The next weapon in the Nintendo (Pink Sheets: NTDOY.PK) arsenal will be unsheathed on March 27, and it'll cost you $250. GameStop (NYSE: GME ) is already taking preorders.
More importantly, the Nintendo 3DS handheld gaming device looks likely to breathe new life into Nintendo's flagging fortunes, because it's much more than just slapping a tacky 3-D screen on the same old DSi body. This is some seriously good stuff for hardcore and casual gamers alike.
Captain Obvious reports
The headline-making feature is, of course, the semi-eponymous 3-D screen. Giving gamers some in-game depth perception without ugly glasses is a nice touch that could lead to some interesting new design ideas. If nothing else, it's an attention-grabber.
Next, there's another new control among the familiar buttons: an analog pad akin to the joystick on Wii nunchuks. Nintendo itself is sure to use this feature to good effect in 3DS-specific titles, and third-party game studios will eventually catch on as well. Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: ERTS ) should be able to do cool things with true 3-D graphics and more complex controls in games like the Madden NFL series, for example.
But the biggest changes don't show up at first glance.
Much-improved networking will help you find and interact with other 3DS systems nearby, exchanging game stats and avatars even if the system is in the dormant sleep mode. In this day and age of social everything, this looks like a killer feature.
Next up, you'll be able to pause 3DS games and automatically save your progress at any time, rather than frantically searching for a save point in the game at bedtime, the end of lunch break, or whatever other silly distractions real life throws your way.
The automatic nature of the saves makes me wonder whether you're not actually saving the state of a virtual machine that's actually running your game, the same way you'd save the state of a VMware virtual machine. Handheld virtualization is nothing new, by the way: Google designed its Android platform to run software in virtualized compartments using the Dalvik virtual machine, mostly for security reasons. Is that overkill for a gaming system? Perhaps, but that technology could also cramp the style of would-be game pirates in a serious way. That was one of Nintendo's main design goals for the 3DS, after all.
Now you're playing with power
Which brings us to the hardware. In order to handle all this extra functionality, the 3DS will run on much faster chips than previous DS generations. The DSi used an ARM Holdings (Nasdaq: ARMH ) processor about twice as fast as the one found in the DS Lite, and you should expect at least that magnitude of improvement in the 3DS.
In fact, NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA ) has long been known to have the processor contract for the 3DS in hand, so a standard or custom version of the Tegra mobile chip should be part of the package. That would be a major leg up for NVIDIA in its quest for mobile market respect, and will also make the 3DS future-proof in a big way.
The 3DS is clearly a lot more than a pretty new face on an old system. The console will be backwards-compatible with existing DS and DSi games, of course, but it also has 30 3DS-specific titles slated for launch before June. An Astroturf-like marketing campaign is designed to get people interested in the new system, whether they play games or not.
Analysts see this launch as a catalyst for not just Nintendo, but for the gaming industry as a whole. The company will ship 4 million units to stores in the first month to prevent shortages, which would compare very nicely with some of the hottest electronics launches ever seen.