Hardware Review: Nintendo 3DS

  • Publish Date: March 23, 2011
  • Comments: ↓ 19 user comments

Updated March 24 and March 25 with additional reviews.

What it is

Nintendo 3DS Reviews
(through March 25)
Great bar 9
Good bar 27
Mixed bar 4
Bad 0
Awful 0

Arriving in the United States on Sunday (and in Europe on Friday), the Nintendo 3DS is the company's first major new handheld gaming console since the launch of the DSi in late 2008. It is also the first portable game unit from any manufacturer to offer built-in 3D gameplay (without the need for special glasses).


At launch, you have just one choice to make, and that is the color of the unit: Aqua Blue or Cosmo Black (which turns out to be closer to dark gray). Either way, you'll be out $249.99 (or £229.99 in the UK, though you can find it for under £190). In the box, you get a power cord and charging cradle, stylus, manuals, six AR cards (which, when viewed through the built-in cameras, are used in some games), and a 2GB SD memory card. The 3DS also boasts built-in WiFi and cameras (more on those in a moment).

Launch titles

Be sure to visit Metacritic's new Nintendo 3DS section for a complete listing of reviews for all 3DS games. Some of the 3DS games available separately at launch in the U.S. include:

At least 30 titles for the 3DS are expected by the time of the E3 conference in early June. Among the most anticipated titles coming later in the year are Kid Icarus: Uprising and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D.

What critics are saying

Reviews are ranging from generally positive to effusive praise. Here are some of the specific features critics have been highlighting:

  • The 3D effect: Simply put, the 3D works. While the effect isn't dramatic -- it adds a general sense of depth and perspective to games, rather than jumping out at you -- critics seem generally enthralled by how it looks. There are some major drawbacks, however. For one thing, viewing the 3D effects requires that your head be positioned in a precise "sweet spot" from the top screen; as a result, you must remain mostly still while playing to preserve your viewing angle. And a few players may not tolerate the 3D for long periods (or at all), with headaches being a common complaint. But a built-in slider (a much-loved feature) allows you to adjust the intensity of the 3D effect -- or turn it off entirely -- and you will want to take full advantage of this capability, as critics agreed that the "optimum" level of 3D varied from game to game and person to person.
  • The battery life: The 3DS's battery life is the single biggest disappointment for reviewers. (The poor lineup of 3D games available at launch is a close second.) While Nintendo claims the battery provides 3.5-5 hours of gameplay (already a low figure), critics found that number closer to 3 hours ... and the unit takes longer than that to charge in the first place. (Fortunately, you can play while charging, with or without the charging dock.) Deactivating the wireless features and 3D extends the battery life to closer to 5 hours, however. And, in sleep mode, the unit holds its charge for far longer.
  • Build quality and design: Critics noted that the design was too similar to previous Nintendo handhelds, with some bemoaning a lack of elegance or glamour common in other devices like the iPhone; reviewers also described the design chunky and outdated. The new device is also slightly heavier than the DSi and DS Lite. The units (especially the Cosmo Black color) are especially shiny compared to previous DSes, and reviewers noted that they could have a tendency to pick up fingerprints. But nearly every review praised the build quality as exceptionally solid, especially when it comes to the buttons and controls, though the hinge feels weaker than the rest of the unit. Several reviewers, however, do not care for the placement or operation of the Select, Home and Start buttons at the bottom of the touchscreen.
  • Built-in cameras: In addition to a forward-facing camera, the 3DS adds two rear-facing cameras, which can be used to take 3D photographs that can be viewed on the device. (They can also be used for "augmented reality" games, including a built-in title that utilizes the 6 AR cards that come in the box.) While critics enjoyed the 3D effect, the cameras' resolution was extremely poor, so don't expect to use a 3DS as your everyday camera.
  • Built-in software: Critics are raving about the completely redesigned user interface of the 3DS, which is similar in some respects to that if the Wii (including the use of Mii characters), but is perhaps even better and easier to use, though it lacks true multitasking. Reviewers are also impressed with the amount of software that is built in to the unit. While none of the individual built-in games has much replay value on its own, collectively, they serve as a nice showcase of the system's capabilities. The StreetPass feature, which allows sharing of game data and Miis even while the unit is in sleep mode, also shows promise, according to critics. One drawback for early adopters is that access to the online game store and the unit's built-in web browser are among the software features that are absent at launch; both are expected to arrive via a firmware update in May, while the ability for Netflix members to stream movies will come even later in the year.
  • Other differences from prior Nintendo DS devices: The 3DS boasts a new "circle pad" analog controller which critics liked, saying it is comfortable to use and enables finer control of the action than a standard D-pad (though not quite as much as a stick). There's still a D-pad as well, and a few critics complained about its placement on the 3DS. The built-in speakers, though still far from audiophile quality, are improved compared to the DSi, and the top display screen -- even in 2D mode -- boasts clearer images and a higher resolution than previous models. The stylus has also been upgraded from plastic to telescoping metal, though its placement when being stored is slightly more awkward than on the DSi.
  • DS emulation: The 3DS is fully backwards compatible with the DS, meaning that it will play all of your DS/DSi cartridges in 2D (though, since the 3DS has slightly larger screens, you will see small vertical bands on either side, or you can opt to stretch out the games to the full width). Many critics found few problems with DS emulation other than slightly slower load times, though other reviewers felt that some or all DS games looked better on an actual DS than on the 3DS. Also note that there is no Game Boy Advance slot, meaning you cannot play games that use the larger cartridges, nor can you use add-on controllers like those needed for Guitar Hero.

