There is perhaps no more illustrative example of the death of 3D than Nintendo’s latest handheld console. The 3DS was released at the height of Avatar-induced stereoscopy fever, but Nintendo just released a new model, inevitably called the 2DS, that omits the headline feature. At the end of the day, stereoscopic 3D just doesn’t look that great — on-screen objects float in front of backgrounds as if they were cut from cardboard. But what if you could convert that technical quirk into a feature?
That’s exactly what Sega has done with its 3D Classics series, a selection of retro ports that feature by far the most impressive use of 3D on Nintendo’s console to date. The first series features games ranging from arcade hits like Super Hang-On to Genesis titles like Sonic the Hedgehog, each of which has to be seen to be believed. Each title recreates graphical trickery that Sega employed in the past to simulate depth — it’s like they were always made to be played in 3D.
The first title in the second volume of 3D Classics came out in Japan this week. After Burner II is a high-octane air combat shooter that was first released as an arcade game in 1987. It used Sega’s "Super Scaler" technology, allowing for a pseudo-3D experience through the rapid rotation and scaling of thousands of 2D sprites. The technique was also used in 1985’s Space Harrier (above), the first game to receive the 3D Classics treatment just over a year ago, and both look amazing on the 3DS — since the virtual 3D objects are actually 2D sprites, they turn out to be a perfect fit for the cardboard cut-out effect of stereoscopic 3D.
If you never thought you’d be blown away by a 25-year-old video game, try 'Galaxy Force II'
The technique is best shown off in the series’ most stunning entry so far, Galaxy Force II (below). If you never thought you’d be blown away by a 25-year-old video game, it’s worth giving this one a try — when viewed in 3D, the spiralling columns of fire and complex space environments are some of the most visually intense graphics you’ll see all year. And it’s not just a cosmetic improvement; the added depth perception helps you sort through the visual chaos of enemies and obstacles, making all these games much easier to play in 3D.
The 3D Classics series includes games ported from the Sega Genesis home console that aren’t quite as impressive, but still look great by rendering an old graphical technique in 3D. Parallax scrolling was a trademark effect that Sega often used in an attempt to set its games apart from those on the Super Nintendo; it involves moving background layers at different speeds to simulate depth and horizontal motion. This also suits the 3DS well — Sonic the Hedgehog has lost none of its sheen over the past two decades, and the game looks even better by being able to peer into its beautifully drawn backgrounds. Ecco the Dolphin has also aged well thanks to its detailed sprites and restrained color palette, though Shinobi III and Altered Beast don’t hold up quite as strongly.
Getting these games to run on the 3DS is no mean feat
Despite these games’ advanced age, getting them to run well on the 3DS is no mean feat. Fortunately the ports were handled by M2, a Japanese developer that has earned legendary status for its hyper-accurate translations of old games to modern consoles. In a series of fascinating interviews posted to Sega’s official blog, members of the development team detail exactly how they managed to emulate the original titles and get them working in 3D. The full series is well worth a read for anyone with an interest in Sega’s history or the technical side of games.
M2 also made some inspired tweaks to the games themselves. To recreate the physically moving arcade units used by games like After Burner II and Super Hang-On, for example, the 3DS versions have options both for motion control and to have the image actually move around the screen, revealing the cabinet artwork. Other games have been altered for modern audiences; Ecco the Dolphin famously hides a punishing action game beneath its cuddly exterior, and the addition of a "Super Dolphin" invincibility mode should see more players make their way to the end. And 3D Sonic the Hedgehog is arguably the definitive version of the game — it lets you switch between Japanese and overseas versions and has an option for the spin dash move introduced in Sonic 2.
M2 is the perfect guardian for Sega's blue-sky arcade classics
It’s ironic that, at a time when Nintendo is downplaying the importance of 3D, the company’s old rival Sega is the one making the most of the 3DS’ original selling point. Nintendo’s own efforts with its back catalogue have been woeful on the 3DS so far, drip-feeding direct ports of NES and Game Boy games and seemingly halting its plans to release some older titles in 3D. But M2 is the perfect guardian for the blue-sky arcade classics from Sega’s glory years, treating them with reverence without being afraid to improve them for the present. These games would be the perfect introduction to the countless Nintendo consoles that will be found under Christmas trees this year.
Just as long as it’s not a 2DS.
3D Space Harrier, 3D Super Hang-On, 3D Sonic the Hedgehog, 3D Altered Beast, 3D Ecco the Dolphin, and 3D Galaxy Force II are all available now in the Nintendo eShop for $5.99 each. 3D Shinobi III and 3D Streets of Rage will join them today, December 19th.