Nintendo's 3DS to Hit Japan in February, Elsewhere in March

Nintendo's 3DS, the first portable game device with a 3D screen, will go on sale in Japan on Feb. 26 next year, the company said Wednesday.

The 3DS will cost ¥25,000 (US$298), Satoru Iwata, Nintendo's president, told a packed news conference in Chiba, near Tokyo. It will launch in Europe, Australia and the U.S. in March. Precise details will be announced by local Nintendo subsidiaries at a later date. (A video of the announcement has been posted at YouTube.)

The device has a screen that doesn't require the user to wear 3D glasses. Instead, a filter over the display splits the on-screen image and sends slightly different images towards the user's right and left eyes, providing the illusion of depth.

The 3.5-inch 3D screen is in the upper half of the 3DS, while the lower display is a 3-inch touchscreen with no 3D capability. The upper screen can be turned from 3D to 2D mode with a small slider switch located to the right of the display.

Support for Nintendo's Mii avatars is included and the Mii Studio software makes designing an avatar in a user's likeness easy. Users just need snap a picture of themselves and the handheld will do the rest.

Other features include a "virtual console" game emulator for GameBoy and GameBoy Color titles.

Headline software titles for the 3DS will include Capcom's "Resident Evil: Revelations," Konami's "Metal Gear Solid Snake Eater," and Nintendo's "Nintendogs + cats." Other titles under development include "Street Fighter IV 3D edition," "Resident Evil: Mercenaries," "Ridge Racer 3D," "Dead or Alive Dimensions," and "Project Love Plus." (A video showing highlights from upcoming 3DS games has been posted at YouTube.)

The February launch means the 3DS will miss the year-end holiday sales period. That didn't happen with the original DS and the later DSi.

The launch date breaks with Nintendo's tradition, but that might not be a bad thing. Both Sony and Microsoft are planning to launch motion gaming systems in the final months of this year. An end-of-year launch would have meant all three games companies fighting for the attention of consumers. In February and March next year it should be considerably easier for the Nintendo to generate headlines and interest in the 3DS.

The launch schedule also means that gamers in Europe won't have to wait so long for the device. The European launch date has typically trailed that for Japan and the U.S. by several months, but that won't be the case this time around.

The DS was first launched in 2004 and has been revised several times. Nintendo had sold 132 million of the portable devices from the launch through June this year, but recently sales have been slipping. Between April and June this year, quarterly sales of the device dropped by almost half.

Nintendo is hoping the 3DS will revive interest in its the DS.

Martyn Williams covers Japan and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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