Nintendo changes portable gaming again with the new 3DS

Portable 3D Gaming; No glasses required

Nintendo has changed the way we play video games for nearly three decades, and in 2011, they are changing the way we see video games. The Nintendo 3DS launched in the U.S. on Sunday and becomes the first portable 3D gaming system in America. Here's a look at what makes the 3DS the most technologically advanced handheld gaming console on the market today.

First, and most notable, is the 3D top screen. The screen has a higher resolution than that in any of the DS models that have launched since 2004, including the DSi XL. You won't have to worry about looking goofy with 3D glasses on the bus ride to work, either; special glasses like those used at the movie theater or for watching 3DTV are not required. The 3D visuals are beautiful according to initial impressions from gaming journalists. However, the effect can be straining on the eyes with prolonged usage. Nintendo has also said that young children should not use the feature , as it may stunt eye development and cause long-term damage. There is an adjustable slider on the side of the system that players can use to modify the 3D effect.

The bottom screen is still capable of touch control and though it is physically smaller than the 3DS top screen, it is still a higher resolution than those found on the DS models. The 3DS can also play most original DS games, though they will not be upgraded to 3D visuals.

Also new to the 3DS is a circle pad just above the traditional directional pad, on the left side of the console. Coupled with an accelerometer and gyroscope inside the system, this will allow control methods and possible gameplay mechanics never before used on a handheld. The 3DS comes with a total of three cameras: one facing the player, and two on the back that can take 3D pictures.

That leads to another new feature of the 3DS: Augmented Reality games. The 3DS will come packed with a few special cards. By placing the cards on a table and pointing the cameras at them, the 3DS can start up some mini-games that use real-world settings as backgrounds within the game. More games down the line are expected to use these unique cards.

StreetPass is a program that allows players to trade and share in-game items simply by passing by someone with a 3DS at a party or on the street, for example. Certain games will have unlockable items that players will only discover via this StreetPass feature. You can also share Miis via StreetPass. Of course, players can opt out of this program altogether if they are concerned about privacy.

As for the games, Nintendo has a varied lineup available at launch. Super Street Fighter IV has garnered the best reviews so far, according to the ratings website Lighter fare including Ridge Racer, PilotWings, and Nintendogs + Cats are also on store shelves. Nintendo has shown off preview footage of a new Zelda game, and you can bet that popular stars such as Mario, Kirby, and Pokemon will find their way to the 3DS in the future.

Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime announced earlier this year that the 3DS will feature Netflix streaming, which will arrive at some point this summer.

At a cost of $250, the 3DS may seem pricey compared to previous Nintendo handheld consoles. That didn't stop the people of Japan from snatching up all 400,000 available systems in February, and early predictions indicate that American stores could be sold out as well. Several bundles are available both in-store and at online retailers, if you can find them.

The 3DS is the latest in a line of Nintendo machines that have generated mainstream buzz and kept Nintendo well on top of the sales charts. However, with the expected launch of the technological powerhouse Sony NGP later this year, Nintendo has an emerging competitor on its heels. With all the new features packed into the 3DS, you can be sure Nintendo has an eye on the competition. They've thrown down their challenge for the world to see, and it's available in beautiful 3D.

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