soccer game out there, so if that is your cup of tea, then now you’ve got one on the 3DS. Cool.

Wrap up

With the recent announcement from Nintendo that there would only be 4 million units available for the first month (with 1.5 staying inside Japan), there is likely to be a frenzy trying to pick one of these bad boys up. Whenever you get a chance, you should try one out, and then see for yourself if you don’t revert back to your inner child like I did!

I hope you are as excited about the 3DS as I am. The 3D is legit. The third party support is there. The Nintendo wizards have seemingly done it again (except for that dang battery). Now all that is left to do is hear a price, and wait!

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