Nintendo launches 3-D console in Japan

TOKYO, Feb 26 (AFP) – Japan's Nintendo launched the world's first video game console with a 3-D screen that works without special glasses, a device the entertainment giant hopes will reverse its sliding fortunes.

But as the DS3 makes its debut in Japan on Saturday, it will be looking for a place in an increasingly crowded gaming market.

More than 1,500 fans queued outside Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara, the hub of Tokyo's comic-book subculture, to be the first to own the machine, with many having spent the night on the streets ahead of the morning launch.

AFP - Two young customers hold up Nintendo's new video game console 3DS after buying it on the first day of release at a Tokyo computer shop on Feb 26, 2011

"I'm extremely excited. I can't wait to start playing it," said Arisa Kubo, a 19-year-old nursing student who began queuing on Friday night.

"The quality has dramatically improved," said Kubo, who tried a pre-sales demonstration of the console last month. "The screen is beautiful. 3DS is totally different from the normal DS."

Nintendo, which for many gamers is synonymous with its "Super Mario Bros" series, is facing a raft of challenges to its one-time domination of the market.

Traditional gaming rivals such as Sony with its Playstation, and Microsoft whose XBox has been a global hit, have been joined in the fray by smartphones and tablet computers, including Apple's iPhone and iPad which have taken a chunk out of the gaming market.

Falling sales and a stubbornly strong yen are also hitting Nintendo, which saw its group net profit plunge nearly 75 percent for the nine months to December and analysts say the new console is a vital plank in the hoped-for turnaround.

"For the next five years or so, Nintendo fully expects the 3DS to act as a key pillar underlying its overall business performance," said Jay Defibaugh, director of equity research in consumer electronics and games for MF Global FXA Securities.

"Whether 3DS ends up being a one-trick pony or gimmick will be determined by whether Nintendo and its third-party partners can deliver innovative new approaches to gameplay."

The dual-screen 3DS, priced at 25,000 yen ($305) will test the appetite of Nintendo's core fans and the wider market for 3D gaming, after rivals catering to what is seen as a more "serious" gaming market launched their own updates.

The 3DS ran into controversy ahead of its launch after the company warned children under the age of six should not use the gadget in 3-D mode because it could affect their eyes.

The device is entering a fast-evolving and highly competitive area of gaming technology.

Sony last year launched its PlayStation Move system, which enables users wearing special glasses to play 3-D games using wand-shaped controllers.

And in January it unveiled its latest portable touchscreen gaming console codenamed "Next Generation Portable" to succeed its PlayStation Portable device, boasting 3G mobile connectivity and WiFi.

Microsoft's motion-sensing Kinect system for the Xbox 360 system, which lets players use body gestures and does not require hand-held controllers, hit the market last year.

"Nintendo's competitors used to be just Sony and Microsoft, but the company now faces challenges from Samsung, Apple and providers of social-networking games," said Yusuke Tsunoda, analyst at the Tokai Tokyo Research Centre.

For its latest device, "the target should be children... I believe it is difficult to make adults add the 3DS to the items that are already in their handbags at a time when more and more people use smartphones."

Nintendo's latest machine allows the illusion of depth to be increased or decreased so that games can be played in both 2D and 3D, while built-in cameras let users take 3D pictures.

Like many smartphones it also includes an accelerometer-based motion detector, while it can connect to existing Wi-Fi networks to download additional content and exchange data with other nearby 3DS units.

Around 30 software titles will be available by June, Nintendo said.

The company reportedly plans to release around 1.5 million units in Japan in the first month in an effort to avoid the huge shortages seen with the launch of earlier versions.

The new-generation DS machine will be released in Europe and the United States in March.

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