Nintendo's newest handheld console, the 3DS, costs $250 — the same amount the Wii cost at first, making the 3DS the most expensive handheld to date. It costs even more than an iPhone, a device that has been unexpectedly blossoming into a portable-console competitor in its own right. And the 3DS can't even make phone calls. What's more, at this stage, there are only a few 3DS games of note — all of them remakes.
That said, as soon as you load up Nintendo's triumphant remake of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and see the first few shots of young Link curled up in his bed, you'll catch your breath in surprise and awe. The top screen of the 3DS is rendered in beautiful stereoscopic 3D, with no 3D glasses required. It's as though you're peering into a perfect diorama of Hyrule. Link and the rest of the Hylians maintain their classic cartoonish simplicity, but in comparison to the blocky, chunky graphics of the original 1998 Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64, this 3DS update feels like a completely new game.
And thank goodness for that. Although Ocarina of Time is often hailed as one of the best video games ever, the past decade has not been kind to it — especially given the high expectations modern-day gamers have for graphics and menus. The original game's inventory organization was somewhat clunky, but the new 3DS version uses the bottom touch screen to its advantage. The 3DS overall uses thumb-sized icons reminiscent of the iPhone's menus, and Ocarina uses a similar touchable-icon navigation system in-game. The rest of the controls are equally user-friendly; the 3DS's new circular thumb slider is much easier to manipulate than a joystick. Both the new thumb circle and the third dimension lend much-needed help to the game's occasional platform-based puzzles, which require both speed and precise jumping.
Two other 3DS games have been hailed as good enough to make the console worth buying. One of these, Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, doesn't deserve the compliment. Capcom appears to have rushed the game out the door and forgotten a few key elements. Mercenaries 3D is actually an embellished remake of the "Mercenaries" mini-games in Resident Evil 4 and 5, but the aspects of Resident Evil that I love best — corny, complicated narrative interspersed with bone-chilling terror — seem to be missing. Zombies just aren't scary on a tiny handheld screen, even in 3D, so situations that would have been harrowing and gripping on a TV screen instead seem frustrating and forgettable on the 3DS. Also, Mercenaries only allows you one saved game, and even though there is online multiplayer, there are no leader boards for high scores. It's not very motivating to keep replaying for a higher score when you have no scores to compare to, no story to maintain your interest, and no scares to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Another 3DS remake, Street Fighter IV, was unavailable for review. Besides, I already own that one in console form, and I'd rather play it in on the big screen with a full-size fight stick. Of course, before long we can expect a flood of new 3DS games. In the meantime, impatient, wealthy Zelda fans who do snap up the 3DS just for Ocarina will adore the remake. Everyone else would do better to wait until the inevitable price drop on the 3DS, as well as future 3DS Mario and Metroid games. It's not like you need to worry about reading Ocarina spoilers if you choose to wait and buy it later.