Nintendo 3DS Hardware and Feature Roundup - Japanese Launch

Nintendo's DS successor hits the streets in Japan, but does it live up to expectations?


Expectations around the Nintendo 3DS have been sky-high since the hardware was announced at last year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. The new portable system's glasses-less 3D display and unique array of games have garnered it a great deal of attention. The system has just been released in Japan, and we've had the opportunity to spend some extended time with it to see if it delivers on the positive initial impression it made on us when we first saw it.

What's in the Box

The aqua blue 3DS.
The aqua blue 3DS.

The Nintendo 3DS has shipped in two colors in Japan: cosmo black and aqua blue. Each Japanese unit comes with a 3DS, a charging cradle, an AC adapter, a new telescoping stylus, a 1 gigabyte SD memory card, and a package containing six AR (augmented reality) cards that work in tandem with the 3DS's built-in cameras. Five of the AR cards react with the cameras to bring the simple 2D images of Nintendo mascots to 3D life, while the sixth lets you call up a shooting minigame. In addition, the system has a few other game applications preinstalled. It should also be noted that the 3DS has no language selector in any of its menus, making it difficult for non-Japanese speakers to navigate its menus.

Look and Feel

Overall the 3DS has a great deal in common with its predecessors, namely the DSi. The unit retains the same familiar form factor, albeit with some minor cosmetic tweaks that haven't changed much since the last time we saw it. The dual-screen system now has a larger, wider top screen that is more in line with a traditional widescreen form factor. In addition, a slider has been added to the right side of the screen to let you customize the unit's 3D effect. The stylus is now a telescoping accessory that rests next to the cartridge slot. A new analog slider is on hand to supplement the unit's directional pad for controlling characters. The headphone jack has been centered along the bottom side of the unit, and a dedicated wireless switch lets you toggle the 3DS's wireless connectivity on and off. The front-facing set of buttons offer a pleasing amount of spring, as does the directional pad, making the system very robust for games such as Super Street Fighter IV 3D. Overall the system fits well in your hand and offers a solid play experience regardless of your skill level. That said, the 3DS has a set range of working viewing angles that you may find challenging to work around.

Built-In Features

Like the DSi and, to a lesser extent, the two DS iterations that came before it, the 3DS comes with a variety of software apps and pseudo-games loaded directly onto the system. Notable for longtime DS owners, however, is what's missing from the software lineup: Pictochat. If you were longing to repeat the halcyon days of late-2004 when you and some friends would get together and write vulgar messages to one another on your DS Phat, we're afraid that's no longer an option.

3DS AR cards.
3DS AR cards.

In Pictochat's place, however, are a number of more technologically advanced applications. One you've likely heard a lot about is the augmented reality feature, which lets you read specialized "AR cards" that come with the system in order to turn your living room into the backdrop for an honest-to-goodness video game. You can also use these cards to make familiar Nintendo mascots pose for photos. We managed to take the Mario card and the Kirby card and then position them in such a way that it looked as though Mario were kicking Kirby straight in the face, at which point we taught Mario a lesson and dropped the Samus card down to make it look like she was shooting Mario in the back of the head with her arm cannon.

The system also features a sound editor and a photo editor very similar to those found on the DSi. The primary difference here is the ability to take 3D photos in the photo editor. The system comes with two rear-facing cameras that, when processed together, produce a 3D image. The image quality isn't great, and if you're used to snapping photos on a modern digital camera or smartphone, it looks downright grainy. But the 3D effect is still pretty neat and adds a nice bit of novelty to your amateur photography.

Another included application is the Mii editor, which supports the camera to allow for fully automated Mii-making in your own image. It's not exactly uncanny valley territory, however, because the Mii character options are more or less on par with the Wii, though the camera does a fine job of distilling your facial features into a very basic caricature. From there, you can take your Mii into a variety of scenarios, including the aforementioned AR games, as well as a suite of Mii-focused minigames in the Mii Plaza app.

