'Madden' among top games for new 3-D system

Whenever a new video game system launches, there are two things to consider. A) Is the system good? (They always are.) B) Are any spectacular games available immediately during launch month? (Sometimes, there are. Sometimes, there aren't.)

When Wii launched, that console's best game came bundled inside for free: "Wii Sports," which alone convinced a multitude of women and seniors to enter the gaming market for the first time.

The original Xbox launched with "Halo," sparking the Xbox 360's eventual dominance over the PlayStation 3. The PS 3 did not launch with a masterpiece title; that impacted its reputation and sales.

So now Nintendo is selling its new hand-held 3DS -- a mind-blowing fun machine that plays 3-D games without glasses. I still can't get over it.

But are the launch games any good?

Yes, although none is as worthy as "Halo" or "Wii Sports." Most launch games are solid and safe -- a new "Ridge Racer," a new "Sims," and on and on.

They are primarily sequels and remakes, branded in name recognition, yet suffering to varying degrees from being overly familiar in the gaming world's collective conscious.

The results are good, however, due to one overriding factor: These games are in 3-D! That elevates each game to feel far more fun than they are in the flat 2-D world of the old DS or even the Sony PSP.

Look at "LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars." If you use the 3DS slider to briefly downgrade the game into flat 2-D, "Clone Wars" looks like any old "LEGO" game -- a dull retread.

But when you play "Clone Wars" in 3-D, you see and travel through a phenomenal depth of field. As you run a "Star Wars" character across tilted sci-fi floors, the game comes alive more than any "LEGO" game before it, as if you could reach inside the 3DS's widescreen and touch R2D2.

Of seven 3DS games I've played so far, the winners seem to be "Madden Football" and "Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition."

"Madden" offers most of the best options you find in "Madden" games on Xbox 360 and PS 3 -- but in 3-D. It's so fun, I might choose to play the 3DS version over a PS 3 version of "Madden." That is high praise.

And because "Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition" is in 3-D, this is the first "Street Fighter" I recall having any depth in its background settings. But "Street Fighter" also has near-perfect playability, fast load times and, yes, shockingly cool 3-D effects.

The downside for Nintendo is I probably will never play my old DS for the rest of my life. The 3DS has made flat DS games in 2-D irrelevant, if you're lucky enough to afford the $250 3DS. Yep, I know, that's a big "if."

("LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars" by LucasArts retails for $40 for 3DS -- Plays more fun as a 3-D game, elevating what would be just another "LEGO" adventure. Looks very good. Moderately challenging. Rated "E 10+" for cartoon violence, comic mischief. Three stars out of four.)

("Madden Football" by EA retails for $40 for 3DS -- Plays very fun, smooth and big, just like "Madden" should, but in 3-D. Looks great. Moderately challenging. Rated "E." Four stars.)

("Ridge Racer 3D" by Namco retails for $40 for 3DS -- Plays fun enough as a large, above-average racing title. Looks good. Easy. Rated "E" for mild suggestive themes. Three stars.)

("The Sims 3" by EA retails for $40 for 3DS -- Plays only slightly fun, as it takes too long for the game to act out character choices on a minute-by-minute basis. Looks good. Easy. Rated "T" for crude humor, mild violence, sexual themes. One star.)

("Steel Diver" by Nintendo retails for $40 for 3DS -- Plays quite fun at first, as a submarine game where you sink ships in first-person periscope mode or omnipotent battleship mode, but it wears thin too fast. Looks good. Easy. Rated "E 10+" for mild violence. One and one-half stars.)

("Super Monkey Ball 3D" by Sega retails for $40 for 3DS -- Plays fun if you enjoy "Monkey Ball" and marble-balancing games, although the scope is limited to just that: rolling a marble across weird surfaces while avoiding obstacles. Looks good. Moderately challenging. Rated "E" for cartoon violence. Two stars.)

("Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition" by Capcom retails for $40 for 3DS -- Plays fun and comes with a full range of Capcom's historic fist fighters and feet foes. Looks good. Challenging. Rated "T" for mild language, mile suggestive themes, violence. Three and one-half stars.)

Doug Elfman's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Contact him at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.