The Nintendo 3DS was released in the UK on March 25th.  Some stores opened just after Midnight to fill the demand, and were greeted with crowds waiting to get their hands on the latest evolution in hand-held gaming.

Consumers in the US will have to wait a few more hours.  Pre-orders are being taken for $249.99, and the unit is already setting sales records as the delivery date of March 27th nears.  Nintendo is promising “a truly cutting-edge piece of hardware” and “eye popping gameplay possibilities.”

The reviews from Europe certainly support their claims.  Users are saying this is the most exciting video game evolution in years.  Some reviewers are cautiously optimistic, as the proof will be in the games that become available.  Most Nintendo DS and DSi games can be played on the 3DS, albeit in 2D mode, via backwards compatibility.  Though according to Nintendo, “select Nintendo DS games that use accessories in the Game Boy™ Advance slot of the Nintendo DS system are not compatible with the Nintendo 3DS system.”

The controls on the new console are comfortable and easy to use, and feature a new circle pad for enhanced control.  There is also a built-in 3D depth slider; it adjusts the intensity of the 3D effect, and can be turned all the way down to 2D.  Even in the 2D mode, users noticed much better resolution than the prior handheld games.

The 3D effect is slightly different than some expect.  Whereas 3D movies have traditionally featured images popping off the screen, the 3DS drops images deep into the screen.  This is similar to some of the most recent 3D movies, and is reportedly easier on the eyes.

There are some unique features aside from the graphics.  This version offers the ability to take 3D pictures and then convert the image into a Mii.  That image can be used as-is, merged with a second picture, or edited using Mii Studio.  The resulting Mii can also be exported as a QR code or onto the 2GB SD card that comes standard with the unit.

The system also incorporates a Motion and Gyro Sensor, allowing games to respond to the user’s movements and tilting of the screen…or screens.  The 3DS has a top screen with 800×240 pixel resolution.  The bottom LCD touch screen operates at 320×240, and like the top screen, reveals almost 17 million color variations.

One of the few negative comments were with the battery life.  When using the WiFi mode and the screen is at full brightness, users can burn through a charge in about three hours.  There were also a few reviewers that thought the quality of the 3D camera could be better.  In all, if those are the only concerns with a unit in this price range, the 3DS should be a home run in the US.