3DS - More than just a Gimmick with a Gimmick!
How it Looks - System: Great, Graphics: Great/Unbelievable
The system itself is very similar to the DS in layout with a few exceptions. First, it has an analog stick. That alone is great, as it makes controlling in a 3D environment that much better (Super Mario 64 DS would have killed for this). The best part is that it still works for DS games. Don't get too excited though: it acts like the D-Pad, so the controls don't smooth themselves out. It does feel more comfortable to use then the D-Pad though. Second, it has a "Home" button like the Wii does, which allows you to go back to the main menu. This was lacking on the DS as well (until the DSi gave us the reset function on the power button), and a great addition. It also allows you to use some of the apps (notepad, internet, etc) without having to shut down the game, which is also great. Third, the top screen is bigger than the DS's screen, which pushes it a bit closer to a Widescreen ratio. It's another nice touch, though not many people will truly notice it.
The graphics are the main focus of the system though. First, there's the improved graphics itself. It's capable of pushing out near-Wii quality graphics, which is great for a handheld. Obviously nothing has taken the engine to its extreme yet, but there is a lot more potential here than there was in the DS. However, this is completely overshadowed by the 3D aspect of the system. Yes, it does deliver 3D images without glasses. It does a great job at this too. Though it takes a bit to get adjusted to it at first, once you get in the "bubble", it's amazing to see. Even just the system setup's 3D test amazed me when I saw it. Depending on how the games use it, the 3D could be a great asset to developers in making very immersible games. There are some problems with the graphics however. First, the pictures still look terribly pixelated, like the photos taken with the DSi/DSi XL. They're just in 3D now. Second, because the 3DS uses a better screen ratio than the DS, when stretching the view of DS games there's some added pixelation and artifacting (picture quality around edges and moving parts drops and becomes slightly more pixelated). Most may not notice it, but if you've played a game for a while on the DS, then start playing it on the 3DS, you'll notice a difference.
How it Sounds: Good
An improvement over the DS speakers, but not by leaps and bounds. They're stronger and able to make higher quality sound, but there in the same position, and the quality is still lacking compared to the PSP.
How it Feels: Great
There's a slight adjustment to the addition of the analog stick and movement of the Start and Select buttons, but otherwise it'll feel like the same DS controls you're used to, which is a great asset. Familiarity in the controls will make it easier for most to transition into the new handheld. There's a reason PlayStation and Xbox controls haven't changed much since their first systems' launched. The biggest thing will be adjusting to how the gyroscope and 3D add to the game. The pack-in game "Face Raiders" uses the gyroscope, forcing you to turn around to shoot all the faces in the level, instead of using the arrows/analog stick to turn. Other games will be using this functionality to keep you moving and doing stuff, which ties into the Wii's philosophy, but may become a turn-off in smaller or cramped environments. The 3D itself can be adjusted to suit the game and gamer with a handy slider on the side of the top screen. It can also be turned off if desired (or the gamer can't see the 3D).
How it Plays: Fantastic!
While the majority of the games I have tried are just DS games with prettier graphics and 3D (except for "Face Raiders"), that's not necessarily a bad thing. With the limitless potential of the touch screen still barely tapped, there's a lot of possible gameplay still to be created. With the analog stick and gyroscope added as well, controls have gotten more fluid, and even more possibilities and freedoms have been opened up. As well, the 3DS adds the StreetPass functionality, which allows the 3DS to pass data along to other people's systems as you pass by, as long as the system's turned on. This gives the games even more to add onto gameplay: you can share Miis (they make a return on the 3DS), share friend codes (there's only one needed now - the system has a friend code, and every game just accesses that one code), share stats for games, trade info, even have a battle or two, just to name some examples. Of course, the launch titles are a very mixed bag, from rehashes (Super Street Fighter IV and Rayman 3D being remakes that add in 3D) to non-gamer games (Nintendogs & Cats, the Sims 3) to disappointment (sadly, Pilotwings Resort didn't do anything for me, and I had fond memories of the first Pilotwings game), but there's a lot of potential here.
Battery Length: 3-5 hours!
Here's the bad news: the battery sucks. With max brightness and the 3D slider set to full, you'll barely top 3 hours of continuous gameplay on a full charge. You can stretch it to 5 by turning brightness down to minimum and 3D off, but that'd defeat the purpose of the system. The StreetPass also requires the system to be on as well (though in a slightly more active Sleep Mode, which still eats the battery faster than the DS' sleep mode), and it has a 15-20 hour battery life if left on sleep mode the entire time. Yeah, it's going to suck if you can't keep this plugged in the majority of your playtime.
While there's not much available for it yet (disappointing launch list, no internet browser yet), the potential for the system, a number of great games announced to come out later this year (new Mario, Paper Mario, and Kingdom Hearts games on the way, as well as Star Fox 64 and Zelda: Ocarina of Time remakes), 3D Video streaming coming later this year, and still plays the entire back catalog of DS games makes this a great buy. Not only that, it takes 3D pictures. How sweet is that?