Monday, 30 August 2010

Games writer, aged 13

This is the first ever piece of videogaming writing that I had published, a letter in the first issue of N64 Magazine, Future's much-loved independent Nintendo magazine, back in March 1997. I was 13 at the time, so the cringe-factor is at least balanced out by my age (or so I'd like to think). N64 Magazine was perhaps the most influential model of games journalism on a personal level, the entire magazine a shining example of informative yet witty writing, honesty, great design and the difficult trick of being made to feel part of a special community with both the writers and the other readers. Tragically I threw my entire collection out a few years ago - bar this first issue and issue 5, in which I also got my name in print -and have spent the last months keeping an eye on eBay to once again complete the set of 60 issues. Once I've done so I'll probably read them all again in order, as sad as that might sound, as well as putting pen to paper and discussing what made N64 Magazine so special. But that's for another time, and another blog post. Having just turned 27, and about to start living away from my parents, it feels like an appropriate time to return to where my obsession with videogames - and, in a way, writing about videogames - began.

N64 Magazine Editor replied:

And, moreover, you just plug in the cart and switch on the N64 and it works. No fiddling with control panels and AUTOEXEC.BAT files. No polishing of CDs with your grubby sleeve. No screens full of incomprehensible error messages. No having to restart the entire machine in a slightly different graphics mode. It's bliss.

Every letter printed was supposed to receive a prized N64 Magazine badge, but mine never arrived.

And this is the game - of all the wonderful games that the N64 played host to - that I had to talk about. Hexen 64:

I've followed the progress of the N64 since the days of Project Reality, and over the years I've learnt to appreciate what is, as you so rightly say, "the pinnacle of mankind's gaming achievements in the late 20th century". It's just so radically different to any other console available, it really is kind of scary.
Take a game like Hexen 64. On the Saturn it runs quite smoothly, with graphics similar to the PC original. Now look at the same game on the N64. The graphics have improved - there's no pixellation, for instance - it runs smoother than the PC version, and such is the superior power of the machine, it even manages to create a four-player split-screen death match, with all the above features still intact.
It's when you make comparisons like this that you really recognise the way this one machine will change the world of video games forever. And don't worry - it will.
Zoheir Beig, South Harrow

Saturday, 21 August 2010

We Sing Encore

If you’re the sort of person, like this writer, for whom karaoke is an exercise in extreme humiliation when in a public environment, but a quietly transcendent activity in more private confines, then the rise of karaoke videogaming – not to mention plush Japanese-style booths like those found in Lucky Voice – will have come as a godsend. We Sing Encore, the follow-up to last year’s successful We Sing, is the latest console-based interpretation of this most alcohol-dependent of pursuits; it may not have the most radical of approaches, but the job in hand is executed well nonetheless.

The basic premise doesn’t quite require the levels of explanation as demonstrated by our recent Demon’s Souls review, but for the sake of word count we’ll quickly recap: songs are sung along to, points are earned, winners crowned, with losers made to down punishing shots of Tequila. This won’t be the last time that alcohol is mentioned; it takes a lot, after all, to forget just how bad at singing we are. Fortunately We Sing Encore even includes singing lessons, more on which later.

The game’s interface is cheap and cheerful, especially when compared to the artful minimalism of SingStar or the colour and dazzle of Lips; lyrics appear at the bottom of the screen, while the pitch bar occupies the middle. There’s also something called a ‘sung pitch bar’ that highlights how much lower or higher your vocals need to be whenever you stray from the correct pitch. It’s a reasonably serviceable system, albeit one which lacks personality. All the features that you’d expect are present – the ability to play shortened versions of each track, or a true karaoke mode in which the demands of matching the correct vocal are removed – but they’re present because that’s what karaoke videogames are supposed to offer. There’s no overriding philosophy to We Sing apart from singing – this is of course perfectly fine, but a bit of the invention of the other famous karaoke games wouldn’t have gone amiss either. In all fairness there are quite a few multiplayer options (our favourite being the game in which the winner is the first to 5000 points), but nothing to enable Nordic Games to stand alongside the likes of iNiS and London Studio.

