Friday, July 29, 2011

IT'S ALIVE!! ... and in 3D!!

So the big bit of video game news going around this week has to be Nintendo's surprise announcement that, less than six months after the retail debut of the 3DS, the portable system will be getting a hefty price cut come August 12th.  For gamers in the US, the 3DS price will drop from $249.99 to $169.99, a whopping savings of $80.  To put that in a little more perspective, if you were to rush out right now and pick yourself up a DSi XL from Best Buy, you'd be paying the same amount as you would if you wait just a couple more weeks for some glasses-free 3D action.

That's kind of a big deal, but that's not all ...

So what about those of us "early adopters" who decided to pick up the 3DS at launch?  Is Nintendo giving us a great big middle finger ... in 3D?  Actually, no.  If you have picked up a 3DS prior to midnight on August 12th (that's 11:59p on Aug. 11th, for those checking their clocks) and logged into the system's eShop at least once, you're automatically going to be registered into Nintendo's "Ambassador" program.

What exactly does that mean?  Well, here's the explanation straight from Nintendo:
1. Starting Sept. 1, Nintendo 3DS Ambassadors will be able to download 10 NES™ Virtual Console™ games at no charge and before they are available in the Nintendo eShop to the general public. These games, including Super Mario Bros.™, Donkey Kong Jr.™, Balloon Fight™, Ice Climber™ and The Legend of Zelda™, are slated to become paid downloadable games, but Ambassadors get them early for free. Once the paid versions of the games are posted to the Nintendo eShop later in the year, the updated versions will be available to Ambassadors for download at no cost.

2. By the end of 2011, Nintendo will provide Ambassadors with 10 Game Boy Advance Virtual Console games. These include games like Yoshi's Island™: Super Mario™ Advance 3, Mario Kart™: Super Circuit, Metroid™ Fusion, WarioWare™, Inc.: Mega Microgame$ and Mario vs. Donkey Kong™. These games will be available exclusively to Ambassadors, and Nintendo currently has no plans to make these 10 games available to the general public on the Nintendo 3DS in the future.
So basically, if you've already picked up a 3DS (or plan to before the price drop), Nintendo plans to load you up with no less than 20 free classic games. Seems like a pretty good deal to me, actually.  You want to know why?  Because, to be perfectly honest, I still think I've gotten my money's worth out of the system after having paid the original price.

Okay, let me start off by saying that the whole "glasses-free 3D" is a pretty nifty (yeah, I said "nifty") little gimmick.  I do like the way it can add some depth to the portable experience.  BUT, much like a deep fried Twinkie, I don't want it all the time.  In fact, there are some times when the overall experience is actually better WITHOUT the 3D on at all.  Don't believe me?  Go check out Dead or Alive: Dimensions sometime (it's probably still running in the demo unit at your nearest retailer).  Sure, the game is fun with the 3D on, punching, kicking, and throwing in a nice, 3D 30 frames per second.  But turn off the 3D and that puppy runs at a smooth 60fps, looking every bit as good as DoA4 on the Xbox 360.

See, while the 3D is fun, it's not the main reason I like my 3DS.  What people don;t seem to realize is that the 3DS is more than just ... well ... a DS with 3D.   Things like the StreetPass and SpotPass features give me a reason to carry the system around with me.  I'll admit it ... for a while, I was tweaking out my team of figures in Super Street Fighter IV 3D and heading to stores just looking to swap data with people.  It's goofy, sure, but it's fun.  And in Dead or Alive: Dimensions, it's always cool to fire up the game and see what new costumes or Showdown matches have downloaded since the last time I played.  Even the Play Coins, earned by just carrying the system with you when you walk, have earned me some fun little goodies in games like LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars and Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D.

Right now, though, one of my favorite features has got to be the ability to watch Netflix through my 3DS.  Yeah, I know a lot of laptops, phones, tablets, etc. also offer a portable way to watch Netflix, but I don't necessarily feel like dragging my laptop or even a tablet everywhere I go. And as far as my phone? Umm, yeah. I'm a journalist/writer so I'm usually using my phone to actually ... well ... communicate.  Nothing's worse than trying to watch a movie than to have to go back and forth with texts, emails, or phone calls interrupting every five minutes. With the 3DS, I can just pop the system into my pocket and, in my downtime, hook up to a wifi signal and watch a quick show or two.  And let's not forget that there's still the very real likelihood of Netflix offering streaming of 3D movies.  With the number of Netflix enabled 3D televisions out there, it's a matter of "sooner" rather than "later".

Even with all of this, I've glossed over other features like the (admittedly lower resolution) 3D camera, the music player, the eShop for downloadable games, backwards compatibility with the DS, the new Nintendo Video, and the Nintendo Zone stuff.  The fact is, the 3DS is a pretty strong piece of hardware and well worth its price ... especially after the price drop takes effect in a couple of weeks.

Now, as much as I'm gushing over the 3DS, I'm not blind.  The system has its share of flaws.  Aside from things like a wobbly hinge and low res camera, there's simply a matter of support for the platform.  I mean, where are the games?  Sure, there are some gems out there.  Super Street Fighter IV 3D. Dead or Alive: Dimensions. Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D.  But where are the other big breakouts?  I'm hoping (and I'm betting Nintendo is hoping as well) that with the price cut getting the 3DS into more gamers' hands, support for the console will ramp up accordingly from third party developers.

Who knows what the future has in store for the 3DS?  Will it overcome these growing pains and push forward as a strong, viable handheld gaming experience?  Or will it quietly fade into the sunset?  I don;t have the answer, but I sincerely hope it's the former.  The 3DS is a lot more than just a gimmick.  It's a solid piece of hardware that simply needs the opportunity to shine.  Here's hoping the upcoming price cut will do just that.

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