Nintendo's 3DS promises 3-D gaming with no glasses required. But does the handheld video-game device, which came out Sunday, deliver?
It does -- with a slight catch.
Players must hold the 3DS directly in front of their eyes in a sweet spot that's about 10 to 14 inches away. The system should also be kept on its brightest setting. When everything is just so, the 3-D effect can be convincing.
Onscreen action rarely feels as if it's coming at you, save for fleeting moments in a game such as "Bust-a-Move Universe," when bubbles appear to burst in the air. But there's a palpable depth of field. The pups in "Nintendogs + Cats," for example, look as if they're really running to and from you in a room. Some games, such as the built-in "AR Games," use the 3DS' cameras to project the action to the world around you -- making a coffee table look as if it's erupting with shooting targets, for instance.
Players can change the intensity of the 3-D effect, all the way to a flat image. But then what's the point of getting a 3DS if you're not going all the way?
The real question is whether the 3DS is worth its price. The answer isn't as three-dimensional.
At $250, the handheld device costs $50 more than the Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360, the two most popular consoles for home gaming. For $300, home gamers could get the zippy PlayStation 3, which also offers 3-D gaming -- albeit only on 3-D TVs, plus those annoying glasses.
Like the consoles, the 3DS has Wi-Fi-enabled features. It will be able to stream Netflix content by the summer.
Games for the 3DS -- 18 at launch, with 30 by June -- sell for $40, $5 to $10 more than those for its popular predecessor, the DS. For the extra money, 3DS players get games that have visual pizazz but that mostly differ little from regular DS titles in play -- at least among the early offerings.
A new system's first generation of games notoriously comes up short, because it takes developers time to figure out how to take full advantage of the system's capabilities. The 3DS is no different.
The first wave of truly nifty games will probably arrive by the holiday season. Anyone but diehard gamers should wait until then to consider a 3DS. Prices aren't likely to be lower by then, but the offerings should be better.