Thankfully the most important factor to determine We Sing Encore’s success – the actual singing – works. We know this because our attempts at singing Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’, or indeed most of the tracks that weren’t ‘Three Lions ‘98’, were regularly rated as ‘awful’. Another point of interest is that We Sing Encore, like its predecessor, supports four microphones simultaneously, a feature that comes into its own with friends. And, er, alcohol.

There are two features in We Sing Encore worth highlighting. One is the system of awards that are available to the player. Unlocked for everything from singing every song and reaching high scores to picking the developer’s favourite background, these achievements help give structure to a solo mode that, in a party-orientated karaoke game, sticks out like that ginger one from Girls Aloud. Then there are the aforementioned singing lessons. They grow in complexity, from holding one note at the beginning to spanning a large variety of notes in one breath; how useful they are is debatable, but they are interesting in showing a glimpse of how sight-based singing may be taught, as well as hinting at just how fun (or otherwise) Rock Band 3’s forthcoming Pro mode really will be.

Because We Sing Encore doesn’t have the luxury of downloadable content to bolster the on-disc track selection (or even, given the Wii’s limited memory capabilities, an option to transfer over songs from the first game), it’s feasible to see the game’s appeal diminish quicker than similar music titles. The 40 included tracks veer wildly from the familiar staples (Gloria Gaynor, Lou Bega, Soft Cell, Elton John and The Proclaimers) to a depressing amount of more recent mind-numbingly awful pop (N-Dubz, Pixie Lott, The Saturdays and Florence + The Machine soundtracking the party from hell). That said, there are also some excellent (relatively) contemporary selections (Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Robyn) and two out-and-out slices of genius (S Club 7’s ‘Don’t Stop Movin’ and The Supremes’ ‘Baby Love’), so it all balances out.

Nordic Games are undoubtedly exploiting a huge gap in the Wii’s catalogue with the We Sing series, without making the most of the host hardware. Whilst their sole focus on Nintendo’s console may hinge partly on shirking from the direct competition that would greet them on both Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, there’s also little doubt that they have gone about their task with a keen understanding of the Wii demographic. And no, we don’t know why they didn’t just call it Wii Sing either.

This review was written for, and published by, D+PAD Magazine.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

EDGE 200 - #108, Tetris

Prestigious UK-based gaming magazine EDGE celebrated their 200th issue last year with the world's first split run of 200 different magazine covers. Only 200 editions of each of the 199 images (plus a subscriber-only LittleBigPlanet cover) were issued; I ended up getting an original 80s OutRun cover. Even better, they released a limited postcard set of all 200 covers to new subscribers, which I couldn't resist. Now I've played my fair share of games, but with so little time and a semblance of a social life to also try and manage, there are many titles that have passed me by. To make up for this I'm using the postcard set as a framework, and am going to try and play through all (or as many as is possible) of the games featured in the list of 200 that I have yet to experience. The order I get through them is random, but it'll be interesting (and hopefully fun). However there aren't actually 200 individual games, which will make the task slightly easier (some games run across several postcards - Final Fantasy VI has four images to its name, for example).

For a full list of the EDGE 200 images click here.

Name: Tetris DS
Developer: Nintendo

"But really, to understand puzzle games you only need one word: Tetris" - Steven Poole.

I, like many gamers and non-gamers alike, have of course spent many hours of my life transfixed by Alexei Pajitnov's masterpiece of design. The Nintendo Game Boy Tetris, despite the plethora of variants, remains the definitive version. Not just for aesthetic reasons (though Tetris will always, to my eyes, be a game coloured in various shades of grey), but because Nintendo's inspired decision to bundle the game with the console prefigured their appropriation of such 'non-traditional' software as Brain Training for the Nintendo DS, to similarly stratospheric levels of success, some 16 years later. In 1992 alone Nintendo sold 32million Game Boys - virtually an entire generation was raised on this epic of raining blocks.

So it's somewhat apt that in 2006 Nintendo released, for their latest world-conquering portable console, what is now commonly regarded as one of the best versions of Tetris - handheld or otherwise - since that seminal 1989 'original'. It's this version of Tetris that I write about here; Tetris DS may not perfectly fit this feature's criteria - playing games as yet undiscovered, according to the framework of EDGE's special 200th issue postcards - but it feels fresh. Which, for a game so ingrained in our psyches, is quite some compliment.

