At any other time, last year's Nintendo keynote conference would have been par for the course – Mario, Metroid, what more could you want?

But then 2009 was a particularly exciting year for E3. Microsoft unveiled its prototype for the potentially game-changing Kinect, while Sony revealed its more traditional, if decidedly freakish-looking, Move controller.

On the face of it, both seemed like more advanced versions of the comparatively quaint Wii remote, which was being used display two retro-styled games: New Super Mario Bros Wii and Metroid Other M.

It just goes to show that it's not games that make the biggest splash during the most exciting week of the gaming year, it's hardware, and with nothing to show but the faintly embarrassing Vitality Sensor, Nintendo looked for all the world like rickshaw salesmen at a hovercar expo.

Thankfully, that wasn't the case yesterday. After a shaky start, when apparent Wi-Fi interference turned their opening gambit – The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, a new Wii game with support for Wii MotionPlus – into a cringeworthy technical mess, and a shaky middle consisting of an awful lot of games we already knew about, all was forgiven the moment a white podium emerged from the stage bearing yet another impossibly sleek Nintendo handheld.

Nintendo 3DS

The Nintendo 3DS, then. 3D without the need for glasses, on a device you can fit inside your pocket.

It almost sounds like witchcraft, and for all we know it could be – there's still no firm indication of the technology employed to make it work. The most important thing, however, is that it does work, at least according to reports of those who tried the console when it was tethered to a bevy of women on the show floor.

Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime was at a loss to explain it himself, so in addition to the above tactic he also showed a video in which Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto was sucked inside a 3DS unit and Bowser breathed fire on Reggie's face.

Nintendo ds

Side-splitting comedy skits aside, it's hard not to be excited about the possibilities the new device brings. Amid the rush to create the biggest, most technologically advanced 3D displays imaginable, trust Nintendo to think outside the box.

Although the 3DS is broadly similar to the DS Lite, there have been a number of improvements to the specifications. The upper screen has been expanded to 3.53 inches – it's also widescreen, at 800X240 resolution.

This should come in handy for the most surprising feature of all, the ability to watch 3D films. No word yet on how these will be delivered, and in what format, but Disney, DreamWorks and Warner Bros are all on-board.

Nintendo has finally caved in and included an analogue stick, too – or Slide Pad, as it has curiously decided to moniker it. Along with the aforementioned multimedia capabilities, and increased graphical clout – no specifics, but Kid Icarus: Uprising, the sole 3DS title shown during the presentation, could have passed for a GameCube game – it almost seems like an admission that Sony's PSP was superior to the DS in a number of key areas.

It also, rather inevitably, seems like an attempt to sink the final nail into its competitor's rapidly mouldering coffin. (It's worth noting that, unlike the PSP Go, the 3DS has retained its cartridge slot.)

The DSi had two cameras; the 3DS has three, with two on the outside, allowing you to take your own 3D photos. There's also motion and gyro sensors packed inside the device somewhere, so expect to see casual games that take 'advantage' of these features litter the DSiWare store.

Nintendo 3DS games

As for full retail 3DS games, a sizeable number of publishers chimed in with their support – Konami has promised some manner of Metal Gear Solid, while Capcom has a Resident Evil title in the works.

Rumours aside, it was still something of a surprise to see Nintendo tackle 3D again, after the spectacular failure of the Virtual Boy 15 years ago. We still don't quite know how the 3DS works, and the catch is that until every single one of us plays around with it ourselves, we're never going to know how well it works either, but it doesn't feel like too much of a stretch to say that the hideous ghost of Virtual Boy has finally been laid to rest.

Kirby

WOOLLY MAMMOTH: Kirby's Epic Yarn sees the popular pink blob transported to a world made of fabric

With regards to the games shown, there wasn't much to get excited about. Zelda was inevitable, and a tad disappointing as it appears to have abandoned the more realistic look of the previous Wii game. Meanwhile, minigame fodder such as Mario Sports Mix and Wii Party will do nothing to make more 'hardcore' Wii owners feel secure, and the less said about Just Dance 2 the better.

Wii party

IT'S MY PARTY: The previous Wii minigames came bundled with hardware, will anyone buy Wii Party on its own?

However, when it came to the hardware, when it came to what matters in an E3 keynote speech, Nintendo more than delivered this year.

Sony's stereoscopic vision of 3D gaming will require a high-end, 3D-supportive HDTV, but Nintendo has always developed hardware for the masses.

3D games and movies on a device that fits in your pocket? It sounds utterly implausible, and relentlessly mad, but if we've learned anything from the Wii, it's that you underestimate Nintendo at your peril.

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Liked this? Then check out Nintendo 3DS: full details and pix

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