How the Nintendo 3DS Works

By: Jonathan Strickland

Gaming on the 3DS

The front-facing camera on the Nintendo 3DS can take images that you can use in applications and games.
The front-facing camera on the Nintendo 3DS can take images that you can use in applications and games.
© 2011

You can get games for the Nintendo 3DS either buy purchasing game cards -- tiny cartridges -- or by downloading them through Nintendo's service. The 3DS is backwards compatible -- it can play game cards for the Nintendo DS and DSi systems. But don't expect those old games to take advantage of the 3-D capabilities of the 3DS. You'll be able to play them but they'll remain in 2-D.

Early reviews of the Nintendo 3DS criticize the loading time for old games. Part of the problem may be due to the fact that the 3DS has a different screen resolution than the DS and DSi. To compensate, the 3DS may need to take more time to adjust the graphic settings for a game before it can launch into gameplay.


Downloading a game will store the title on your 3DS's SD card. Each SD card can hold up to 300 titles. Nintendo is quick to point out that you don't actually own these games -- just a license to play them on your machine.

If the game is free, you may even send a copy of it over Nintendo's SpotPass service. This uses WiFi to let you distribute games to other Nintendo 3DS owners. The service won't allow you to distribute purchased games.

Nintendo has incorporated some digital rights management (DRM) strategies with the downloadable software. For example, if you copy a title from one SD card to put it on another, the title will stop working on the old SD card. This prevents Nintendo 3DS owners from making illegal copies of games and giving or selling them to other people.

Nintendo also includes parental controls on the 3DS to help parents limit the types of games and information kids can access when using the system. Since the 3DS has a Web browser, parents may want to turn on the parental control features to limit what sort of content their kids can see while online. And not all video game titles are family friendly -- the parental controls let you set what types of games will work based on their ESRB rating.

Next, we'll learn what gives the Nintendo 3DS its oomph.