The standard Marathon mode embodies the game's winning 8-bit spirit. As you play Tetris on the bottom screen, scenarios based on Super Mario Bros play out in parallel on the top; starting from the idyllic World 1-1 of green hills and ? blocks, progress in accumulating lines sees Mario venture further into his own game. By the time you're pushing in excess of 100 lines, Mario has made his way into the depths of Bowser's Castle. The speed at this point is frantic, the music recognisable as that which plays when the timer in Mario drops to below 100. Stop to think about the way Nintendo have extracted such natural synergy from two of its biggest properties, and you realise that no other developer can play on nostalgia and quotation with quite the same impact. It's also very very addictive, but then with Tetris that should go without saying.

But Tetris DS's genius is that the extra modes that surround this core game are crafted with an intelligence that not only make the most of the unique host hardware, but they actually make you think about Tetris as a game in new ways. Push Mode, for example, could only exist on DS. In this game type you have to make two or more lines simultaneously on the top screen to push the field of blocks further down into your opponent's bottom screen. It's basically Tetris tug-of-war, in which you're allowed to use double the standard play area, and where considerations of depth and the necessity of a base upon which to build lines becomes crucial. Touch Mode uses the touch screen, and here the emphasis is on exploiting space, as you drag the pre-stacked blocks to fill gaps, create lines and therefore decrease the tower's height until a cage of balloons touches the ground. By taking away the pressures of time and unstoppable momentum that are hallmarks of Tetris, Touch Mode puts value on patience and asks you to analyse the relationships between the pieces, whilst subverting the entire concept: you're building lines to reach an eventual goal, whereas you could argue that pure Tetris is ultimately a futile battle in which the goal is only to fend off losing for as long as possible.

Puzzle Mode is an extension of the ethos of Touch, in which you are given a puzzle on the top screen and a limited selection of pieces (or Tetriminos, to give them their official name) on the bottom. Here the focus on the relationship between space and shape is given an extra nuance, in that every piece you use from the limited options available must clear a line. Not just that, but the puzzle screen must be cleared by using all the Tetriminos on offer. Puzzle Mode again removes the constraints of time, and also allows you to consider the way shapes relate to each other. For example, the later puzzles require a degree of forward-planning, as using unconventional Tetriminos first often helps pave the way for the remaining shapes. It's not about whether the straight line or the square can clear the lines fastest, but which will be better placed first to then allow the second move. This also makes you aware that one of the keys to getting good at Tetris is to think several steps ahead. The most instantly gratifying decision is often not the best, and by using one shape at a certain point you can often set yourself up a lot better for subsequent moves.

Of the two remaining play styles Mission (standard Tetris, albeit one where to proceed you need to complete a succession of missions such as "Clear 3 lines at once!" that are communicated via the top-screen) is a frantic if somewhat compromised take on the standard game whilst Catch is the least successful feature. In this Metroid-set mode you control a core around which squares of 4x4 need to be built, thereby detonating and earning points/clearing enemies. In itself it would be a complex take on the falling blocks mechanic, but its presence in Tetris DS feels a little out of place given the revisionist takes on the pure concept elsewhere.

By focussing on the key aspects that contribute to the magic of Tetris - spatial awareness, the pressure of time and speed, relationships between shapes, the cohesive and continuous nature of the game space - the highlights of Tetris DS extract the essence of the beautiful game, and act as de facto lessons in mastering the art of falling blocks. The design of the menu screen is cyclical, which in hindsight is perhaps intentional. Having worked through all of Tetris DS's modes (most significantly Push, Touch and Puzzle) I arrived back at the classic Marathon mode. With everything I had learnt my first play saw me almost double my previous record*, a record that - prior to exploring the rest of the game - I had spent nearly two hours trying to beat. To understand Tetris it would seem you only need one game: Tetris DS.

*For the record: Marathon, High Score: 118022, Max Level: 13.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Pulled Apart By Horses - The Crapsons

This is obviously not a music blog, etc etc. Following Mark Ronson's rather laboured appropriation of top-down Zelda for the video to Circuit Breaker, a recent foray into chiptune-based hip-hop...

