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3DS: Pricing and reception

Who's cheapest, and what the critics think so far about Nintendo's "biggest ever" launch

Nintendo has long dominated the handheld console market worldwide. The ubiquitous DS has sold over 140 million units worldwide to date - and continues to shift units at an impressive rate. Needless to say, this makes the release of its successor big news for the industry.

Coming six years after the original DS, the 3DS launches in Europe tomorrow - with the North American release coming two days later - on two SKUs: Cosmos Black and Aqua Blue.

Its arrival has already been heralded as a huge success by retailers like Amazon, who say it is the most pre-ordered games console in history. The online retailer is offering the system for £187, saving customers £42.99 off the console's steep £229.99 asking price.

For some time the cheapest offer available, Amazon's pricing was only one stage in a tit-for-tat pricing war which has seen retailers cutting already slim margins ever further in the hope of customer engagement.

Perhaps the most immediately eye-catching deal is that of HMV. The entertainment retailer revealed that it's possible to get hold of the console in its stores for as little as £109.99. This low price point applies to 3DS pre-order customers who trade in a DSi XL model against the console. Otherwise, the console can be purchased from the website for £196.99.

The 3DS is also going for £196.99 on GAME's website. The specialist retailer has confirmed that any free stock on the High Street will be sold at £219.99, though stores are offering a saving of £15 on a select number of titles from the system's launch line-up, with shoppers able to pick up a game for £24.99 when purchased together with a 3DS.

However, by some way the lowest price for the 3DS is currently being touted by supermarket Tesco, which is going to be selling the console for as little as £175 when bought with any 3DS game. Without software the unit costs £197 - equivalent to the online only price of many other retailers.

The device itself has been receiving positive if not evangelical reviews, with many choosing to reserve conclusive judgement until more software becomes available.

Jeff Bakalar, editor of technology site CNET, was generally positive about the hardware, in particular praising the "dazzling" nature of the glasses-free 3D effect and the system's improved graphical power over its predecessor.

Bakalar was, however, disappointed with the low-resolution of the console's two cameras coupled with its short battery life, and was critical of its price point writing that it "may not provide enough value and functionality for those looking for an all-in-one device."

Software support concerns were expressed by Oli Welsh of Eurogamer who said that "much excitement at the first demonstrations of its remarkable screen," had been tempered by "a seemingly lacklustre line-up of launch software and steep pricing".

Unusually for a Nintendo hardware launch, it's a third party title, Capcom's Super Street Fight IV: 3D Edition, that is considered to be the best of the software available on day one - with the fighting game currently boasting a Metacritic score of 84.

Nintendo's cheerful flight simulation effort Pilotwings: Resort has been less well received with a Metacritic rating of 73, though Eurogamer afforded it 8/10 - the same score as Street Fighter.

Animal training simulator Nintendogs + Cats - a huge franchise for the company on handheld - has also been met with lukewarm reviews, with GamesTM delivering a meagre 6/10 verdict and saying that "the cruel under-utilisation of the cats could genuinely disappoint fans of felines everywhere."

Fans of Nintendo's biggest IP - the Mario and The Legend of Zelda series - will be left waiting a little longer with both series notably absent from the console launch.

Most troubling for Nintendo - so long an industry innovator - will be the repeated assessment that the company has failed to adapt to the recent growth of the smartphone market, with Welsh summing it up best: "As a contemporary gaming platform, with its modest power boost and improved usability, 3DS does just enough to keep up - but only just. Next to the latest iPod Touch, say, or Sony's Next Generation Portable, it does look like yesterday's vision of the future."

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Robert Beames