23:14 February 5th – Facebook
James Pickard: "Oops, I just pre-ordered one."
4 Hours earlier...
Tucked away down a side-street in Brick Lane; a small group gathered. We were waiting outside a graffiti-riddled warehouse on a dark and windy night, a projection of the 3DS logo slowly rotated on the facade. I’ll admit, I was sceptical about the 3DS’s capabilities; the 3D effect appeared to be no more than a gimmick and the £200 price-tag seemed incredibly steep. Nevertheless, I was prepared for my opinion to be changed with the chance to spend some time trying out Nintendo’s latest handheld.
Eventually we were called inside and led into bright, white room – an improvement from the bleak street outside – with the history of Nintendo handhelds on display. As I perused over them, I realised how long it had been since I actually owned a handheld and how many great games I had played across each iteration of the Game Boy. Pokémon, Zelda, Golden Sun and Tetris to name a few. I was snapped out of my nostalgic memories by the call of a woman behind me. We would all get the chance to play the 3DS soon, but first, she had a few new features she would like to tell us about.
Firstly, we were shown the StreetPass pad, which represented how the StreetPass feature would work in the 3DS. As we stood on the pad lines erupted from our feet, showing how our 3DSs would be connected to each other from simply passing by on the street. Even in stand-by mode, the 3DS could swap our Miis (which she insisted on pronouncing as My-s), transfer additional game content and even engage in battles on Street Fighter IV without either party being aware of it. It’s a cool idea, turning on your 3DS to discover a new dungeon in Dragon Quest or to find that you destroyed someone in Street Fighter. However, I find it hard to believe that such incidents will occur frequently, especially in the UK, where I can’t see many people wandering the streets with their DSs.
Moving on, we found ourselves in front of a recreation of a backdrop from Street Fighter IV with Ryu sat cross-legged on the ground. Suddenly, Ken appeared from the rear and both fighters took their positions as they would do in the game. The announcer’s voiced roared out of the ether: ‘What will happen now? FIGHT!’ The two rivals went at each other in a well choreographed fight scene, which faithfully recreated a number of moves and combos from the game. There was a somewhat lack of conviction in Ken’s shoryuken, but the fight was still entertaining and just as both character’s were preparing to unleash their hadoukens the announcer called time up. What a tease!
Next, we walked into a small, blue-tinted room to be greeted by Claire and Chris Redfield! Nintendo were really pulling out the big guns in these live action segments. Apparently, there was a zombie infestation ahead and we were going to be escorted through by the Redfields. Awesome. This has got to be my biggest claim to fame. We slowly progressed across the room and everything was going smoothly until a zombie burst out of a conveniently placed shed. Claire bolted to the door and slammed it on the zombie’s arm, ‘Come on Chris, get these guys through here!’ We edged forward and as Chris swung his shotgun/flashlight combo across the room, the ominous sight of a chainsaw sprung out from behind the shed. Balls...we were so close to seeing the 3DS, and now we are going to die at the hands of a chainsaw wielding Majini. In hindsight, I should have placed more faith in Chris and his ridiculous physique as he nonchalantly parried the incoming chainsaw blow and shoved the Majini to the floor. We had made it through; the 3DS was in our grasp.
Jonathan Ross appeared and he is talking to us on a huge TV screen. He’s telling us how amazing the 3DS is. Thanks but we just want to play it now – I almost died for this!
"Are you ready?" The PR woman shouts.
"Yeah!" We reply.
"Are you excited?"
"Then what are you waiting for?"
She pulls back the curtain to the next room like a ringmaster introducing a circus of wonders. Thumping techno music erupts from the darkened room; the only light emanating from the many 3DS pods adoring the walls. I make my way to a free pod and find myself staring in amazement at a 3D image of the Resident Evil Mercenaries logo. My God...it actually works.