Finally, one of the other notable hardware features is the ability to do some light multitasking. On the DSi, you could tap the power button to return to the home screen on command, but doing so would force you to lose any progress in the game you were currently playing. With the 3DS, however, tapping the home button will send you back to the home screen, but it will let you navigate the home menu and still be able to jump back into the last game you were in with your progress maintained. Unfortunately, the system doesn't support true multitasking, because you can't juggle between two or more games or applications. So if you're currently playing Nintendogs and you suddenly want to take a picture in the photo app without losing your progress, you're simply out of luck.

Final Thoughts

How far can these games carry the 3DS?
How far can these games carry the 3DS?

In its current state, the 3DS is a very promising little system. When your eyes are locked onto the screen, the 3D effect looks great. Moreover, it's a powerful piece of hardware as well, with games such as Professor Layton and the Mask of the Miracle moving that series into new polygonal territory with great success, and Winning Eleven Soccer 3D rendering player faces with terrific authenticity. It is, on a basic level, a well-made system that has a lot of potential.

But potential can get you only so far, because the current selection of games doesn't take full advantage of everything this system has to offer. The current selection of games hints at a bright future for new features such as augmented reality and Street Pass, but doesn't really paint them as must-have selling points for the system. And while certain games look great in 3D, none of them convince you that 3D is a technology that can change and add significant value to the way you play a particular game.

In the end, seeing what the 3DS has to offer upon its initial launch reminds us a lot of another portable handheld right after its release: the Nintendo DS. When that system came out back in 2004, it flashed brilliant potential but few must-have titles. But you know how that story ends, because the DS has gone on to become a phenomenal success with a vast library of games that have proven that the touch screen is a valuable addition to the world of gaming. The 3DS could certainly be headed in that direction, but only time will tell if its various features will get it there.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email

Join the conversation
There are 122 comments about this story
122 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for Zelseisdabest

People dont realize for every generation Nintendo always sets the bar and surpasses the competition i mean sure the wii isnt as powerful as Ps3 or 360 but it sold more units for the fact that it was accessable and the motion controls; (how long did it take Sony and Microsoft to get some sort of motion control?) the 3DS shows once again Nintendo can outdo anyone Ps3 glass for 3D 360 glass for 3D 3DS no glasses...seems Nintendo spits in the competitions face everytime....and smiles about it

Avatar image for b20blazer

Nintendo 3DS

Avatar image for Buzzkill1001

sorry I mean PSP2 which does not have 3D.

Avatar image for Buzzkill1001

@me_da_do. kind of defeats the point in having a 3DS if you ask me. You might as well stick with your current DS or DSi whatever you have or wait for the PSP2 which does have 3D. Me I love the 3d on the 3ds so I deff will be buying for that feature. Long Live Nintendo

Avatar image for ronnieo54

Ocarina of Time 3d. enough said.

Avatar image for dawnofhero

Can you imagine the possibilities with the AR technology? You could play Smash Bros on your kitchen table with all your mail and other junk as props. It's just like in the first Smash Bros game when the characters were placed on the kid's desk before they came to life...

Avatar image for Nymphodora

I tried the 3DS today during a special event and it is awesome!!! It is a lot more than just a gimmick, when playing on the 3DS the 3D is so close to reality and so well made that I forgot I was using the 3DS! I felt like being part of the game and looking at the game's world through a window. Sure I am buying it on release!!!

Avatar image for me_da_do

The graphics on the 3DS look awesome. 3D will make me sick though so I will wait for a price drop and play in 2D and hope they will offer all GBC and GBA Pokemon games(with the ability to transfer Pokemon) on their e-shop as well as other great RPGs for decent prices. Here is hoping : )

Avatar image for cspark809

I remembered when nintendo released first ds and gamespot was skeptical about its success.

