Why I'm sitting out the launch of the Nintendo 3DS

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The wait for the Nintendo's new handheld gaming system, the 3DS, is almost over. In fact some stores are opening at midnight Saturday night for gamers too eager to wait until Sunday morning for their first taste of glasses-free 3D gaming. Will I be there? Nope, I'm waiting this launch out.

Many gamers have great faith in Nintendo and its hardware, but I'm old enough to have been there when the Virtua Boy launched (Nintendo's prior attempt at 3D, circa 1995). I've seen Nintendo stumble. I don't think the 3DS is a disaster on the scale of the Virtua Boy but I do have some concerns about this new hardware.

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On a personal level, I'm worried about eye-strain and headaches. I've been watching coverage from the gaming press and it doesn't seem like all that many people have had problems with the 3D but many admit that you can tell your eyes are 'working' to see the 3D. I'd just like to borrow one from someone before I splash out my $250 on a handheld that might give me eye-strain.

Interestingly, Nintendo seems to have some concerns along the same lines. Ars Technica's Ben Kuchera posted an interesting story earlier this week explaining an odd policy from Nintendo: their 3DS games have to work in 2D. In other words, Nintendo isn't going to be making any games (at least, not now) that use 3D as part of the actual gameplay. Instead the 3D system will just be used to enhance visuals. Nintendo's Hideki Konno explained the policy: "We want to get software out to as many people as possible, and there are some people who just can't see 3D. We're moving away from any stance that says if you don't use the 3-D functionality you can't play this game."

While this is very democratic of Nintendo, it seems like an odd stance to take. Wouldn't you want to really showcase the flashiest feature of your new hardware? Of course third parties aren't bound by this policy so maybe we'll still see 3D-dependent gaming on the system.

Another reason for holding off on a 3DS for now is that the system feels a bit unfinished to me. Nintendo promises an app store (they don't call it that, so you Apple lawyers can stop salivating) to be patched in later (late May). The ability to watch 3D movie trailers and Netflix streaming will also be added sometime this summer. These are nice features that will really enrich the 3DS experience and I feel like they should've been ready at launch. I'll wait for Nintendo to finish the system before I buy.

Many retailers have some kind of Nintendo DS trade-in program to help take the sting out of that $250 price tag. I had planned to take advantage of one of these offers until I learned that the 3DS really isn't so good at playing DS games, and I have a pretty good-sized library of those games. Apparently DS games load more slowly than they do on an actual DS and the image is either upscaled to fit the 3DS screen (with poor results) or letterboxed on three sides. This isn't a big deal for everyone (check out this forum thread at Gametrailers.com for same example images and fan reaction) but it means that trade-in deal is off the table for me. That removes the urgency of buying now while the trade-in offer is valid.

And the last and most important reason is the lineup of launch games. They just don't seem very compelling to me (this is very much a personal reaction). If I bought a 3DS on Sunday I'd be 'settling' on a game to go with it, rather than being excited about it. Where are the new IPs?

Of course, the patches will come and the library will grow and I'm sure I'll own a 3DS eventually. Even if the 3D effect bothers my eyes, the 3DS has more horsepower and potentially better controls than the DS and so we'll see more elaborate games coming out for the system and I'll be able to shut off the 3D effet and enjoy them. I'm also secretly hoping for an early price cut; perhaps in reaction to a Sony NGP launch next winter?

What really surprises me is that as I write this, 40 hours from launch, Amazon.com is still taking pre-orders for the 3DS, advertising a release date of March 27th (and with a $25 credit towards 3DS games). The system isn't back-ordered (at Amazon) at this point. Whether that means Nintendo has just produced a very large number of units, or if it means that pre-order demand isn't what it usually is for a new console, we won't know until after launch (if then). I've become conditioned to assume shortages for every console launch, but after the horrible shortages that the Wii faced when it launched, perhaps Nintendo has just learned its lesson about capacity.

Or perhaps I'm not alone in my concerns about this new hardware. Are any of my readers planning on picking up a 3DS at launch? I'd love to hear what you think once you have some time with it!

Peter Smith writes about personal technology for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @pasmith.

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