Nintendo's latest handheld system arrives in Canada on Sunday with the promise of glasses-free 3-D play. It's no joke: The stereoscopic effect really works – assuming you hold the system just the right way and don't have a lazy eye. Here are some launch titles worth checking out.
This gentle-spirited flying game has players soaring above a small island in crafts ranging from propeller planes to pedal-powered gliders. It's a showcase for the 3DS's depth effect; vehicles seem to float above the display while objects like trees and buildings leap off the screen as they whip by. Dozens of missions with clever objectives – such as jetpacking from one refuelling pad to another – deliver hours of fun. Free Flight mode lets players explore the atoll at their leisure, looking for more than 100 floating collectibles.
Viewed in 2-D mode this submarine adventure involving depth charges, dives and daring attacks is fun but flat – just another side-scrolling game set in a world with all the depth of a piece of paper. Switch to 3-D, however and the backgrounds suddenly fall into the screen, wisps of sunlight and features of the seascape appearing behind your U-boat but in front of the deep blue beyond. A touch interface on the lower screen that mimics the complex panels of a submarine control room complements the action above.
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars
Not all 3DS games make use of the system's stereoscopic functionality equally. This turn-based strategy game, for example, employs a top-down perspective not necessarily suited to make the most of 3-D effects. That said, controlling the movements of an elite squad of military operatives while employing chess-like tactics is still great fun for older players. The only question is whether you want the first game you buy for the world's first 3-D game system to be one that doesn't take advantage of the device's depth-enhancing capability.
Nintendogs + Cats
Sequel to one of the most popular handheld games ever made, Nintendogs + Cats shines a spotlight on the 3DS's improved graphics capabilities. The furry critters featured here are extraordinarily realistic. Their eyes twinkle with life, their animations are completely natural and they react just like the real thing when petted, tilting their heads to show you where they want to be scratched and rolling onto their backs to provide access to their abdominal pleasure centres. That they appear to pop off the screen is the sugar on top. Kids will love it.
Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition
Capcom's popular side-scrolling fighter – originally released for much more powerful platforms like Xbox 360 – looks great on the 3DS, though it's another case of a game that doesn't really need to be viewed in 3-D. All of the fighters and their various attacks are accounted for, and players have the option of mapping their favourite combination moves to the touch screen. It's also one of the first games to take advantage of the 3DS's built-in pedometer, allowing players to earn coins used to purchase collectible virtual figurines simply by walking around with the system in their pockets.
Combat of Giants: Dinosaurs 3D
This reptilian fighter has players select and customize a great lizard before heading out into the jungles and deserts of the Jurassic period to wage war against the Arkosaurus, a powerful predator threatening the extinction of all other species. The game's lumbering, powerful creatures look and move much as one imagines real dinosaurs might have, and they pop off the screen nicely in 3-D mode. Its linear exploration and simplistic one-on-one combat won't do much for grown-up gamers, but dino-loving kids should be amply entertained. Plus, it supports StreetPass mode, which means dinosaurs will automatically battle each other should two 3DS consoles come in close proximity.
Driving games are supposed to be among the primary beneficiaries of stereoscopic gaming, the depth effect providing players a better feel for the distances of approaching cars and corners. That seems to be the case in Asphalt 3D, the latest entry in Gameloft's prolific series of handheld racers, which sports 17 courses and dozens of licensed vehicles. However, any benefit conferred by the 3-D effect is erased by the size and opaqueness of the power-ups floating just above the pavement, which often obscure oncoming traffic until it's too late. That, plus noticeable frame-rate and object collision issues (my car got stuck inside a bridge wall in the opening race), makes this one difficult to recommend.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D
I don't know enough about soccer to say whether the sport's first appearance on Nintendo's new handheld captures all of its nuances, but I do know it's a great demonstration for the system's graphics potential and depth-enhancing capability. The default pitch-level camera follows the action closely, showing nearby players in great detail while background footballers seemingly reside deep in the screen. A more traditional wide angle reveals more of the field, but at the cost of a muted stereoscopic effect. Modes include UEFA Champions League, Master League team manager, exhibition, and wireless head-to-head.
An adaptation of Rayman 2, the beloved polygonal platformer originally released for Dreamcast, Rayman 3D sees Ubisoft's limbless hero doing battle against robot pirates in an attempt to recover 1,000 scattered energy shards and save his world from slavery. It's a big game that comes with some compelling platforming challenges and fun character abilities. Sadly, it suffers from dated visuals and a wonky camera that makes navigation trickier than need be. That said, its 3-D effects can be intense, with near-camera objects sometimes seeming to leap out at you.
Super Monkey Ball 3D
Rolling a ball around the 3DS screen by tilting the display is a sure-fire way to lose the stereoscopic sweet spot and experience ghosting. That means you'll either need to play the primary mode in Sega's latest Super Monkey Ball game with the 3-D effect switched off or by using the circle pad to control the action. Both methods work, but they left me feeling a little cheated. Luckily, two other games come included on the card, including a surprisingly challenging kart racing series as well as a simple Super Smash Bros.-style monkey brawling arena. Both work well viewed in stereoscopic mode.