Digital Life: Nintendo brings its battle with Apple to a whole new dimension
Few people gave the Nintendo DS a prayer when it was first revealed in 2004. Ugly as sin and touting two low-res screens as its unique selling point, it emerged just as Sony wowed the world with its sleek and gorgeous PSP.
But Nintendo had the last laugh and the DS went on to outsell the PSP by two-to-one.
It repeated the trick with the modestly powered Wii, opting out of the technology arms race with Xbox and PlayStation -- yet winning again.
But even as the iPhone begins to dominate the portable games market, only a fool would dismiss Nintendo's chances of pulling off a hat-trick with its new 3DS, the first handheld console with a 3D screen.
Based largely on its predecessor, the DSi, if it weren't for the impressive new paint job, you would have trouble telling them apart at a glance.
But pick it up and the 3DS immediately feels different -- more sophisticated, more substantial.
Switch it on and you realise that 3D might just help Nintendo withstand the iPhone's onslaught.
Nintendo's moment of genius was deciding to use a 3D screen that doesn't require those wacky glasses.
It immediately makes the effect more immersive and natural, with the only downside that you need to keep your head still in the sweet spot. A few centimetres one way or the other and you're looking at blurry blobs.
Even before you fire up one of the 3DS launch titles (13 in total plus full backwards compatibility with the DS library), Nintendo eases you into the brave new world of 3D with a slew of captivating mini-games built in.
One simply enables you take 3D pictures with the low-res cameras, another amusingly incorporates your snapshots into a shooting gallery.
Cleverest of all is the augmented reality title that superimposes moving characters into your living room. And while their appeal may wane, they whet the appetite for full games based on the power of the 3DS.
The roster of launch titles lacks the sure-fire draw of a Mario or Zelda game (those will arrive later in the year). The debut line-up clearly shows 3D -- so far -- to be an interesting but not quite essential add-on.
Eye fatigue is also an unavoidable consequence -- Nintendo even recommends that children under six shouldn't use a 3DS at all.
And then there's the price. Nintendo may have produced the best DS ever -- feature-packed, beautifully constructed -- but €270 is a risky tag to put on a console that faces deadly competition from smartphones.
Yet even though battery life is disappointing and a killer 3D title is absent so far, you would bet against Nintendo at your peril. The 3DS will be available from Friday.
Motor Storm Apocalypse
When a city is falling apart in a series of earthquakes, sure why wouldn't you decide to stage an off-road racing festival in the crumbling ruins? Admittedly, it doesn't seem like a clever premise for a game in the wake of the New Zealand and Japan quakes.
Motor Storm Apocalypse cheekily appropriates the central mechanic of last year's minor hit Split/Second Velocity -- rapidly shifting track layouts -- and welds it to the familiar MotorStorm template of bikes, buggies and trucks racing hell for leather.
To the makers' credit, they've refined the idea with style.
The quake's tremors dramatically alter the landscape mid-race, collapsing buildings in your path or exposing subterranean routes.
It brings fresh thrills to the trademark MotorStorm spectacle.
The tracks constantly impress with their 'destroyed beauty' ethic, the machines' handling is more grippy and less unpredictable than before.
Even the optional 3D looks spectacular if ultimately tiring.
But many players may be frustrated by the strictly linear progression of the dispensable story -- no longer can you choose the style of vehicle or the order in which to tackle races. Long loading times quickly become tedious too.
Yet there's enough variety in Apocalypse to keep you constantly on your toes and unable to resist just one more race.
FIGHT NIGHT CHAMPION
Sometimes you can have too much reality. The Fight Night series made its name for its gut-wrenching depiction of fists hitting faces, zooming in slow-mo to the warped muscles and flying spittle when a killer blow landed.
But the punching system had erred too far on the side of difficult by relying on complex moves of the analogue stick.
FNC retreats a little from its simulation perfectionism in its controls and the result is a much more enjoyable game.
The reality still plays a big part -- boxers' shorts gradually pick up sprays of blood during bouts and protecting yourself is equally important as throwing endless punches.
With convincing recreations of the styles of big hitters such as Ali and Tyson. FNC nails the eerie sensation of sharing the ring with a man who wants to kill you.
Still, though, there's a faint sense that round after round can be a bit of a drag, which is probably why the story mode featuring a rising boxer seems so engaging.
Already achieving record-breaking sales for Nintendo, PW continues the cynical Pokemon marketing tradition of flogging an almost identical version to the Black edition.
But that's not to take away from the sheer polish of this latest in the turn-based battling series.
Cliched and repetitive it may be story-wise and gameplay-wise, but there's so much craft and love lavished on these little blighters, it's difficult to fight the urge to catch 'em all.
Bits and Bytes
Just about ready for tariff
* Prepaid mobile service Just Mobile has finally introduced a data tariff for its customers. Or, more precisely, it's turned on its data service and made it available free until April 30, with a fair-use limit of 1GB per month.
Just Mobile admits the service will initially have limited speeds while it tests its reliability. The company isn't saying how much it will charge when the free period has ended.
DáIL OVER THE WEB ON MAGNET
* Things just got a whole lot more interesting in the Dáil this month, with the promise of some lively debates and rabble-rousing from the Independents.
Now you can tune in live online to the shenanigans in Leinster House via Magnet's free web TV service.
The Dáil broadcasts join the other Irish stations and, rather oddly, the Russia Today channel on the Magnet platform.
MS URGES USERS TO EXPLORE NINE
* It's not often you get a company pleading you to stop using its product, but Microsoft is campaigning for an end to its own Internet Explorer 6 web browser.
Now 10 years old, desperately insecure and full of bugs, IE6 is still used by millions of web surfers worldwide even though it has long been overtaken by much better browsers including Chrome and Firefox.
Microsoft itself has just released Internet Explorer 9 -- let's face it, two cans and a piece of string would be a better communication strategy than IE6 at this stage.