...come Pulled Apart By Horses, a Leeds-based four-piece often described as "the best live band in Britain". Their self-titled debut strips all excess from the myriad styles of rock music they take inspiration from - they've been most commonly tagged as post-hardcore, which may be partly lodged in truth, despite doing them a massive disservice - and emerges as one of the heaviest, fun and quotable records of the year. It's an LP which should unite both metal obsessives and alternative music fans alike. Inevitably that's not why I'm writing about them, or why they've been bracketed with, of all people, Mark Ronson. Nope, Pulled Apart By Horses earn a mention here thanks to The Crapsons, the record's second track and a glorious tribute to Link that sounds like Blood Brothers fighting it out on the main stage at Download; all great dumb riffs and petulant screams, wrapped up in a deceptively catchy two minutes.

The song's lyrics are brilliant:

"Link has the greatest catch in the world
Despite what you heard
And every time their hero comes
They're all waiting for some revelation
And every time he drops the bomb
The power, the courage, the wisdom!"

In an interview with Drowned In Sound, singer Tom Hudson explained that: "I wrote the lyrics for it after losing my life and soul to the Zelda games. The song basically reflects on the hero 'Link's' love of fishing, fighting, power, courage and wisdom."

Amen to that. While we wait for Nintendo to adopt The Crapsons as The Skyward Sword's new title music, here's what the track sounds like:

As the people who grew up with videogaming go on to do wonderful creative things in music, books, art and film - for example, Scott Pilgrim is out next week (25th August) - these heartfelt tributes to cultures 8, 16 and 32-bit will likely become more and more frequent than they are now. Still, when they're as good (and strangely touching) as Pulled Apart By Horses are here, they'll always be worth pointing out.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Surfer Blood - Harmonix

This is obviously not a music blog, but in a tenuous link to the forthcoming Rock Band 3 here's Surfer Blood's tribute to the game's developers Harmonix. At least I think it is, what with the intentional spelling of the title, and the thinly-veiled pleas to be included in the game with such choice lines as "I won't wait around for your vaults to open / Let us in somehow" and "I won't bargain for / For your affections anymore / And I won't wait around for you to figure it out". It could also be a wry acknowledgment of the fact that music games are one of the few ways that bands, particularly those of the size of Surfer Blood, seem to make any money and gain exposure these days. Whatever; the album that Harmonix is from, Astro Coast, is one of the best guitar records of the last twelve months. They may wear their influences emphatically on their sleeves (Weezer, Pavement) but it matters little when the music is this hook-laden and classically youthful. And judging from the clip below they also look ace live:

Oh, and Rock Band 3 is out on October 29th.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Fallout 3

Fallout: New Vegas, which shifts its gaze on post-apocalyptic America from the Capital Wasteland to New Vegas, is bound to be one of the games of 2010. Aside from the expected expanse of game world, side-quests, gambling dens and the appearance of Dinky the Dinosaur (his mouth is a sniper position!), of most interest to many gamers will be the new Hardcore mode, which will realistically track such variables as healing and dehydration. According to Fallout Wiki The Vault, your character will have to eat, drink and maintain normal sleep cycles to stay alive. Not only this, but switching back to Normal difficulty whilst playing Hardcore will make it impossible to switch back again, thus preventing you from gaining that all-important trophy/achievement. Fallout: New Vegas is out on November 16th.

I reviewed the Bethesda-developed Fallout 3 for D+PAD Magazine back in 2008, and gave it the magic five red stars. You can read the original PDF-enhanced article here.

The post-apocalyptic, with its focus on survival and loneliness, has long been a ripe area for culture; recent works such as the big-budget adaptation of I Am Legend and Cormac McCarthy’s stunning, spare 2006 novel The Road (with lines like “the outline of a burnt city like a black paper scrim” suggesting a possible key influence on Bethesda’s latest masterwork) presenting the world – well, America – in the days and months after a cataclysmic, mysterious occurrence. Fallout 3 slips neatly into this heritage. It is undoubtedly a game of survival and, at times, desperate loneliness; and yet it also reaches out to embrace such issues as the significance of choice and the great span of life itself. In short Fallout 3 is a game that certainly doesn’t lack ambition.