Avatar image for UNDEADxSPARTAN

The 3DS looks good and I'll buy it but why do all the good games have to come out later. Like The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, Resident Evil The Mercenaries, and Star Fox 64 are coming out later this year :(. So the launch games disapoint me some what

Avatar image for contraigon

As much as I love my DS, I can't wait for the 3DS!! It's gonna be EPIC!!!!!!

Avatar image for omsuhos

Why must I have to wait till end of June. I hope a get a good report card. I wish.......

Avatar image for sickorange

i want one, but it seems i have to save up a whole lot for this

Avatar image for Flint247

Day 1 purchase. I prepared since June 2010, so no excuse! :D

Avatar image for boctober

I have done so much investigating into the 3DS. Watching videos and reading articles. Just seems to be another gimmick from Nintendo. The Street Pass feature is a good idea. But, thinking this will not work hardly at all in America. Then, the games that comes with the system are so mediocre. After I bought my DS, it just seemed like another gaming system for single player games and the multiplayer was a joke. Not really seeing the $250.00 worth and $40.00 games worth here.

Avatar image for papereat

yes u can except for gb

Avatar image for ryzrocks

can I play ds games on this

Avatar image for EB1089

I don't know why so many sites are critical of the 3DS's small library that isn't very indicative of the system's features: it's brand-spanking new. Of course the games aren't going to be phenomenal or really show off the hardware just yet. Around this same time next year, I'm sure we'll all be marveling at 3DS w/ridiculous graphics and even crazier gameplay elements that debunk myths of the 3D being a "gimmick." The only thing I'd say Nintendo can improve on is the battery but that's something that time will fix. They consistently improved battery life throughout the original DS line's lifespan. Here's to the 3DS!

Avatar image for felipehelloween

Interactivity was already the strength of DS, in the spectacular 3DS became incredible. I am very eager to try this new portable from the Big N.

Avatar image for Wormkid_64

@ Gelugon_baat I agree about the use of the 3D.Miyamoto has said what he wants to do with it. He wants to use it to make moving around in 3D space more intuitive.Ever play Mario Galaxy 1 or 2? Sometimes running around in that 3D space it can be tough to get a good perspective on the distance of a jump or a "?" block.With the 3D visuals however,it would look like you had a little planet sticking through your system,and you would be able to judge all its details as well as you can with a little ball in your hand,or jumping over a puddle in real life.The depth makes perspective easier. Sorry for the Wall-O-Text there...

Avatar image for Wormkid_64

@ splash1788 "When your eyes are locked onto the screen, the 3D effect looks great. Moreover, it's a powerful piece of hardware as well, with games such as Professor Layton and the Mask of the Miracle moving that series into new polygonal territory with great success, and Winning Eleven Soccer 3D rendering player faces with terrific authenticity." That was in the Final Thoughts area.You can also find out by googling nintendo 3ds and looking through the various articles people have wrote about one thing and another about it. Some wonder how it will really change the game,but in the end,they all say pretty much the same thing-the 3D effect is great.

Avatar image for Gsai64

I think that the 3DS is a good idea, and overall worth the money, but now it has to compete with consoles rather than just the psp because of the massive price raise.Hopefully I'll get to pick it up when the eventual price drop comes.

Avatar image for penandpencilman

3ds is more expensive than a xbox360, it's ridiculous, though the 3ds does look awesome.

Avatar image for splash1788

why on earth all demos on nintendo 3ds are shown with the 3d function off? I want to hear comments and reviews about the 3d function! What is the feeling of playing a 3d game eye free etc...

Avatar image for gravebeard

I'm graduating on March 25!!!!! I know what I want as a grad gift!!!!! :D

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat

Whoo, quite a lot of comments had been deleted from this thread, and by moderators/administrators too. I suppose there are still camps of the NGP or 3DS trolling the heck out of each other. (By the way, savvy Internet users would know whose messages have been deleted, even if they no longer appear on the webpage being browsed.) Anyway, I appreciate that there is an article on GameSpot's own impressions for the 3DS. Personally, I am hoping that there would be game designs that use the 3D illusions in more meaningful ways, rather than just as visual gimmicks.

