Almost Here: The Nintendo 3DS Arrives Sunday March 27

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The Nintendo 3DS is nearly here, a two-screen flip-top handheld that lets you play games in true 3D without bulky glasses or other odd-fitting headgear. Nintendo's handheld already went on sale February 26 in Japan, then on Friday March 25 in Europe, and it finally celebrates its U.S. launch this Sunday, March 27.

[ Our Nintendo 3DS Review ]

The midnight launch parties at stores nationwide should start rocking tonight at 12:00am Eastern time, followed by stores swinging their doors wide tomorrow during customary hours. Nintendo has a thing for Sunday launches, and while that's always felt a little anticlimactic to me (the day before most of us return to the grind) anyone who manages to snag a 3DS in the wee hours Sunday morning would probably attest to the upsides of having the Sunday sleep-in cushion.

If you're looking for help coming up with the $250 Nintendo's asking for the system alone, stores are offering various trade-in deals, though they vary wildly.

Walmart says it'll knock $100 off a new 3DS if you bring in an older DS unit with AC adapter. If for some reason you have two, say a DSi and DS Lite, Walmart will let you trade them both for a max total of $200 back. Check your state, though. For some reason Walmart's only offering the deal in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and South Carolina. The deal's good from March 27 through April 30.

Target's also offering a trade-in deal, though it's considerably less attractive. Partnering with online pawnshop NextWorth, Target says it'll offer $20 for a DS, $30 for a DS Lite, $45 for a DSi, and $60 for a DSXL. The deal's good at some 900 Target stores nationwide (just bring your systems in and they'll swap you for store credit on the spot),with plans to expand that to 1,450 stores by June.

GameStop's offering its usual trade-in incentives, though again, they're not quite as sweet as Walmart's. If you have a DSi XL, you can score $100 in store credit toward a 3DS, $75 for a DSi, and $50 for a DS Lite. They'll of course take any games you care to trade, too.

Amazon's deals are about the same as GameStop's: A DSi XL gets you a $100 gift card, a DSi $75, or a DS Lite $50. Simply buying a 3DS through Amazon gets you $25 toward several handheld's launch games. You'll also receive a promotional credit for an accessory.

Kmart's deals are back to "ho-hum"--a trifling $25 off a 3DS game when you buy a 3DS system.

Toys R Us will give you up to $75 credit for a Nintendo DS, the key phrase being "up to." How much you'll actually get is left to the discretion of the store--the $75 is probably for systems in tip-top shape.

Should you buy one at launch? The answer's really another question: Do you care if most of the launch games aren't worth the $40 a pop Nintendo's asking?

If you buy a 3DS this weekend, you're buying a promise to do better. Most of the launch games feel underdeveloped and oversimplified. The system has serious battery troubles (3 to 5 hours maximum per charge), grainy 0.3-megapixel cameras, and a fairly unforgiving 3D-mode (move your head more than 10 degrees in any direction and the effect gets garbled).

But it's hard to fault the hardware as the weak launch link. It's not as clean-lined as the DSi, but it is notably lighter. The new user interface seems better thought out, and preinstalled apps like the Activity Log, Friend List, and Mii Plaza dovetail with features like StreetPass (wirelessly exchange data with other nearby 3DS users) and SpotPass (hop onto wireless hotspots to download software and videos). And when the 3D effect works, it makes the 3DS's tiny 3.53-inch top screen feel wider and deeper--games look less ragged, and objects have cleaner lines.

Enough to tease $250 out of your purse or wallet? Maybe, maybe not, but we'll definitely remember the 3DS's launch for all it shares with most system rollouts: Lots of potential, little of it (yet) realized.

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