Set in 2277, at a time when the world is an “abyss of nuclear fire and radiation”, the developers have taken enough artistic license whilst still rooting the game in a recognisable environment. So amongst the vehicle carcasses, barren trees, abandoned schools – and it’s hard to overstate just how affecting the experience of trudging quietly across this devastated landscape can often be – there are computer terminals, robots and suchlike, but their design, all rusted metal and inelegant antennas, is more reminiscent of the 1940s/50s science-fiction so lovingly referenced in Mars Attacks!, than the more overtly ‘futuristic’ likes of Halo. Fallout 3’s approach is undoubtedly more realistic as a result, the use of such relatively antiquated technology as microfilm and steam engines recalling 2007’s classic BioShock, the non-Bethesda game that Fallout 3 most closely resembles.

The game that Fallout 3 will most often be compared to though is, of course, Bethesda’s previous title Oblivion. Like the fourth Elder Scrolls game, Fallout 3 is a genre unto itself: part first-person adventure, part action role-player, part enormous sandbox...the pigeonholing is potentially endless. The gameworld is what helps all these components come together, ensuring that as a player you can approach the experience as you want to without feeling forced (even though on paper a fairly linear trajectory is still followed). Not only is the so-called Capital Wasteland enormous in scale, it’s the level of detail that never ceases to amaze. From the carefully etched textures in every interior to the way many characters will have complete diaries, there is a wealth of history here that would take hours in itself to completely digest (one museum location even has descriptions for each exhibit). The ‘go anywhere, do anything’ approach is certainly no longer radical, but the precision with which everything has been put together here certainly is. As a result the sense of immersion and atmosphere is almost unparalleled.

Given this it’s understandable that Fallout 3 is a game that rewards a patient, exploratory approach. It is of course possible to speed quickly from objective to objective - and it’s to the game’s credit that such a style of play is as seamlessly accommodated as the steady almost tourist-like perspective we would recommend – but to do so would be to ignore the aforementioned detail and character invested into the remarkable surroundings. Traversing across the huge world you are as likely to come across a group of hostile raiders as you are a boy separated from his family.

These encounters often lead into sub-quests of their own, with entire new cities opening up as you take one direction instead of another. The real genius of Fallout 3 is that the focus is never lost; no matter how far from the main story thread you stray – and it’s possible to ignore it for countless hours – Bethesda have ensured that a sense of cohesion is maintained.

They do this by investing, right from the start, an importance in the player’s decisions. From the smallest verbal response to some quite significant moments that change the entire makeup of the world (which we certainly won’t spoil here), you’re left in no doubt as to the consequence of your actions. Every decision ties in with your overall existence, the world and your character so tangible you rarely remember that this is “only” a videogame. A welcome antidote to the current vogue for sub 10-hour campaigns, Fallout 3’s mastery of player motivation should be a case study for any developer looking to follow in the open world footsteps of Oblivion. The much talked-about VATS (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System, apparently) even adds a layer of innovation to the combat. Combining the careful planning of a standard turn-based RPG to the stylish dynamism of an action game, the system allows you to pause any confrontation and then target precise areas on an enemy according to the likelihood of a successful hit. The ease with which VATS slips into the player’s repertoire is testament to its success in restructuring the nature of RPG battles. Again it’s only an optional tactic, but the conventional FPS approach is intentionally too haphazard; like the third-person view it’s there for the sake of choice, albeit difficult to see anyone choosing it over the infinitely more immersive first-person view.

The wealth of content here truly is staggering. After all we haven’t even touched upon the sensible levelling system, the solid technical achievements in everything from voice acting to frame rate (facial animation is lacking somewhat, but these are
laughably minor grievances), the well-balanced range of weapons, the Pip-Boy 3000 (whose intuitive set-up makes item/quest management become second-nature) pick apart everything that makes Fallout 3 so superb we’d need a word count that ran into five figures.