For those unaware, Mercenaries is basically a survival mode that dumps you in a zombie infested arena and asks you to kill as many as you can before you die or run out of time. It’s an enjoyable game mode, with a multitude of arenas to choose from and a selection of Resident Evil’s famous faces to play as; each with unique weapon sets. The game feels well-suited to the pick-up-and-play nature of handhelds and I found myself falling back into old techniques from playing the console version. Disappointingly, the 3D effects were mostly restricted to the HUD elements, although a number of times, enemies attacking from behind my character popped out of the screen. In addition, entering aim mode created an excellent sense of depth with the gun positioned at the forefront and the laser sight trailing into the distance. A solid start for the 3DS and I went in search of another game.
I was pointed in the direction of Street Fighter IV 3D Edition; a game I had serious uncertainty about on a handheld. The controls were quite awkward due to the small size of the d-pad and buttons, which lead to me almost having my ass handed to me in the first round. After a while I was back to my mediocre Street Fighter form and pulling off hadoukens with ease. An interesting addition is the hotkeys on the bottom touch screen that allow you to pull of the game’s more complicated inputs with a tap of the button. Slightly diametric to the purpose of loading a game with complex combo inputs but a sensible choice nonetheless. A further addition comes in the form of a new over-the-shoulder camera angle that really shows off the 3D effects in the game, although the purist will unlikely use it permanently. Sans 3D, it is still an excellent portable version of Street Fighter IV with a full roster of fighters and online competitive modes.
Oh boy! A lovely PR person has just pointed out that Ocarina of Time is free and I rush over like I’m meeting a friend I haven’t seen in a long time. Everyone is aware of how brilliant Ocarina of Time is so I’ll skip the formalities and explain what makes the 3DS version so worthwhile. Plant enemies explode into a pile of leaves that fly towards the screen as you run through them. It’s the way Navi hovers in the foreground; her glistening trail flowing towards you and her ability to now literally nag you right in your face. A new ‘look’ mode allows you to scan the environment in first-person and fire slight shot pellets by moving the 3DS around. Same incredible game; subtle 3D touches and improvements – sold.
My time was up in the 3DS discotheque and we were directed to a final, blindingly white room with more 3DSs and some other games to try. I made my way to a small podium with a small rectangular card placed upon it. I picked up a nearby 3DS and pointed the front camera at the card. Moments later a number of archery targets popped up from the podium, which I swiftly dispatched by aiming the crosshair on the 3DS’s top screen at said targets and pulling the right shoulder button. Simple enough. Suddenly, more targets arose and the top of the podium began to rise and fall in a convex and concave manner making the targets harder to shoot. Momentarily confused, I instinctively looked over the top of the 3DS I was holding and saw nothing but the small Card stare back at me, smugly stationary. I returned to the screen and with every rise and fall off the podium I readjusted my position to get a clear shot on the targets. A hole appeared in the table and I peered over to see the final target. Nice try AR Card; it’s over now. Without warning a huge dragon’s head burst from the hole and came right at me. I dodged his incoming attacks and deftly flanked the beast, landing a few hits on its weak-points to bring it down. The game was over: I had won. I was amazed at how much enjoyment could come from such an innocent card and thought of the many exciting gameplay possibilities to be extracted from them.
I stepped back and took a seat to watch the others play around me. Some were on Face Raiders, an arcade shooter made up from targets of the faces of those you photographed using the inbuilt 3D camera. Enemies could exist off-screen and required the player to swing the 3DS around to find them and destroy incoming missile attacks. Others were frolicking with pets on Nintendogs or watching placeholder footage for upcoming releases such as Mario Kart 3DS and Kid Icarus: Uprising.
Congratulations Nintendo; now I see the true purpose behind this event. First, you make me feel privileged to have a chance to play the 3DS before many others. I relished the opportunity to be able to report back and say, ‘It’s all a gimmick, don’t bother.’ However, spending even that short hour with the device you’ve got me. The games are fantastic, with solid launch titles and strong, upcoming releases. There is a huge dollop of potential in those AR cards and some interesting ideas in how we share and acquire content. The whole event was beautifully rounded off with the live-action asides to create a memorable experience and not just a stale play test. I certainly believe my eyes.