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Nintendo 3DS: First Impressions

Maybe you're planning on waiting in line for a Nintendo 3DS on March 27th. Maybe you're simply planning on waiting until the dust settles and the hype dies down before you decide whether or not to buy one. Either way, you'll want to read on for our first impressions of Nintendo's latest and greatest.

In Video: Nintendo 3DS Unboxing

Nintendo 3DS Setup

The first thing you're going to do with a Nintendo 3DS is go through the setup wizard. (Thankfully, it's brief, so you can start playing pretty quickly.) You start by configuring the upper screen, which can display a 3D image--just put your head in front of the 3DS, facing it straight-on, and adjust the 3D image slider on the right-hand side to tweak the "3D-ness" of the Nintendo logo. Don't be shy--you'll probably be adjusting this on a game-by-game basis.

[Read: PCWorld's review of the Nintendo 3DS]

Next, you'll set up a brief user profile, though it's nothing more than a name, birthday, and geographical region. If you have access to a Wi-Fi network, you can also set it up at this point. Like the Nintendo DSi, it supports various flavors of WPA2 encryption, so you won't have to risk your network security to get your 3DS online.

Unless you're itching to dive into the action, though, you'll probably want to set up your Mii--Nintendo's cartoony avatar that'll show up intermittently in 3DS apps. Unlike the Nintendo Wii's Mii creator, you can actually use the camera to give yourself an easy starting point--the 3DS will ask you to position your face, take a picture, then find the closest available Mii features that match. (You can also start from scratch, if you like, but that's no fun.) Do your hair, maybe add some glasses, and bam--you're in your 3DS.

By now, you're probably itching to try some games. I sure was. So I cracked open the four launch games I had--Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, Pilotwings Resort, Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars, and Madden Football--and spent a little time getting to know them.

Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition

I'm a huge Street Fighter fan, so I was looking forward to quality time with Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition. I had a few minutes of game time with SSFIV3D at a recent Capcom promo event, but wasn't able to delve as deeply as I would've liked.

In short: Very impressive. Porting over Street Fighter is a tricky proposition for a few reasons, since it's designed to be played with a traditional arcade joystick controller and a nice big screen--neither of which you'll get with the Nintendo 3DS. Nonetheless, the controls work surprisingly well. The online play worked splendidly (in fact, it was even easier to find a low-lag match on the 3DS than it is on Xbox Live, though this might be because the 3DS isn't for sale yet), and the game played more or less like its big brother on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

SSFIV 3D takes advantage of the 3D display in two ways. The flashier application is the 3D game mode, which plays and controls exactly the same as the standard game mode, except that your point of view is now over the shoulder of your character, rather than perpendicular to both fighters. It's certainly an interesting look, and fun to play around with, but it takes some getting used to, and veteran players won't be able to gauge distances or block quite as accurately. There's a separate multiplayer mode for the 3D fights, so you won't be matched up with someone who's playing in the regular mode (thankfully).

The 3D actually comes into play subtly in the standard perpendicular fight viewing mode, and it actually looked pretty good. The problem with taking a fighting game designed for a big screen and shrinking it down for the 3DS is that you're forced to change the player's perspective slightly. On a big screen, you can have visually engaging, complicated background scenes as well as big characters with detailed models. On a small screen, you can either keep the characters big but shrink the background, or zoom out so you can see the background but make the characters tiny. The 3D screen on the 3DS uses the 3D perspective to effectively let you do both--the characters are big and easy to see, but the backgrounds are still detailed. The 3D screen essentially makes the game better, something you can't say about some of the rest of these games.

Pilotwings Resort

After dishing out some punishment in SSFIV3D, I was ready to play something more relaxing. Enter Pilotwings Resort. We've already teased a bit of a pre-release footage from Pilotwings Resort in our previous hands-on video. Check it out below:

In Video: Nintendo 3DS Hands-On Preview

The Pilotwings series has always been about the joy (and in some cases, frustration) of flight, and Pilotwings Resort is no exception. After a quick tutorial mode, I was cruising around Wuhu Island in a plane, hang glider, or rocket belt (kind of like a jet pack). I played a few easy training missions that taught me some basic flying skills with each of the vehicles, then I was off to free flight mode, where I could cruise around to my heart's content.

Pilotwings Resort isn't for everyone, but it does put the 3DS's 3D capabilities to the test--after all, the game is about moving freely in a 3D space, and that means it needs to look and feel good. Unfortunately, the first thing I had to do was turn the 3D slider down to about 40%--any higher and I was seeing double, which almost gave me a headache. Once I did, the 3D image looked a bit more tame, which made the game far more playable (your mileage may vary).

Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars

If you took your favorite Star Wars moments and rendered them in Lego blocks, you'd take them much less seriously. That's basically what the Lego Star Wars series does--you play through Lego versions of classic Star Wars set pieces, carving up enemy robots with your lightsaber and scattering Lego blocks to and fro. The Clone Wars continues this tradition on the 3DS as well as the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii.

Multiplatform releases like The Clone Wars typically don't take advantage of a game console's unique features, since they need to be designed with multiple systems in mind. In the first few sections I played, the touchscreen wasn't used much, and the 3D effect was rather subtle--blaster shots would pop out a bit, and powerups and coins popped out a little bit more. It looked good, just not great. I also noticed a few slowdown moments--perhaps due to loading or simply too much onscreen action--which I didn't see in the 3DS-exclusive titles. Nonetheless, it's a fun, if 3D-simple take on an action game for all ages.

Madden Football

Desktops Editor Nate Ralph wrestled the 3DS out of my hands just in time to play Madden Football. If you're worried that a possible NFL strike will leave you desperate for your gridiron fix, Madden Football will probably scratch your itch, but won't wow series connoisseurs.

Nate's impression was that it played like your average modern football game, which isn't surprising, since Madden is undoubtedly the gold standard for football games. It seems a little silly that Madden Football wasn't designed to take advantage of the 3DS hardware more, though. Why call an audible play with the L button when you have a perfectly usable built-in mic? An option for this would've been nice. He also found that the directional pad and analog stick weren't placed very well for left-handers, which made in-game stylus use a bit harder to come to grips with.

The 3DS's relatively strong processor and graphics chip shone in Madden Football, and Nate noted that it was nice to play on a Nintendo DS without feeling like the system was underpowered and couldn't handle a port of a modern console game. On the other hand, Madden Football's 3D effect wasn't particularly impressive. The players popped significantly off the field, but it wasn't quite the killer app we were hoping for.

That's all for now. Stay tuned for PCWorld's full review, and feel free to ask questions in the article comments below!

Patrick Miller covers HDTVs, How-Tos, and the occasional game for PCWorld. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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