If you've been anywhere near a Toys R Us in the past month, you'll have seen a new version of the Nintendo handheld console called the Nintendo 3DS. It's actually pretty cool: it displays images in three dimensions without glasses and it takes 3D pictures and plays 3D video. It also plays most older Nintendo DS games.
How does it work? Well, the screen sends two different images to your right and left eyes separately. The trick is that you have to look through the screen, like those crazy old Magic Eye posters that they used to sell at the mall, and you can see the moving characters inside the device. Little airplanes look like they're flying past realistic mountains and little fighting characters appear less than an inch tall but seem to float in a little battlefield in front of you.
The real selling point for Nintendo fans is the upcoming availability of one of the Zelda games in 3D and some upcoming releases including Pac-Man and Mario titles. Older titles will work in the 3DS but will not be converted into 3D -- yet. Rumor has it that Nintendo has some plans add 3D to older games.
It costs $249.99 and comes in black and blue. Games range from the fairly violent -- Street Fighter -- to the silly -- Super Monkey Ball. There's something for everyone. There's even a 3D version of the pet care game, Nintendogs.
So, should you buy it for your kids?
My son, who is 5, loves it but took one look at the 3D and turned it off. An optometrist I spoke to noted that while there is no potential for eye damage in using the device, the 3DS can cause headaches and a slight visual distortion after more than 30 minutes of playing. My son, on the other hand, hated it off the bat and for good reason -- he just couldn't focus his eyes correctly to experience the 3D. Nintendo recommends the console for kids 8 and older, and I agree with them. A little slider on the side allows you to turn off the 3D and a parental lock code lets you keep it off until you allow it.
Another interesting feature is the 3D camera on the front. It lets you take 3D shots of almost anything, but the photos are only viewable on the 3DS or on a 3D TV with a bit of tinkering. This is more of a gimmick right now, but expect it to become more interesting as 3D takes off.
If your kids are playing the DS or DSi right now -- Nintendo's older handheld consoles -- you're probably fine without upgrading until the console falls into the tub or is lost. The number of titles is limited for the 3DS, and until some of the more popular Nintendo series, including Mario Kart, appear for the platform, it's hard to really sell this as a direct step up. However, if you're buying a new console for a birthday or holiday, this is the one you'll want. It's basically Nintendo's state-of-the-art device and it's future-proof.
Will it make your kids blind? No. It will confuse them a bit at first and they'll probably end up turning off the 3D features, but that initial "wow" factor and subsequent tries with better and more immersive games will make 3D worth it. Nintendo has captured the hearts and minds of thousands of kids (myself included), and this is the next step in their march toward young gamer domination. Basically, once you pick this thing up for the kids, the only question will be how to steal it back from junior so you can play a few games of the 3D flight simulator PilotWings.