Below is a publication-by-publication sampling of the critical response to Nintendo's new device. We have grouped the reviews based on the general level of enthusiasm for the product, from most to least positive. If a publication assigned a score to the review, it is listed below (converted to a 100-point scale if necessary for purposes of comparison); otherwise, we did not attempt to assign scores to reviews that did not have them. Click on any publication name to read the full review.

Loved It
Score Publication
100 Computeractive
The ultimate test of any games console is, of course, the games that are made for it, and at the moment it's just too early to judge these ... When it comes to the console itself, though, the 3DS is almost perfect. [5/5 stars]
100 Electricpig
Although the 3DS is far from perfect – we find the external design a little uneven, and the battery life is disappointing for a portable machine – it's already changed our perception of what a mobile gaming platform should be. [5/5 stars]
96 ComputerAndVideoGames
In true Nintendo fashion there's something here for mum, dad, nan and your annoying baby brother. Most importantly for us, though, there's something for the hardcore market - and it's more than a little bit magical. ... If you want an example of a modern day gaming revolution, look no further. [9.6/10]
90 Cheat Code Central
Though $250 is certainly a steep price for a handheld system, the 3DS is worth every penny. The 3D is seamlessly implemented, the new UI features plenty of useful applications and a streamlined visual interface, and the bundled software, while not incredibly memorable on its own, works well at showing off exactly what we can expect from the 3DS in terms of features that can be implemented in other games. [4.5/5, "Must Buy"]
90 TechEye
A ton of fun. [9/10]
90 TechRadar
The 3DS outdoes its predecessors significantly when it comes to power and visual output. [4.5/5 stars]
n/a CrunchGear
The 3D play is immersive and exciting. It is, in short, revolutionary.
n/a Metro.co.uk
It's certainly the most exciting piece of video gaming hardware we've seen in years.
n/a Nintendo Life
It would be nearly impossible to not be wildly impressed with Nintendo's newest portable wonder. The 3DS delivers one of the most amazing gaming experiences we're ever seen, and it does so with many of the conveniences we've become accustomed to from Nintendo over the years.
Liked It
Score Publication
81 USA Today
I had a good time with the 3DS and expect your kids will, too. But the 3-D technology at its heart won’t appeal to everybody. [3.25/4 stars]
80 Digital Trends
It takes what worked with the DS and it improves upon it. Many people might be slightly disappointed on launch day, but given time to grow, the 3DS could once again solidify Nintendo's first-place hold on gaming. [8/10]
80 PC Advisor
The system still exhibits signs of a work in progress. ... That said, there's never been a handheld quite like the 3DS - one as brimming with features as well as potential, and offering an experience that's frankly impossible on other mobile devices like Apple's iPhone 4 or Sony's upcoming PSP successor. [4/5 stars]
80 PCMag
Without its 3D display, the Nintendo 3DS is a top-notch upgrade to the original Nintendo DS. With 3D, it's a compelling handheld gaming system with a surprisingly well-implemented and immersive hook built on top of a well-designed device with a massive, rock-solid gaming library. While it's the most expensive Nintendo handheld to date, it's well worth the $250 price tag. [4/5 stars]
80 PC World
Though it's uglier and trickier to get the hang of than its predecessors, the 3DS manages to be a unique gaming machine that Nintendo fans will want. [4/5 stars]
80 Pocket Gamer
Clearly the biggest selling point of the 3DS is the incorporation of glasses-free 3D gaming. In this regard the console is an astonishing success: the effect is wholly believable and grants games an additional degree of depth that just isn't possible with a traditional 2D display. Whether or not the feature will lead to better gameplay remains to be seen, but as a purely cosmetic addition it's more than welcome. [8/10, Silver Award]
80 Tech Digest
For a console that's unmatched in technical power (at least until the Sony NGP comes out), it still has the childishly magical buzz of delving into a toy-box for the first time. And that, if anything, is the 3DS's greatest strength. [4/5]
80 Wired
Eighteen months from now, Nintendo will release the inevitable 3DS Lite and take us for another $250. Until that day arrives, I'm pretty comfortable saying that the Nintendo 3DS is the best gaming platform the company has ever created: The user experience is quite polished in a variety of ways, and its forward-thinking core feature really does make gaming better. [8/10]
75 IGN
The 3DS is truly a remarkable device and a compelling expansion to Nintendo's handheld gaming platform, but it is far from perfect. ... But despite its technical shortcomings, Nintendo's innovative software is what truly makes the 3DS a compelling device. [7.5/10, "Good"]
Though it's a bit pricey, the Nintendo 3DS successfully offers a glasses-less 3D experience that needs to be seen to be believed. A weaker-than-usual launch lineup and some inactivated online features dampen its launch, but the future certainly looks bright. [3.5/5 stars]
70 Engadget
So, to get the maximum effect you have to hold the 3DS perfectly still, hold it close, and make sure the 3D dial isn't cranked too high. A pain? Yes, it is, but it quickly becomes second nature and, once you perfect it, it actually is worthwhile. The screen provides a very compelling effect and, while 3D adds absolutely nothing to the gameplay itself (you won't be peeking around corners or better-judging throws) it genuinely improves the perceived quality of the graphics in the system's games. Plus, it's pretty neat. [7/10]
