- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Attention, Easter Bunny and his deputized representatives. Is that basket looking a bit flat this year? Need a substantial last-minute alternative to the chocolate beasties and sugary Peeps?

How about a three-dimensional boost to dazzle youngsters in the family?

The home of Mario, Zelda and Donkey Kong has put forth a handheld gaming system that certainly will impress the pretween and capture the attention of a 10-year-old.

Hoping to tap into consumers’ current infatuation with 3-D technology, Nintendo’s mighty 3DS ($249.99), with its classic clamshell DS design, offers a visual depth never seen before in a portable gaming device.

Through its 3.5-inch-wide auto-stereoscopic top screen, owners view images that are seemingly deeply embedded into (rather than leaping out of) the 3DS without having to use those idiotic 3-D glasses.

It does work, and work well, as long as the screen is held steady and about a foot away from the peepers. A slider-bar control helps set the amount of the effect or can completely remove it.

Parents will be a bit frustrated trying to watch a child play, as they will need to rest their chin right on junior’s shoulders or head as tight as possible to see the 3-D.

Thanks to a trio of cameras, a 3-inch-wide bottom touch screen, a microphone, built-in WiFi, a motion and gyro sensor, and a generous supply of onboard software, the “How did Nintendo do that?” moments are plentiful right out of the box.

The magic tricks are most impressive using the cameras (two on the outside and one interior) and lead to the best potential for the unit’s ultimate niche gaming success.

Let’s ignore the cameras’ low-resolution results that won’t impress for photo collections (even most of the dumber smartphones can outclass it). The 3DS photo-capturing acts more as a visual content-producing machine to interact with other software.

For example, the augmented reality trading cards included in the package are a pretty slick trick. Place a card on a table and point the DS at it. The images on the card become interactive and can access games or familiar characters, mixing virtual action within real-life confines.

That means a card accompanying Samus from Metroid Prime pops the female warrior up in three dimensions on an owner’s dinner table, showing her in various poses, and she can even be controlled and moved around the table.

More impressive, a card with a question mark on it becomes a collection of boxes and a shooting gallery in which a player uses arrows to target bull’s-eyes and even fight off a dragon.

Remember, this is happening in a 3-D space confined to the 3DS screen that shows events also happening in real time surrounding the card’s application.

I easily could see this tech marvel as the premiere portable collectible trading card game or collectible minifigure game conduit. Does anybody remember “Magic: The Gathering”? Imagine the possibilities.

Another cool game that’s included is Face Raiders. Take a face photo and turn that head into computer-animated targets flying around any real-time location being captured by the 3DS cameras.

The challenge is primarily a shooting gallery using balls to target the heads as they appear to pop out.

As more faces are shot, the collection of targets varies. Also, the faces automatically are animated, making friends and family look pretty strange as the player propels balls at them.

Additional features include using a photograph to build a Mii’s facial features, a music player with sound manipulation application, messaging with a friend list, SD card storage (a two gigabyte card is included), an activity log that counts an owner’s steps and StreetPass (automatic content downloads from fellow gamers within range).

Upcoming options include watching 3-D trailers and movies, freely tapping into AT&T WiFi hot spots all over the country and purchasing more software from the Nintendo eShop.

The 3DS is really about gaming, however, and uses a cartridge-based system. Of course, the library of 3-D titles continues to increase just weeks after the system’s release.

Here’s a trio of child-friendly games worth investing in:

Pilotwings Resort 3D (Nintendo, $39.99)  This gorgeous flight-simulation game has been around in various Nintendo systems for the last two decades. The latest version takes a child’s Mii to 75 locations as he uses a plane, jet pack and glider to explore Wuhu Island.

The game features more than 40 mission-based adventures and some gorgeous, animated three-dimensional locations. Pilots can take photos of the island, skydive, take a leisurely flight, unlock dioramas, earn medals and unlock tons of content.

Ridge Racer 3D (Namco Bandai, $39.99)  I can’t think of a better way to use the power of 3-D than in a legendary high-speed racing game. Namco’s game features a solo campaign called Grand Prix and plenty of single races using sports and muscle cars across more than 100 challenges. The action features one-button drift controls, nitrous boosts and some incredible streetscapes (the underwater highway is spectacular). Hold the 3DS about 8 inches from your nose for maximum impact and get ready to take the checkered flag.

Under multiplayer 3DS local play, up to four drivers can compete in the same room and StreetPass automatically downloads fellow Ridge Racers ghost races to compete against.

Super Monkey Ball 3D (Sega, $39.95)  Join some beloved primates in more than 70 levels of puzzling adventures. The main event features conquering complex courses using primates trapped in balls.

Either turn on Nintendo’s gyroscope technology to manipulate the ball by moving the entire 3DS (hard to see in 3-D) or use the Nintendo circle pad for precise control and a much better 3-D effect (though it kind of feels like cheating).

Extra games include fighting other monkeys for bananas and a Mario Kart racing tribute. Both feature up to four-player local action.

Final thoughts on the 3DS

* Notice my emphasis on that younger age range? Well, that’s my caveat here. The young teen in the family will not embrace the 3DS with the strong evolution of gaming in smartphones.

* The 3DS is backward-compatible with all DS and DSi games, though the screen resolution is a bit funky and, obviously, not 3-D.

* Battery life will drive the kiddies crazy. A charge is needed after only about three hours of play.

Parents also should note that eye fatigue is an issue. Make sure junior plays the 3DS in doses. Nintendo even offers the option of using strict parental controls in the software setup.

* Let’s also not ignore the pretty steep price point. Dad and Mom could argue effectively that Apple’s iPad 2 ($499 and up) might be a better mobile gaming investment for the entire family.

* Visit Zadzooks at the The Washington Times’ Communities (https://communities.washingtontimes.com/) or on Twitter .

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