A Preview Minute With The Nintendo 3DS



With less than two weeks before the 3DS is released here in the United States, the Nintendo 3DS kiosks are finally starting to hit major retail outlets like Best Buy.  With the 3D effect non-visible in videos, commercials and other forms of media, it should be assumed that this product had to be “seen to be believed” which is why I don’t understand why Nintendo waited so long to get these demo units in front of consumers.

Regardless, I’ve been dying to see the effect myself – first hand.  With the Wii, I was able to attend a Fusion tour and get my paws on a wiimote long before the product shipped, but with the 3DS I’ve had to wait like everyone else and it’s been a long wait.

With more and more photos of Best Buy kiosks showing up on the internet, I’ve been stopping by my local stores very frequently hoping our store would get one.  Yesterday was no exception – and I even thought ahead to bring a “real” camera to snap photos and video if I DID see one.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the Best Buy at i-17 and Thunderbird here in Phoenix had the demo unit set up – showing off a Pilot Wings demo.  I secretly hoped that when I did find a demo unit, it would be running Steel Diver – the game I’m most excited about come launch day.  The kiosk verbiage said that I was playing Super Street Fighter – so it’s clear these demo units DO have other games available but I couldn’t figure out any way change games or even get to the 3DS menu to play around with the cameras or built in software.

Of course, the first thing I wanted to do was to see the 3D effect in person.  As with MOST items that claim to be “3D”, the effect isn’t so much “coming out at you” like old 3D movies from the 70s and 80s, but rather a perception of DEPTH that goes INSIDE the screen with minor protrusions coming out.  It really is akin to those Magic Eye posters where you have to kinda cross your eyes and you’ll see the sailboat (yes, I know – it’s a schooner).  Before I could “see” those, I always assumed 3D meant it would jump OUT at me.  Once I understood that it’s more depth than “coming out”, I could see the effect a lot better.

The 3D slider was set to FULL when I arrived at the kiosk, and being a tall guy, I was looking down at the 3DS with a very sharp angle and the effect wasn’t working as it should.  The result was a very nauseating glimpse of Pilot Wings.  Once I leaned down and put myself right in front of the unit as instructed by the kiosk verbiage, the effect stopped being nausea-inducing but still seemed “too much”.  Using the slider, I brought it down to about 1/3 and the effect was perfect!

I know you’ve heard it before – but I’ll say it again;  you have to see this effect to truly understand how amazing it is.  If I had to wear the glasses, it wouldn’t amaze me at all – but you almost feel a bit surreal seeing this effect without the shades.  It’s one of those rare moments when you brain is telling you that your eyes are being tricked and you just CAN’T be seeing what you think you are seeing.  After a few moments of adjustment, your brain gets in line and you can just enjoy it instead of questioning it.

The 3D slider is very smooth as is the transition effect – even going from “low 3D” to “no 3D”.  For some reason I expected something a little more pronounced when shifting from 3D to 2D, but it was smooth as butter.  One thing that did bother me was the fact that the “hump” in the slider between the 2D setting and the “lowest 3D” didn’t feel very … definitive.  I started imagining what it would be like if the slider “wore out” and you couldn’t dial in what you wanted.  That bothered me.

Once I got over the 3D effect I started to evaluate the unit from a hardware perspective.  The unit was totally locked down so you couldn’t pick it up and “feel” it properly – so all I could do was look and play with the controls.

I mentioned the 3D slider already.  The other thing that amazed me was the silky control of the analog stick or disc or nub or whatever it is you want to call it.  It responds to the lightest of touches and it’s so smooth it’s almost like not having a controller there at all.  Very sensitive to boot.  I really look forward to precision controlled games like racing games and flying games with this controller.

The buttons and d-pad are what you would expect from a Nintendo product, so there isn’t much to discuss here.  I will say I am NO fan of the buttons under the lower screen.  They don’t feel right at all  Sure, they are rarely used like START and SELECT, but they bring the overall quality feel of the unit down IMHO.  It’s hard to explain what they feel like, but I wasn’t pleased by them.

I cranked the audio all the way up and was disappointed to find that the audio seemed considerably quieter than I’d hoped.  I’m hoping this is due to the demo nature of the machine and/or the way the unit was secured to the kiosk.