n/a Ars Technica
The added depth and immersion you get from the 3D screen, and the ability to view it without glasses, is a truly great thing for gaming. ... Yes, this is the new shiny gadget on the market, and I'm very close to falling in love with it, but the fact is that this is the most expensive the hardware is going to be, and it will only gain features as it gets cheaper.
n/a Associated Press
[The] 3DS portable game machine lives up to the hype, creating a convincing illusion of a third dimension ... [but] my eyes got tired after about 10 minutes of 3-D action, so I spent more time with it turned off.
n/a Boston Globe
The 3DS is quite a good game console, and likely to get better. ... Still, $250 is a lot to pay for one extra dimension, when you can get along fine with only two.
n/a Destructoid
Nintendo has made great strides in both the quality of the hardware as well as the usability of the built-in software. While the glasses-free 3D technology is impressive and on the cutting edge, neither of us are entirely sold on the notion that it's going to change how we play games.
n/a Edge Magazine
Even the merest hint of depth can enhance the visuals of a game by distinctly separating the component parts of the image. And it's this clarity – rather than the gimmicky, popping-out-of-the-screen moments – which is what keeps you from turning the 3D off. ... But even without the 3D effect, this is powerful hardware.
n/a Eurogamer
3DS is an almost irresistible toy. ... As a contemporary gaming platform, with its modest power boost and improved usability, 3DS does just enough to keep up – but only just. Next to the latest iPod Touch, say, or Sony's Next Generation Portable, it does look like yesterday's vision of the future.
n/a Forbes
The 3DS isn't perfect, but it's sold me on the technology and its potential. This device makes the case for a brand new way of doing things.
n/a GameFocus
Elegant and filled with potential, the handheld Nintendo is about to unleash onto the market is something both casual and hardcore gamers (mostly the second breed) will have a hard time ignoring.
n/a The Globe and Mail
The 3DS is a powerful and innovative device, no question, but it comes at a cost.
n/a Joystiq
In general, looking at it as a gadget, I'm pretty impressed. The 3D feature works as advertised, is quite pleasant to behold and to hold, and it's loaded with built-in content that is actually worthwhile.
n/a Kotaku
The Nintendo 3DS is a grown-up piece of hardware. And it does the grown-up stuff well. It is stylish and has an array of truly nice touches.
n/a The New York Times [Gadgetwise Blog]
While concerns about the effects of 3-D on children under age seven are certainly worth watching, a more accurate warning for the Nintendo 3DS packaging might be as follows: WARNING — Once your child gazes into the $250 3-D screen of a Nintendo 3DS, she's going to want one.
n/a San Francisco Chronicle
But I'm thinking more and more that the 3-D is merely an initial hook, and that the system's real strength lies in its forays into augmented reality.
n/a San Jose Mercury News
As with every new system, Nintendo increased the horsepower underneath the hood, and the handheld benefits from a more powerful processor. It's what allows the system to do amazing things with the "AR Games." As for the graphics, they're a leap above the predecessor and rival that of the Wii.
n/a The Telegraph [UK]
As an entertainment 'toy ... the magic of the 3D and Nintendo's usual fabulous build quality and playful software mark it out as something special. But, and this is a big but, it is strongly recommended to try before you buy.
n/a Tom's Guide
In the end, we would recommend buying a 3DS if you have the cash on hand. ... The parallax 3D screen is worth the money, and both the launch titles and the first-party titles slated for later this year are largely appealing.
Mixed Feelings
Score Publication
n/a bit-gamer
The 3D is the only feature big enough to recommend the system on – there’s little else here that’s really new other than that, other than a bit more processing power and a slightly higher screen resolution. The 3D is a neat effect, and it works far better than any other 3D gaming system we’ve seen, but it’s not at a price point or quality that makes the 3DS an essential purchase.
n/a SlashGear
There's no denying that the Nintendo 3DS offers a significant step up in features compared to its predecessors. The 3D flits between being a gimmick and adding a true extra layer of depth to the gaming experience, and while it's not appealing to everybody, it does at least give the Nintendo a unique proposition among handheld consoles. Unfortunately, some of the hardware decisions undermine the overall value, like the mediocre resolution of the camera for 2D or 3D stills, and the disappointing battery life.
n/a Variety
The 3DS is an impressive game machine that has lots of potential. It is not, however, perfect – and if you're on the fence about getting one, you might be well served to wait for the inevitable refresh of the model.
n/a Wall Street Journal [The Digital Solution Blog]
The Nintendo 3DS does a good job of incorporating 3-D with photos and games, as long as the games don't make you feel dizzy. But its clunky form and limited functionality is up against steep competition from smartphones that cost less and offer more games.
Didn't Like It
Score Publication

