When the 3DS came out several years ago, we had a hard time imagining how it could be bettered – as, apparently, did Nintendo. We all remember the controversy that ensued when the WarioLeaks website posted internal Nintendo documents describing the ‘1DS’, which Nintendo scrapped after gamers organised a massive online protest – for good reason, as the almost imperceptibly thin device would have required special tools and a jeweller’s loupe to play. Fortunately, Nintendo quickly corrected course and announced plans for the 4DS. We obtained several test units of the astonishing hardware for this exclusive preview.
We audibly gulped with emotion as we unfolded the 4DS like a matte-black lotus flower and discovered it to be equipped with four screens. You don’t even have enough eyes to look at that many screens at once. There’s a traditional display, an autostereoscopic 3D display, a touchscreen and the new lickscreen, which is tongue-operated. This interface continues Nintendo’s proud tradition of making its handhelds as stigmatising as possible to play in public. That said, in one of the launch titles we tested, Willy Wonka In The Fourth Dimension, the snozzberries tasted just like snozzberries. But the quadscreen setup is the least striking of the novelties packed into this device.
The 4DS augments games with an array of physical effects, which the launch titles go out of their way to showcase. In Shaun White’s Ultra-Mega Snowboard Avalanche Shred Party, a Freon-powered AC unit makes the system feel icy cold and blows arctic air into your face. Sources inside Nintendo tell us that lickscreen compatibility was abandoned when a playtester’s tongue froze to the screen. A built-in heater makes the desert regions of Prince Of Persia: Still Climbin’ feel more authentic – though you’ll need to connect an auxiliary petrol tank, sold separately. More remarkable still are the imperceptible grilles along the bottom edge of the system, which continually release a fine dusting of sand, bringing the gritty texture of the desert to wherever you are – which hopefully isn’t in bed. Where does all that sand come from? Will we need refill cartridges? Given Nintendo’s notoriously tight grip on its proprietary tech, we may never know.
It should be noted that not all 4DS launch titles push the envelope quite so vigorously. Some take a more timid approach, falling back on predictable strobe lights and force feedback. Harry Potter And The Bucket Of Mystery and Lego Requiem For A Dream both rely more on their licensed properties than forward thinking. At least the latter makes creative use of the touchscreen as you use the stylus to help an emaciated Lego Jared Leto carve up some “really pure horse”. Other titles include remakes with 4D effects grafted on, sometimes to spectacular effect. An ingenious water dispersion system utilising Swedish showerhead technology has leak, squirt and mist settings, making remakes of BioShock, Super Mario Sunshine and Heavy Rain literally immersive – and refreshing. Again, we worry about refill carts, plus mildew. However, Nintendo issued a press release recently claiming that a gamer could survive in the wilderness indefinitely with nothing but a 4DS and a copy of Cooking Mama.
Some developers got a bit carried away. When battling the fire-breathing, poison-gas-farting character Earthquake in Samurai Shodown 4D, you’ll want to turn the 4D slider all the way down. At its highest level, hidden nozzles in the device’s casing emit gouts of flame up to two metres high, and the stench – the system administers odours and tastes via airborne pheromones – triggered bouts of uncontrollable retching, making us nostalgic for the good old ‘3D headache’ of yesteryear. Also, the tiny bullets and blinding lasers bombarding us during Metroid: Emo M are downright hazardous. Facial lacerations aside, we had to keep playing these titles thanks to the truncated launch lineup. Kingdom Hearts Death By Smiling: 1,298×13 was cancelled when its title aroused suspicions that its developers had actually gone mad. Worse, Rockstar pulled the plug on Grand Theft Harvest Moon when a coder was caught developing a Hot Coffee-like minigame, with lickscreen functionality so lewd we can’t even print a description.
You could identify potential Samurai Shodown multiplayer opponents simply by looking for screen-licking, eyebrow-less people who smell like poison gas, but there is an easier way, as the StreetPass functionality introduced by the 3DS returns with a 4D overhaul. When two of our playtesters passed each other in the corridor with Pokémon Raw Umber in both of their systems, a level-one Squirtle automatically battled a buffed Diglett. When it seemed that all was lost, the loser’s 4DS fired a throat dart that took the winner in the neck and dropped him cold. The last gamer standing took his opponent’s 4DS, and then ran like the wind; the palpable wind of a brave new dimension.
Illustration: Martin Davies