What about the game?  I’m not a big Pilot Wings fan, so I didn’t play long.  I’ll give you a straight scoop of what I saw.

As mentioned before, the controls were tight.  The plane responded to my analog controller quick and efficiently.

Graphically speaking, it blows the DS out of the water.  It’s been said that these are close to Wii graphics – and with this game, I definitely agree.  Playback was smooth and unfettered with no hiccups or stutters – even when changing to and from 2D to 3D.  Gone are the jaggies and “hexagon” circles of the Nintendo’s DS product line.  Claims that it looks like between a Wii and a 360 might need their head examined.  Sure, it could just be this game …. but It isn’t taking on the 360 any time soon.  But portable Wii graphics?  I’m good with that.

Unfortunately, I only had time for a brief hands on, so that’s all I got to observe for you.  I shot a short video before I was accosted by a Best Buy employee, so I’ll put that below.

So my overall impressions?  Impressive.  MOST impressive.  The 3D effect without glasses makes me WANT to watch 3D movies on it – and I want Tron Legacy in 3D on the 3DS immediately.  You hear me Disney/Nintendo?  You should SHIP this unit with Tron 3D included (or downloadable).

I seriously recommend you head down (or call) your Best Buy and go get your hands on a 3DS to try before launch day.  I also believe they should offer this unit in “dead president green” because this unit is going to be printing money VERY soon.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

The nookColor: A Near Perfect Android Tablet?



Almost a decade ago, Microsoft said that tablet PCs were the future.  They figured that people would ditch laptops and even desktops if manufacturers would come up with a touch screen portable PC.  Instead of that taking off, we got netbooks;  aka neutered laptops.  These were well received and still enjoy a rather profitable following, even today.

Whether you’re an Apple fan or not (I fall into the latter category) you can’t argue the fact that Apple brought the tablet market back into the eyes of consumers with its iPad product.  People are eating up these “pads” or tablets and Apple isn’t the only one making them.

In fact, there are Chinese manufacturers by the hundreds making these things – with reputable manufacturers like HP, Samsung, Acer and dozens of others with a tablet offering either out now – or due out soon.  In fact, the Consumer Electronics Show this year was dominated by tablets. Read more

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

Filed under : Android Tablets, Tablets

Atari Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (Nintendo DS)



Earlier this year, we were treated to the very pleasant Atari Greatest Hits Volume 1 which featured 51 classic Atari arcade and 2600 games.  We reviewed the title favorably, giving the title a solid 4 out of 5 Tikis – despite some obviously important missing games such as Combat and Warlords (which we figured correctly would come on Volume 2).

How does the second incarnation of this classic collection hold up against the first one?

History

The Gen Y / Millennial gamers may have never played an Atari-labeled game.  But we Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers know the Atari juggernaut from the ‘70s and ‘80s – where the titan owned both the arcade and console market until the video game crash of 1983.  Atari never really recovered after that – essentially being an “in name only” company struggling to get hits out.

But during it’s heyday, Atari ruled the roost – with prolific arcade games and the venerable and almost unstoppable Atari 2600/VCS console.  This back catalog of titles gives the Atari group an insane collection of intellectual property (IP) to re-release on modern day hardware.

While “Nintendo” was metonymical with gaming after 1985, Atari was the generic trademark for gaming before it.

Digging into the Game

Like it’s predecessor, Atari Greatest Hits Vol. 2 comes in a standard DS case on a 32MB DS cartridge.  The game has no extra DSi features or enhancements.

Promising us 50 classic games (9 more arcade and 41 more Atari 2600 games) including several unreleased titles as well as head-to-head multi-player (single and multi-card) – this title has a lot to offer.

Much like Volume 1, firing up this game presents us with a clean, usable interface that logically segregates the games into both home and arcade categories and then further breaks down the home games by genre (you can view them all at once too – thank you guys!).  Pleasant accompanying music and sound accent the interface and believe me – I’m very appreciative of a usable interface when it comes to gaming.

Rounding out the two game format collections, other menu options offer up Wireless Communications, Extras and Options.  The options let you change the sound volumes of the music and sound effects.  We’ll cover the other two in a minute.