What do you think?

Nintendo fans: Are you excited about the 3DS? Have you had a chance to try one out? Let us know in the comments section below.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (19)

  • JimmyJames  

    The headaches and eye-strain are only experienced by a small portion of users, not to mention you can always turn off the 3D effect if you are one of the unlucky ones. Some people experience the same problems with 3D films, yet that doesn't mean it sucks for everyone.

    Not that there's any games worth getting it for just yet. But given the games on GB, GBA, and DS, 3DS will be worth it in about a year, and probably cheaper too.

  • Anon  

    Yeah, isn't ONE MENTION of it anywhere on this stupid article. 100's of thousands of Japanese users complained about it and reported serious problems, to the point of going to the doctor from using it. All the while just getting a "Only use it in short 10-15 minute periods!!!" for an answer. But hey, you can make almost anything look like a 3-d boob so who cares right? Freaking people..

  • JimmyA  

    Anon, you sound pretty fanboyish yourself

  • Anon  

    This is a giant load of fanboyism and paid reviews..

    Please do use it, when your eyes start to cry ignore it, and when you start to get dizzy and they feel like they're going to bleed, ignore that also!

    Keep in mind this whole process will only take about an hour or two.

    Freaking fanboys and morons..

  • BrilliantR  

    Can't wait to get my hands on this 3DS =D

  • Phil4000  

    Sounds like almost all the reviewers thought the 3D effect was good and worked as advertised. Thats my only issue right now as to making a purchase. I recently purchased a 3D setup for my computer, and spent over $700 to find their was significant problems with Nvidia's 3D tech. (ghosting of images, the screen seemed very dark, color loss). Most of theses issue seem to be due to the glasses. If the Nintendo 3DS screen can overcome these problems, the device should do well.

  • lucas  

    im saving my money for the PSP2, sorry : P

  • Josh A  

    It'll take all my willpower to wait until the price goes down.
    Ocarina of Time in 3D? Not even a decision.

  • Mitch Tough  

    Great round-up, thanks Jason!

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