It’s a game that begins in breathtakingly audacious fashion – again we’re staying resolutely spoiler-free – and simply doesn’t let up from that point onwards. Though it doesn’t do anything particularly revolutionary, the level of artistry is so far beyond anything we’ve played recently that it almost doesn’t need to; standing uniquely in the busy Christmas schedule and indeed within 2008 as a whole, Fallout 3 is an experience to savour, a game about which every player will have their own story to tell.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Okamiden: Chiisaki Taiyo

One of the highlights of last week's Nintendo London showcase, alongside the 3DS and Wii games covered for the D+PAD feature referenced below, was the lone demo pod for the forthcoming DS-exclusive Okami sequel. In a recent interview with Official Nintendo Magazine, the game's producer Motohide Eshiro explained why Capcom opted to bring the wolf's adventures to DS, and not Playstation 3: "The distinctive feature of the Celestial Brush is just screaming out to be realised on the DS touch screen, I think it's only natural that Okamiden was designed for DS." Having finally had time with the game, it's an approach that works as well as you'd expect.

Besides, each version of Okami has seen the integral Celestial Brush mechanic – the ability to draw onto the game world – take steps forward in terms of implementation, so the move to DS is consistent as much as it's logical. The Playstation 2’s acceptable analogue sticks gave way to the Wii’s excellent use of motion-control, but it’s this DS version which inevitably makes the most sense – drawing onto the screen with the DS’s stylus is as direct and pleasing as you’d hope. There are shades of the DS Zelda games in both the use of the touch screen and the cuter aesthetic (Ōkamiden is a direct sequel to the first game, in which you play as a baby wolf), and based on the brief demo presented here – in which I had to fill in a missing bridge, as well as briefly abandon our new partner, the young boy Nushi, while trying to solve a switch puzzle – I'm confident that Okamiden: Chiisaki Taiyō will be just as involving and delightful as both Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks.

Fingers crossed that UK gamers also get this lavish - and frankly amazing - Japanese Special Edition.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Nintendo 3DS Hands-On

Getting to play with Nintendo's new handheld, the 3DS, so far ahead of the UK launch perhaps makes up for all these years spent writing for free. That is me in the picture below. You can see another picture of me, playing Metroid: Other M, in part 1 of D+PAD Magazine's excellent Nintendo feature here.

There can be few industry-centred moments that videogame fans cherish as much as the reveal of new hardware, not least because they happen so rarely; these first months of a console’s gestation are usually characterised by a level of anticipation and rich sense of possibility that makes all talk of third places, emotion engines and red rings of death (just kidding) sound plausible and like the future has finally arrived (this writer’s favourite console reveal was that of the Nintendo 64, and thanks to Super Mario 64 it’s perhaps the only piece of hardware that fulfilled its radical promise on day one). We only say this because the 3DS reveal had felt, until we had actually got our hands on the little miracles, just a tad underwhelming. There were several reasons for this: it was first announced through a press release two months before E3, stripping the Nintendo keynote of any major impact or surprise; Reason 2: there was no doubt that the console would work – Nintendo surely wouldn’t have discussed it otherwise – but the fact that you can’t truly comprehend its impact without holding one is, at the moment, a little frustrating. Eventually though, as we’ll discuss later, this could be the 3DS’ masterstroke. And Reason 3? Well, we want one now but probably have another eight months – at the very least(!) – to wait.

D+PAD arrives at Nintendo’s two-day London press showcase with the mentality of waking up on Christmas Day, consciously leaving the biggest present to open last. So, aware that the 3DS is just yards from where we stand, we first take eager if distracted peeks at Donkey Kong Country Returns, enjoy GoldenEye multiplayer, and marvel at Samus Aran’s Ninja Team-approved makeover, before the pull of new Nintendo hardware becomes something beyond irresistible.

In discussing the console at E3, Nintendo’s 3DS producer Hideki Konno admitted that its unique approach can only be appreciated first-hand: “Consumers can’t see the real surprise without the 3DS in front of them – cool footage isn’t enough – but yesterday I went to our booth and found consumers being surprised, saying: “Wow!””. Our first experience with the machine, watching a trailer for Resident Evil: Revelations, delivers much the same response.

The stereoscopic 3D being displayed on the handheld’s crisp high-resolution top screen is actually quite subtle (at least in the majority of ways it was being used in the demos presented, bar the contribution of Hideo Kojima), but the sense of depth and level of immersion is undeniable. What’s also impressive - and has understandably been overlooked in the clamour to herald the 3D - is that the visuals are a significant leap forward, in terms of texture and detail and impact, then what we’ve become accustomed to with the DS. Given that this is what developers have been able to create with such a new piece of hardware, we anticipate the 3DS’ graphics to approach a level that could neatly bridge the gap between that of high-end Wii titles and early PS3, if you’ll excuse the crude system for comparisons.