The Presentation

The most important aspects of gaming compilations of this nature are the collection of games themselves, the quality of the emulation and the amount of extras included for those that buy these titles for their nostalgic qualities.  Since these are recreations of existing games, looking at graphics and audio prowess doesn’t make as much sense as looking at them from a “recreation accuracy” standpoint.  Likewise, game play quality is measured in accuracy of emulation; that is, how close are the games to play to the originals.

What’s Included?

First up – what games do you get?  (* = multiplayer games)

ATARI 2600 GAMES

Return to Haunted House Secret Quest Canyon Bomber *
Circus Atari * Combat * Combat Two *
Demons to Diamonds * Desert Falcon Off-The Wall
Radar Lock Golf Double Dunk *
Realsports Basketball * Realsports Soccer * Super Baseball *
Super Football * Video Olympics * A Game of Concentration
Backgammon Basic Programming Brain Games *
Code Breaker Maze Craze * Video Chess
Black Jack * Casino * Fatal Run
Night Driver Steeplechase Street Racer
Quadrun Sentinel Space War
Star Raiders Yars’ Revenge Breakout
Crystal Castles Millipede Super Breakout
Video Pinball Warlords *

ARCADE GAMES

Asteroids Deluxe Millipede
Black Widow Red Baron
Crystal Castles Super Breakout
Liberator Warlords *
Major Havoc

Four of the 2600 games are prototypes (Combat Two, Realsports Basketball), homebrew (Return to Haunted House) or special mail order only (Quadrun) games.

None of the games are “locked” or “hidden” – you can play everything right away.

The arcade collection has some old familiar standbys as well as a couple of more unusual treats like .Liberator, Black Widow and Major Havoc (games unusual for these kind of collections).  Of the games, four of them are “vector” games which are always a bit of a challenge for the DS lower resolution screen.

Despite the fact you’re not going to see Activision or Imagic games here, the 2600 line up has the missing essentials from Volume 1 (Combat, Yars’ Revenge and Warlords) as well as some rare oddballs – like Quadrun (with software speech synthesis) and Sentinel (a lightgun game).  To round off the interesting inclusions, the Atari 2600 BASIC Programming cartridge will let you code your own games (all we can say is: Good Luck with that…)

Now that most of the “epic” multiplayer games are out, what might we see in Volume 3?  I’m not sure there is much left for Atari to give.

The Extras

Before we get into emulation, let’s talk about the bonus features of the collection.

Looking under the Extras menu item you will find several bonuses.

First up is a nice interview with Atari father, Nolan Bushnell.  While it is very obviously one long interview chopped up, the topics include Brand Legacy, Failed Products, Classic Games, Imitators, Uknown Games, Moore’s Law, Predicting the Future and The Internet.  The videos amount to talking heads, but the information if fun and informative.

Next up in the Extras section is the Arcade Gallery.  Here you can view roughly five printed media relating to each of the 9 arcade games.  Items include flyers, operator brochures and other similar promotional items.  A simple media browser lets you look at the items, but I’ve seen better browsers on other collections.  While you can scroll up and down across the items filling both screens, but you cannot zoom in – so a lot is lost.  Casual players might be ok with this – but the real fans would want a closer look.

Under the Arcade Gallery is access to the Atari 2600 gaming manuals for the included games.  The resolution is high enough to read these easy enough and being color you get to see all the classic artwork and diagrams in their full glory.  Don’t laugh – we didn’t have great screenshots back then – so they adorned the packaging with some great hand drawn artwork.  Even the Atari 2600 console manual is included.  The BASIC Programming manual is here too – a whopping 27 pages!  Well worth a stop while checking out the Extras.

Finally we have the Atari 400 emulator.. This fun extra will bring up a virtual Atari 400 computer and a “monitor” and let you code on it right there on the screen.  I flexed my muscle and made a nice 10 PRINT “HELLO”:GOTO 10 mega app.  I was a Commodore 64 guy – so I’m not as familiar with this version of BASIC, but it seems legit and it’s fun to plunk around on.

