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What It Is
To understand why the 3DS is going to dominate the console market - and not just the handheld market - we have to understand what it is.
The most obvious piece of excitement is t hat it's a 3D handheld system. And it's not 3D in the same way that the Playstation was 3D; these aren't just 3D graphics. This is 3D like Avatar was 3D. This is depth of field on a handheld system. We don't have any great indicator yet as to whether the 3D will pop out, like 3D movies, or in, like most 3D gaming experiences. From personal experience, I like the pop-in better.
It's not just a system made for new games. It's fully backwards compatible with Nintendo DS games, which almost certainly means that it's a dual touch-screen system. I can't guarantee it, but I would think that emulating a dual screen game on a single touch screen tablet would be a bit unsatisfying.
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What It Might Be
Here's where it gets fun. There are a lot of rumors flying around, some from more legitimate sources than others.
Nikkei, a Japanese tech newspaper that is usually pretty on about this sort of thing, has said that Nintendo is planning to bring out "a stick used to manipulate objects in 3D." That could really mean anything. Perhaps the stylus will have a tracking ability. Perhaps there's a separate peripheral for 3D manipulation. Of course, maybe it's just a way of saying that the 3DS will have an analog stick.
A new rumble feature has been trademarked by Nintendo. Could this mean that the 3DS is getting a rumble pack? Do we want a handheld system to rumble? It seemed to work alright as an add-on, but how would that affect the 3D picture?
A tilt sensor has been rumored as well, which wouldn't be too surprising. After all, the GBA had tilt sensor games, and the iPhone has certainly had a lot of success with them.
There are rumors an upgrade to a 802.11n wireless standard, but an 802.11g upgrade seems more likely.
It's also been speculated that an Nvidia Tegra chip could come to the party for graphical support. This could be a big step up for the system, making it an entirely new experience, rather than just an incremental upgrade.
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What It Isn't
The 3DS may be a lot of things but what's more important is what it isn't. For starters, it's not traditional 3D. Most people think of 3D in the "I'm putting on some glasses and watching a movie" way, but that's not what the 3DS is going to do. This is glasses-free autostereoscopic 3D.
If you've seen large glasses-free displays, y ou know that there are a lot of problems with the technology. It's definitely in its early stages, and no matter what companies say, it's not even close to ready for use on large screens. There's a sweet spot that the user has to stay in for the effect to really work. If you're outside of the sweet spot, the effect fails.
But with a DS, you'll always be in the sweet spot. Why would you look at the system from the side, or from far away? It will forever remain at a fixed viewing angle and distance, which makes tuning it for optimum 3D performance a snap.
It's also not the Virtual Boy. It's important to point this out, because people love to draw the comparison. This isn't a bright red on black device that claims to be handheld but is too heavy to play while standing. This isn't a one-off thing that only Nintendo is trying. This is the real deal full-color glasses-free 3D.
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Who It's For
While early Nintendo systems were created as family entertainment systems, the Wii and DS gained a reputation for being consoles made for children and old folks. It was a reputation they earned, but it's a bit unfair considering the availability of games that are far too hardcore for either audience. Sure, the DS has Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, but what six year old is going to play Shiren the Wanderer?
The 3DS is a return to the early days, when a Nintendo was something you had to have, no matter how old you are. It's new and exciting technology that's properly applied. It's something that can't be fought about. "Oh man, the graphics are so much better on the PSP." That might be true, but they're two completely different experiences. 3D separates the two.
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The Inevitable Success
I should come out at this point and say that I'm not a big fan of 3D. I don't think it looks good, and I don't think it helps a movie. I'm also not a big fan of Nintendo these days. Sure, the SNES was a great system, but the followups haven't moved me in the same way. Nintendo has, in recent years, failed to innovate in any significant way. The 3DS is a different story altogether.
Bringing glasses free 3D to the market is a brilliant move. It makes television makers like Sony look behind the times. After all 3DTVs require a $200 pair of glasses for each viewer. The 3DS will, in all likelihood, cost around $200 and offer a quality 3D experience without the need for accessories. It won't play movies, but it'll do enough.
There's a marketability to 3D that just wasn't there for the Wii or the original DS. The same adult gamers who bought the DS for Brain Age will be enthralled by a 3D experience that doesn't require glasses, and kids are a given. I rented the Virtual Boy twice, and I didn't even like it. Imagine what kids will think of a good 3D handheld.
The core gamer market is the one that Nintendo has left behind, and the one they'll recapture with 3D. It's a brand new experience, and Nintendo has the perfect chance to win the old fans back. Imagine Paper Mario in 3D, or any new Mario game. Think of the possibilities of a 3D Star Fox or even Zelda. Say what you want about the cutesy music and bright colors, good gameplay mechanics can't be resisted.
All the old arguments become moot. Sure, the graphics aren't as good as the PSP, but it's in 3D. Sure, it's a rehashing of an old game, but it's in 3D. Going full on glasses-free 3D isn't Nintendo one-upping their competition, it's Nintendo eliminating the competition. Until the iPhone and PSP can do 3D gaming, the 3DS will stand alone in a new category of consoles.
The Nintendo 3DS will, without a doubt, sell to the same people who bought a Wii or a DS, and all Nintendo has to do is make a few solid games to win back those that they've lost.