No other demo demonstrated these aspects, the visual quality and the 3DS’ true 3D capabilities, as well as Kojima’s aforementioned offering, Metal Gear Solid 3D Snake Eater The Naked Sample. A virtuoso demonstration of technical brilliance, we of course expected nothing less from such a shy and modest personality as the creator of Solid Snake. A seven-minute movie in which the sole interaction afforded was the ability to move the camera, the assortment of events – from Snake clinging onto a bridge, or being chased by a swarm of bees – effectively highlighted how such factors as height (the sensation of vertigo in one cliff precipice-based set-piece in particular was astonishing), depth, and the use of foregrounding will impact on the gaming experience if used as well as they were here.

The Metal Gear Solid demo was also a useful example of how much difference the 3D slider makes. An integral, not to mention sensible, part of the console, the 3D slider allows you to set the degree of the 3D effect, as well as turning it off completely. Whilst ensuring that players have the option to cushion their eyes from the effect should they need to, it will also hopefully – though probably not - rein in certain developers who might otherwise have seen the 3D as a gimmick to be exploited as lazily as the Wii’s motion-control was/is.

Two of the three playable games at the event also proved what a difference – if not in central mechanics than in an overall, intangible feel – the 3D will make. While Nintendogs + Cats (the new cats sadly not present) had a familiar design, we threw a boomerang more times than is perhaps sane, just to watch the graceful curve of its flight, while PilotWings Resort proved even more addictive, as we used our jet-pack to fly between houses to reach targets, the distance to which could be effectively calculated. This latter example also showed how dynamic the 3D will be when viewed at speed and from a conventional third/first-person perspective (Mario Kart looked similarly excellent, albeit in teasing rolling video form). The Slide Pad, the 3DS’ analogue nub, also proved an intuitive and necessary inclusion. The other playable title was Ubisoft’s Hollywood 61, but my colleague assures me it was uninspiring, while “its use of 3D felt token at best”.

There are a few minor issues. One is that the 3D effect will be lost if your vision of the screen is coming from an angle as opposed to straight-on, though this is perhaps an unavoidable result of achieving such startling results without the need for glasses. Another is that the 3DS, despite having a touch screen in the same place as the DS, may force a change in the approach towards interface than that taken by many ‘traditional’ DS games such as Animal Crossing, because of the 3D screen. For example, whereas the original Nintendogs had you directly petting and cleaning your pet with a stylus, here we were touching a silhouette of our dog as seen in the top screen. Will there be a loss of the tactile feel so well communicated in such games as Trauma Centre? And even if there is, does it really matter? After all, even after such a relatively short hands-on time with the 3DS it’s clear that it’s approach to play is markedly different to that of the DS.

Other features, such as the ability to view 3D movies, showed promise thanks to an impressive trailer for a new Zack Snyder film about owls, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (the film itself looked awful, but the transition of a 3D film to the 3DS was laudable). The 3D camera will also no doubt impress once the inevitable perspective-distorting assortment of lenses is set. Despite such an intimidating feature set though, our thoughts keep returning to the games – those we want to play again, those we wish we could, and the delirious prospect of Ocarina Of Time 3D being a launch day title. Nintendo have earmarked September 29th as the day on which all release date and price information will be unveiled. Our wishful thinking side hopes for £160 and pre-Christmas, while the realistic part of us expects something in the region of £180 (perhaps intentionally matching the Wii’s launch price) and a launch, at least in the UK, of late-March.

So, that masterstroke: no screenshot, or video, can hope to communicate the genius of the 3DS effectively. While on paper this might be the recipe for a gaming PR disaster, there’s only one thing as powerful as actually playing the console for yourself, and it’s something that arguably helped push the Wii to the globe-conquering status it now enjoys: word-of-mouth. Once people try the 3DS they will tell others, perhaps in slack-jawed awe, that they also need to do the same, and so the ripples will begin.

A version of this article was published by D+PAD Magazine.