Avatar image for Flint247

After owning my DS lite for nearly 5 years, I am ready for this upgrade to 3DS. :D Good thing my bday is before March 27th, 2011! :D

Avatar image for shadow-xz

The original DS came out with a bunch of functions, out of which only half were really successful into making great games. Namely, the microphone, the thumbstrap and the pictochat got forgotten with time. The 3DS is just the same. It's three cameras (two back one front) are amazing, but they'll be overlooked in future games. The AR cards and the 3D photos will, like the pictochat, entertain you for a few minutes, but only so.

Avatar image for beny_pimpster

how bout castlevania 3ds anyone???

Avatar image for beny_pimpster

advance wars 3ds we need

Avatar image for sashacat222

Mann I really hope they are working on POKEMON Ar cards

Avatar image for xZpeedx

I want it so bad! :D I came up with a game that would be great with augmented reality. Yo-Gi-Oh of course! ^^ I'm not a Yo-Gi-Oh fan but it struck me when I read this review! [sry if I wrote something wrong, I do not speak English ;) ]

Avatar image for Eric_VA

@Vanyelk its in the USA and they know "Our kind" will pay that amount.

Avatar image for Vanyelk

I'm waiting for Legend of Zelda Ocarina of time remake. Until then meh. Also what the hell is with the huge cost increase over the american 3DS?

Avatar image for metalkitten

i would have gladly bought it but region locked??? no thanks, none of the games i like ever hit europe

Avatar image for oKiRe

THis thing looks so tempting to buy. I loved my ds lite, and maybe i should wait for what 3ds has to release next before buying this one. But wow I want.

Avatar image for FireboltDS

"because the DS has gone on to become a phenomenal success with a vast library of games that have proven that the touch screen is a valuable addition to the world of gaming" I completely agree with that! :)

Avatar image for Eric_VA

@elieldc yeah i agree with you 100% The system features look better then the line-up, its crazy they throw a $250 system at us, and give us lame games to play with for about 2 months, till something good really comes out....

Avatar image for nickythenewt21

Wait, it doesn't come with PictoChat?! Time to cancel mah pre-order... But in all seriousness, I'm extremely excited for this. It's smaller than my DS Phat, so I'll actually be able to fit it in my pocket. And I'm allergic to cats, so Nintendogs + Cats will be a new experience for me. Awesome sauce.

Avatar image for thegoodguy3221

I'm getting my 3DS on my birthday!

Avatar image for ilidiandemon

@SunnySkyNL Just imagine all those little things being thrown and working together in 3D! Cant wait for Pikmin 3DS :D

Avatar image for ilidiandemon

WTB 3DS lite :P

Avatar image for elieldc

Looks charming but I'll wait till it gets better if it ever does.. Only thing that I'm interested in is L.O.Z. ocarina of time 3D. Other than that the launch titles are lame. The features of the system are more exciting at this point honestly.

Avatar image for AvatarMan96

I want to see Samus shooting Mario with my own eyes! hurry up, March 27!

Avatar image for lannyboy334

@nhortn Slightly? The graphics bumped up to being better than a PSP, and the GPU itself is more advanced than the Wii and the previous consoles GPU's, capable of shading and producing softer textures.

Avatar image for Alizerothree

looks good but I'm definitely gonna wait before jumping aboard first thing, in case it turns out to be disappointing.

Avatar image for SunnySkyNL

They should make a webcam chat function. I really have to keep telling myself that I should not buy it at launch because the launchgames are not worth it but it's hard :P 250 euro is a lot of money so I guess I have to controle myself. I would love to see a Pikmin game for the 3DS :D

Avatar image for Kleeyook

I don't understand why they'd make DS and 3DS' cartridges' box to be so big when a DS and 3DS cartridge is just about the size of a flash card. They could just make manual to be smaller but thicker. :(

Avatar image for 19wert

looks awesome