Archive for April, 2011

The first thing that becomes apparent when you boot up the 3DS fresh out of the box is that it’s a miracle machine with the potential to change gaming forever. Whacking up the 3D slider to full for the first time is an unforgettable experience: the background literally warps away into the distance, leaving a clear distinction between that and the text in the fore. The 3D effect is an outstanding one, made all the more impressive by just how effective it is. The slider is easy to position, allowing it to be placed just right for each player’s eye.

After you’ve set up the system to your specifications, you get to take the 3DS online or (if you’re Anne Diamond) set up parental controls to crack down on fun. A quick update from the servers gives you a free demo video – nothing special, just some landscape shots set to funky music, but what it suggests is a wonderful future of full 3D movies in the palm of your hand. In perfect clarity.

The 3DS comes pre-loaded with several Wii-style channels. There’s the 3DS Camera, positioned on both the outer and inner lid, that can take 3D photos at any time by pressing one of the shoulder triggers. 3DS Sound allows players to stick music on their SD card (free with the console) and listen to it whenever.

The Mii Maker returns from the Wii, allowing you to create even more monstrosities with added content and to transfer your existing Miis over. You can also take a photo of people and have the Mii Maker create a face based on it, or scan a QR (Quick Response) image and upload a whole new one. The Wii’s Activity Log makes a return appearance here, as does a channel devoted entirely to Health and Safety. Bloody killjoys.

There are a couple of short demonstration features with the console. First up is Face Raiders, an amusing point-and-shoot title where your face (or those of your loved one/ people on the bus) gets drafted into playing the role of a villain. You then have to swivel, turn and move your body to aim at the attackers, using the built-in gyroscope to point the screen. It’s a short, fun, highly amusing blast that provides a great introduction to the software. More impressive is the Augmented Reality game that utilises the six AR cards provided with the console. In AR, you have to place a card on a flat surface and aim at it with the system. before long, the camera is distorting the surface of the image – be it a table, garden, or sleeping partner’s forehead – and unleashing a pleasing collection of minigames that encourage movement like Face Raiders. Best of the bunch is probably Shooting, as you then get the hilarious sight of a giant dragon emerging from whatever background you’ve chosen.

However, the best features are the most subtle ones. Keeping Nintendo’s tradition of social activity and personal health alive is the excellent StreetPass feature. If you turn on the wireless connection and close the lid without turning off the system, the 3DS keeps a track of how many steps you walk, converting these into Play Coins (ten per day, 300 in total). These can be used in the Mii Plaza, to purchase puzzle tiles to complete images, or to hire heroes in the lightweight yet fun RPG mode. In addition to this, if your 3DS comes into contact with another player’s, your Miis will swap over, bearing gifts for each other and adding to your Mii Plaza count. You’re encouraged to meet as many people as you possibly can and, quite bizarrely, it’s incredibly satisfying to have new faces appear in your Plaza.

In addition, the hateful Friend Codes are (almost) abandoned. While you still need to swap codes with a friend to have them appear on your 3DS, you only need to do it once. After that, you’re saved onto each other’s systems in a profile screen similar (but as not as comprehensive) to that of Xbox LIVE. You can see what the other is playing and leave a message – although rude text will be censored.

You can also return to the home menu at any time simply by pressing the button. The genius is that the game will simply pause quietly in the background. This will allow you to make notes, check your online friends, notifications and – in a future update – surf the internet. All while the game waits paitently for you to return.

It’s brilliant, no doubt about it. But the system isn’t perfect. For one thing, battery life is shocking. With full brightness, wireless and 3D all on at the same time, you’re looking at a battery that will last for a mere three or so hours. After you sort out the brightness and turn the wireless off when it’s not needed, that can last up to five hours – but that is not going to do down well when the big games roll out. Who’s going to want to play Ocarina of Time or Resident Evil: Revalations for just a few hours at a time? Anyone with sense can practically smell the inevitable 3DS Lite re-release with improved battery life.

Also, if you play in the sunlight, the 3D gimmick fails to work. It’s a strange one, but if direct sunlight falls on the screen, then the optical illusions fails to trick your eyes into seeing a 3D image. Instead, the screen will only blur when you slide the 3D bar.

While the battery issues can’t really be ignored, the 3DS is undoubtedly a work of genius, transforming a stagnating playing field into something fresh and exciting. The gimmick is a small one, and there aren’t many games out for it right now, but this is definately technology to get behind.

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Doctor Who: The Impossible Astronaut

With an uncharacteristically quiet opening, the Doctor returns to our screens. A series of letters invite Amy, Rory and River Song to a lakeside in America, where they’re reunited with an old friend. But that’s only the beginning, as horrific events swiftly unfold, plunging the adventurers into a complex new mystery.

As a series opener, ‘The Impossible Astronaut’ is perhaps the slowest one to date, beginning as it does with a variety of comedic moments featuring the Doctor messing about in time and setting up an intriguing mystery. Once things get going (and quite swiftly, after about ten or so minutes), the episode rattles along at a fair old pace, introducing an unsettling new enemy, a freelance detective and Richard bloody Nixon himself.

Because this is merely part one of two, there’s very little time for exposition or any of Doctor Who’s usual trappings. Instead, we’re treated to several surprisingly intense (especially for 6pm) scenes involving the skin-crawling alien enemy and even a shot of a woman exploding. It’s a bit of a shame, then, that so much time is given is given to setting up the plot as it leaves very few memorable moments. The corkers that are on offer are excellent – aliens looming out of the shadows, Nixon being bossed around by the Doctor and that bit just ten minutes in all serve to remind why this show is doing so well under the guiding hand of Steven Moffat.

Without knowing what lies in store for the series, it’s hard to judge this opening as a set-up. If there are any hints for the plot, they’re very well hidden and will no doubt provide hours of fun for those who want to find them. On its own merits, it’s a quiet, slow-burning start, but one with a compelling mystery and a fantastic central premise. The eleventh Doctor’s newest series is off to a promising start.