Shattered Glasses: Is Nintendo's 3DS a Game Changer?

Shattered Glasses: Is Nintendo's 3DS a Game Changer?
Barack Obama may have coined the Charlie Sheen-ian slogan "win the future" during this year's State of the Union address, but Nintendo is actually attempting to do so. Which makes more sense, actually, since gaming is not only inherently based on #winning but is also a future-fixated industry that tends to revolutionize its tech every few years.

Let's consider Sony's recent home theatre 3D push a so-called "Sputnik moment," a technological innovation that pushes a rival towards an even greater one ― in this case, Nintendo's achievement of glasses-free 3D. Admittedly, the just-launched Nintendo 3DS is more of a small step than a giant leap for gaming kind ― it is a handheld, after all, not a fancy-pants flat screen ― but it nonetheless heralds a revolution.

The Wii's original codename was actually the Nintendo Revolution, appropriate considering its eventual impact and the fact that industry-altering innovation has been the Kyoto company's M.O. since the original NES resurrected console gaming after the Atari crash. Yes, the GameCube was a debacle, but even waggle-haters would be hard pressed to argue that the Wii's motion-sensing ― not to mention the DS touch screen ― haven't become industry standard.

Nintendo even attempted 3D gaming back in the mid-'90s with Virtual Boy, a failed experiment that essentially welded a Magic ViewFinder to a Super Nintendo. Time magazine recently placed it among the 50 worst inventions of all time, but the ongoing explosion of 3D movies inevitably brought the idea back. Unlike the cinema, however, there just aren't any baskets of free 3D glasses at your house.

The big 3D TV rollout began last year and Sony smartly targeted their pitch at gamers since they tend to be early adopters and, well, there wasn't much actual 3D television to watch anyway. But the company's ultimate goal is to use gamers to inch us all towards a 3D TV tipping point that will also support its TV, film and hardware divisions.

Still, there's no getting around the fact that current 3D TVs require glasses and that may be an insurmountable barrier to mainstream acceptance. Glasses-free 3D has long been considered the future, but it seemed a long way off until Nintendo stole the show at last summer's E3 conference by giving the gaming press a chance to play the 3DS ― each shackled to a spokesmodel ― and it turned out that the damn thing worked.

Don't think of the 3DS like Star Wars-style hologram chess. Rather than sticking out of the screen in that gimmicky Jaws 3D way, it simply adds an impressive amount of depth to the game graphics. It looks kinda magic. It's not, though ― no first-gen tech ever is. There's a sweet spot you have to hold it in, and a slider to adjust the intensity of the 3D effect. Kids under six are advised not to use it at all for fear of damaging their eye development and even adult eyeballs will grow tired after long sessions.

But ― and it's Sir Mix-a-Lot-sized but ― it proves that glasses-free 3D is possible. Backward compatible with the many other iterations of Nintendo's dual-screen portable, the 3DS will likely make them as relevant as a GameBoy. The three-month "launch window" has a decently diverse array of games, ranging from cult characters (Kid Icarus) and crossover icons (Zelda) to flying (Pilotwings Resort), submarining (Steel Diver), battling (Street Fighter IV) and cuddling (nintendogs + cats) games.

There are plenty of bells and whistles, too ― including the ability to take 3D photos ― but the important part is simply that it offers a spectacle without, y'know, wearing spectacles. The ironic part however, is that ultimately the 3DS just makes gaming prettier and Nintendo has long defended the Wii's lack of HD by arguing game play, not graphics, is what matters. Based on sales figures, they were right then ― we shall soon see if they're also right now.