ML Manhandles the Nintendo 3DS.

Last Wednesday, Nintendo hosted a preview event in New York to showoff the Nintendo 3DS and announce its release date and price (March 27, 2011, $249.99). I showed up too late to partake of the muffins and yogurt, but I did get to try the thing out with a bunch of different games.

The 3DS is Nintendo’s new handheld and the successor to the DS — it’s not a redesign, but a new device with new games. The top screen displays images in 3D without any special glasses. You can adjust the 3D effect with the slider right next to the top screen. You can turn it up and down or turn it off completely.

Personally, I didn’t find the 3D effect to be all that eye-popping, even with the slider all the way up. Images didn’t really jump off the screen; instead they appeared to sink back slightly as if I were looking into a box. Also, you have to hold it at a very specific angle to get the effect and if you tilt away from that sweet spot, the stereoscopic images get all messed up. It’s one of those things you need to try out yourself. Since they can’t show 3D with screenshots and video, Nintendo announced a massive promo campaign where they’re sending out 3DSes to retailers and street teams.

Developers have already begun to shoehorn 3D into every game just like they did with motion controls on Wii. Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition has a mode that uses an over-the-shoulder angle to make the 3D more noticeable. The change might offend purists, but it’s still totally functional. I’m not too concerned about tacked-on 3D graphics because it’s much harder to ruin a game with 3D than it is with motion controls. And again, you can easily turn the 3D off.

To avoid having 3D labeled as a gimmick, Nintendo is emphasizing games where 3D enhances gameplay by making depth more pronounced. Madden, which was playable, is a prime example. You get a greater than usual sense of distance looking down the field, which is arguably more than just a novelty of having the images pop out at you.

The main draw for me was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, a remake of the N64 game. The game plays as well as ever with cleaned up graphics. The demo was restricted to the Kokiri Forest and part of the Great Deku Tree. When I hit the “Thanks for Playing!” screen, I was itching to play through the whole game again, but more to see the new graphics than to experience it in 3D. The 3D effect got distorted when I targeted enemies and the camera swung.

Steel Diver is a submarine action game that feels like a tech demo or an iPhone game. Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D is just the Mercenaries mode from Resident Evil 4 with more characters, weapons, and maps, but it didn’t look or play as smooth and the original. And zombies’ heads didn’t explode when I got a headshot, which made me put the game down immediately.

Kid Icarus: Uprising, which revisits the old NES game, was the real stunner. Project Sora, Masahiro Sakurai’s studio that worked on Super Smash Bros. Brawl, turned the game into a mix of on rails shooter and action game which, given its fast pace, feels oddly like Sonic the Hedgehog. I only truly appreciated the 3D effect while blasting through the colorful environments in Icarus.

If you disregard the 3D, the 3DS is effectively a beefed up DS with some new features (more cameras, wireless stuff, gyro sensor) and an analog pad — and that’s a good thing. Handheld games can definitely use more horsepower and there are definitely some great games on the way for the 3DS.

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