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Nintendo announces the 3DS: Get ready for 3-D gaming without 3-D glasses

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Image Credit: Jonathan Alcorn/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesIf the folks at Nintendo were worried about Microsoft’s Kinect stealing its innovation thunder at this year’s E3, it was game over for those concerns yesterday after the venerable videogame company debuted the 3DS, a handheld gaming device that features a 3.5 inch 3-D screen that works without 3-D glasses. Just look at the screen with your plain old eyes, and a multi-dimensional Mario brightly smiles back at you. The 3DS case looks basically like the current Nintendo DS handheld device (including a second, 2-D touch screen), with a new analog controller, motion sensitivity, and two external cameras that let you take 3-D photos. I got to use a 3DS for all of 90 seconds after the show, and even though the demo was just a series of screens featuring classic Nintendo characters, I’m fairly certain I briefly achieved Nirvana while holding it.

Okay, not really, but it is an uncanny experience, looking at a flat screen and seeing depth with just your naked eyes. The 3DS also features a slider that lets you adjust just how dimensional you want the image to be — you can even make it completely 2-D, if you’d like — and I was impressed with how seamlessly it shifted the image from plump to skinny to flat and back again. Of course, this was just while looking at more-or-less static images; I’ve yet to see any actual gameplay on the 3DS. For that matter, Nintendo has yet to announce when the magical device will be available, or for how much. And the company only had one 3DS game ready to show off at its presentation: Kid Icarus: Uprising, a true nostalgia trip for any gamer over 30, sure, but like I said, we still didn’t get to see the game on the 3DS itself.

Still, I couldn’t help but feel like The Future just got a little bit closer yesterday. And judging from the impressive roster of hardcore gaming franchises lining up to take advantage of the system — including Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, and Kingdom Hearts — it’s probably safe to assume the 3DS is not Virtual Boy 2.0. At least not right away.

The rest of Nintendo’s E3 presentation was a veritable onslaught of game title announcements and first looks. The morning began with an extended demonstration of Nintendo’s latest The Legend of Zelda game, subtitled Skyward Sword. Zelda’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, was on hand to demonstrate how the Nintendo Wii’s ultra-sensitive Wii Motion Plus enhances the game’s swordplay. Unfortunately, whether due to interference from the umpteen wireless devices in the Nokia Theater or just a glitch in the Matrix, the games controls were buggy, and the demo was pretty much a bust from the start. At least the game’s storybook art style — a combination of Twilight Princess‘s more straightforward look and The Wind Waker‘s playful cartoon-y look — impressed. (Perhaps not surprisingly, the game won’t be ready until 2011.)

Luckily, Nintendo marched out nearly every single member of its considerable roster of A-list in-house characters onto the stage yesterday, so Link’s face plant was soon but a distant memory. Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach et. al. will play dodgeball, volleyball, hockey, and basketball in next year’s Mario Sports Mix. The adorably hungry pink ball known as Kirby will return in Kirby’s Epic Yarn (out this fall), with a side-scrolling crafty fabric art style that was almost too cute to handle, even if it was slightly reminiscent of the PS3’s Little Big Planet. The crowd went crazy nuts for the return of Donkey Kong and his nephew Diddy Kong in the aptly named Donkey Kong Country Returns, yet another side-scroller that appears to prove that not every franchise needs to abandon the 2-D universe. (I’m looking at you, Sonic — who, incidentally, gets his own side-scrolling game this year, but I digress.)

If all that nostalgia wasn’t enough, Nintendo announced the return of GoldenEye 007, the gold standard first-person shooter that introduced so many time-wasting college students gamers to the glorious wonders of multiplayer when it came out for the Nintendo 64 in 1997. With eight classic Bond characters (like Jaws and Odd Job), and Daniel Craig “playing” Bond, I suspect nationwide productivity levels will plummet after the game hits stores this November.

Other game demos, trailers, and announcements included Disney Epic Mickey, a Wii-exclusive platform game that plops the iconic mascot into a fractured Disney universe that looks and feels surprisingly twisted for the famously image-conscious company; Wii Party, a, well, party game that finally makes use of all those millions of goofy Mii avatars we all spent hours slavishly designing back when we first bought our Wiis; and Metroid: Other M, a game (out Aug. 31) that has been so highly anticipated that I was kinda shocked all we got to see from it was an all-too-brief trailer.

Really, though, the big story was the 3DS. If and when it does finally get a release date, will you be first in line to buy one, PopWatchers? How much would you be willing to pay for it? $150? $200? $1 gagillion? And which Nintendo game title are you most excited about?