The prototype games Combat Two and Realsports Basketball are pretty average releases, but the Return to Haunted House homebrew is definitely worth a look – especially for fans of the original “haunted Adventure” title.  Quadrun also clocks in as pretty average, but it’s crazy hearing the Atari 2600 talk without hardware.

Playing the Games

All the arcade games can be played single player as can about half of the Atari 2600 titles.  Several arcade games as well as many 2600 games can be played by two players – taking turns as per the arcade.  Some of the games allow two player simultaneous play via wireless communication (more in a minute) – and the Atari 2600 games that require two players will play as solo games – but the controls affect BOTH players at the same time … so it’s kind of useless.  You will need multiplayer wireless networking to play these games with a friend.

Multiplayer Wireless Communications

If you look at the list above, games denoted with an asterisk are eligible for multiplayer over wireless communications.

The great news is that single card play is fully supported.  So, all you need is a buddy with a DS to play with and you’re set.  Your friend goes to DS Download, you Create a Session – and in a minute or two, you’re playing!  Pretty damn painless and the games play fantastic over the local area network.  Cody Mystics get BIG thumbs up for allowing MULTICARD play too – so you aren’t forced to send the whole game to those that also have the cartridge.  Hey Capcom, would it have killed you to do that for Point Blank?

There is no Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection play.

So many of these Atari classics really need a second person to be enjoyed and I have to take my hat off to Atari and Code Mystics to care enough to make sure we can play together games together.

The Emulation

For retro-enthusiasts, the authenticity of classic games is incredibly important.  Many old games had patterns or exploits that allowed you to better master the game.  For some people the music and sound effects trigger emotional nostalgia that is important to the gamer.  For others, timing of enemies or powerups … heck, even just animation speeds … are all things they remember fondly and stick out like sore thumbs if they are wrong or different.  A good example of poor emulation is the Jakks Pacific TV controller games.  You can get one of these TV games with Pac-Man on it, but the game just isn’t … quite … right.  The sounds are a little off … the ghost patterns you might have so painstakingly memorized are gone.  Sure, it sounds nit picky but it is important to a lot of people.

These sort of collections are remarkably hit and miss when it comes to accuracy of emulation of the original games.  Some are much better than others – while others are DEAD ON.

How well does this game collection stand up?

We will start with the arcade games.  I gotta say, the boys at Code Mystics did an incredible job on the emulation.  Everything is smooth and all the ducks appear to be in a row. Even the high resolution vector games are TOTALLY playable – they worked hard to keep the text readable and the detail high where it needed to be.  In some cases, where the vector text might be blurry, they duplicate the text on the other screen so you can read it.  A top notch job.

There are multiple control options (touch and pad/buttons) as well as the ability to play on either screen.  Games with special controls even offer different types of control (simple or arcade) – not just assuming you want to play it like a DS game but rather like the original arcade game.  Less experienced players can use a more simple control scheme.

I’ve played enough of these games to sign off on quality emulation for the arcade games.

What about the Atari 2600 games?

You’ll be happy to know that the entire 2600 control panel is replicated on each game – meaning yes, you can even play your favorite game in black and white.  The game settings are preserved and selectable – and they even indicate on the screen what the different options will play like.  All the controls are mapped to buttons as well as having on screen controls which is a damn nice gesture.  So many User Interfaces are inconsistent and frankly, suck.  Not here.  Attention to detail is obvious and appreciated.

The emulation looks great – right down to the bleeding off-the-screen rasters to the horrible scan line flicker we all put up with in the 1970s.  Each game comes complete with a shot of the original cartridge as a bonus.

Conclusion

A near perfect successor to the near perfect Volume 1, Atari Greatest Hits Volume 2 is a must have for collectors and retrogamers alike.

The best part about Volume 2 is the price.  Unlike it’s brother, Volume 2 hits the streets at the respectable price of $19.99 – which is a perfect price for a collection of this quality.  Bravo Atari – you listened and I hope it pays off in lots of sales.  It’s worth nothing that Volume 1 is now $19.99 too.  That’s $40 for 101 games – at under .50 a game, you can’t even beat that on the App Store.

This is a top notch title – top to bottom.  The development team obviously knows their business and has learned from past DS mistakes with emulation titles.  Aside from a few esoteric titles – this compilation gets a huge recommendation from me.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+