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The 3DS - It could be better...

When the 3DS was revealed at E3 2010, I have to admit I was highly impressed. As long as the 3D effect worked out, it seemed that it would have everything going for it. Now that I've had some time with the 3DS, it seems my faith was unwarranted.

The 3DS is capable of some very impressive visuals, as demonstrated by a nearly flawless emulation of Super Street Fighter 4, and despite my doubts the 3D effect itself works great. The controls perform adequately enough as well, so on a basic level the 3DS has everything a handheld needs. It doesn't hurt that for the most part it's a sleek and appealing little gadget, either. With that said, the 3DS has gotten off to a very rough start.

It's easy to see that the 3DS was released too soon and for too much, and the fact that the 3DS didn't have a must have title or even some of its most basic features at launch didn't help matters. Super Street Fighter 4 is the closest thing we got to a killer app at launch, and while it was impressive to play a PS3/360 game on the go, everyone knew what they were getting. To make matters even worse, the most anticipated game for the system was Ocarina of Time 3D, yet another game many of us have already played. There just wasn't a compelling reason to pay $250.00 for a 3DS.

Nintendo itself has acknowledged this and has lowered the price of the 3DS just four months after its launch to a much more attractive $169.99. For those of us that were on the fence this is fantastic news. For those of us who took the bait, Nintendo's efforts to compensate us-- and in their defense, there were at least efforts to compensate us-- will likely fall flat. I could go on and on about the Ambassadors Program, but suffice it to say that even if it would take more than eighty dollars to purchase the games individually, it doesn't quite compare to having a fatter wallet.

Unfortunately, the 3DS hardware itself is marred by a few physical problems as well. The stylus is stored at the mid left of the system, and removing it during gameplay usually requires me to stop what I'm doing and put the system down. While this is only a minor inconvenience, it does seem to be an unnecessary one since the DS lite's placement worked perfectly. I can't say I'm particularly fond of the cheap feeling 3D slider or the unresponsive power button either, and it doesn't help matters when after all these years Nintendo is still handling their serial numbers with a cheap sticker at the back of the unit.

Worst of all though is that the ridges surrounding the bottom screen actually scratch the top screen when everyday pressure is applied, such as keeping it in your pocket; and while I can't say for sure that this is a common problem I can say that I'm not the only one to experience it. I've already had to send my 3DS in for a new screen once, and despite my best efforts to stop this from happening it seems that I'll be sending it in again soon. Maybe it's just me, but a portable system that can't go in my pocket seems counter intuitive. The battery life is also nothing to write home about.

While obviously the 3DS is primarily a gaming device, it also offers a variety of other distractions, including the ability to take 3D photos, browse the Internet, and play music. Perhaps unsurprisingly at this point, none of these really end up being worthwhile. The biggest disappointment of course is the 3D photos. They absolutely work from a technical perspective, but with such a weak camera they can never be more than a novelty. Indeed, even many cell phones have cameras that are miles ahead of the 3DS.

To be fair, the Internet Browser is an improvement over its DSi counterpart and works well for simple things like checking email, but the lack of flash is a disappointment. While it may be unreasonable to expect Nintendo to add 3G to the 3DS, the fact remains that any moderately powered smartphone is going to be a better choice for internet on the go. And to its credit, the 3DS does fare better as a music player, complaints with the interface aside it seems to perform adequately if perhaps underwhelmingly. Noticeably absent however is the ability to watch 3D movies. Nintendo has been silent about this ever since the 3DS was revealed at E3'10, so for now I guess we'll have to stick that into the ever growing pile of Nintendo's empty promises.

Central to the online experience for any 3DS owner is the eShop. In almost every single way it is an improvement over the DSi version, but it suffers from one crippling flaw. The payment system for all of Nintendo's eShop adventures has been horrible, requiring users to purchase points in set intervals instead of just letting us pay for the games directly. As bad as that is, they've somehow managed to make it even worse here.

Before, tax for the transactions were handled when you bought your points, so a 1200 point game would come out of the 2000 points you bought earlier, leaving you with 800 points that could be used to purchase another title. Not so for the 3DS. Now tax is applied after you buy your points, so if you add $10.00 and buy an $8.00 game, you'll now be left with $1.32 that you can't do anything with. I can't help but feel this is some sort of scam. If a game costs $12.00, why can't I just give you $12.00? Most uncool, Nintendo.

Perhaps the worst thing about it is that even conceptually the 3DS is flawed. The 3D effect is nice, but it essentially undoes all the positive effects the original DS had on gaming. While admittedly the DS' bottom screen was rarely used creatively, when it was the results were fantastic. The lack of 3D coupled with the apparent lower processing power makes the idea of putting the main image on the bottom screen a laughable one. I don't see highly unique experiences such as The World Ends With You, Kirby: Canvas Curse, and Phantom Hourglass working well on the 3DS, and that's a shame.

As I said, the 3DS has everything it needs to be a successful system. It looks like it's going to have a great holiday lineup and at $169.99 it's a much better buy. Indeed, many of my complaints can be fixed with the inevitable "3DS lite" or even system updates. That said, I can't help but wonder if the 3DS was a mistake.