Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Swapnote (3DS) Review

The first review of September takes us outside of the typical game review and into an application review. Today's subject is the almost-year-old Swapnote, a messaging application for the Nintendo 3DS. Should you take this and pass it on?

Stop 'n' Swap

One of the more prevalent complaints regarding the Nintendo 3DS was that there was no way to message people on your friends list. Nintendo took that criticism to heart, but rather than doing things the traditional way and just making a unified messaging system, they made Swapnote, a free application where users can draw and send notes. However, this app has quite a few limitations to it. Do these limitations make for a poorly implemented service, or do they not matter in the long run? This review delves into the current state of the software as of September 2012.

Beginning users of Swapnote are greeted with a Mii character named Nikki who goes over how the application works, the basics of the software: how to write a note and send it off via local StreetPass or online through SpotPass. Users do not have the full set of options given to them automatically at the start of their experience with Swapnote. Instead, as notes are written, Nikki divulges new options for user such as the ability to add photos to a note, the ability to change stationery (what the note's background looks like), and the ability to add a five second or less sound byte to a note.

Yes. Yes, you should.
These three options are not automatically unlocked as soon as Nikki reveals them. No, users have to spend Play Coins, accumulated through walking with their 3DS turned on, to purchase these options. For instance, there is an abundance of new stationery available to be bought, but each one costs five Play Coins. These aren't just still backgrounds either. Some have fireworks blasting off set against a Japanese night sky, some have a musical staff with notes dancing around, and some have raindrops pelting the stationery for a very calming effect. Special stationery that are oftentimes based on first or third-party games can also be unlocked through simply receiving a note with the stationery as the background. These can be collected from Nintendo themselves or through friends. Current special stationery include a cool 8-bit The Legend of Zelda stationery, a New Super Mario Bros. 2 stationery where gold coins fall like rain, and Japan-only Monster Hunter stationery.

One of the special stationery available.
Writing a note is relatively simple. You have four pages to get your message across (people who reply to you only have one page to work with and no ability to add a background to their note back to you). As stated, a given message can have any stationery added as the background (but only one stationery per note, just like only one sound recording or photo per note, too). Hopefully a user has good handwriting as there is no text input option such as a virtual keyboard. Certain parts of one's writing can be displayed in Pop Out 3D with a press of the up direction on the d-pad. This is perfect for adding some extra depth to a message. Once the note is ready to be sent out, users can choose to deliver it through SpotPass or StreetPass. Users can send their note to all friends on their friends list or pick and choose which friends get the message. Send it off, and wait for a reply.

Unfortunately, any opportunity to think that Swapnote is a smart way to set up games between friends online is floundered because of the limitation of needing to open the application to view a message (exiting you out of your game in the process), no way to see when a friend has replied back to your note, and most importantly of all, it's not integrated at all into your friends list. What we have here is a severely impractical application for setting up games. Great for drawing, fooling around, and sending out non-urgent messages, but awful for planning when to play a game with a buddy.

Additionally, one of the alluded to aforementioned limitations consists of not being able to reply to responses of a note you send out. Think of notes as topics on a message board. Wouldn't it suck that if you wanted to reply to someone who posted in your topic, you had to start a brand-new topic just to answer them? That is exactly what happens with Swapnote, only instead of topics we're talking about notes. If you wish to continue the conversation, you must start a new note entirely and send it out. Why I can't just hold a discussion within the boundaries of one note "thread" is mind-boggling.

Add a photo to liven your note up.
The interface of Swapnote is okay-ish. Your line of notes both sent and received are displayed along a wave pattern. You cycle through your list of notes with a slider. However, another issue I have with the application is that deleting notes is a pain in the butt. There is no capability for mass deletion, making for some needlessly arduous work. Meanwhile, the music that accompanies your note-creating escapades is cheery enough without being grating.

Essentially, a lot of people were asking for a simple text-based messaging system that would be implemented into their 3DS and their friend list for easy access. Always one to try to innovate when there is no reason to, Nintendo opted to be original and create Swapnote. The problems, as mentioned, include that there is no implementation between the application and the 3DS, the inability to reply back to responses to your notes, and other little irritations that make for a fun but incredibly flawed application. I still use Swapnote to this day, and it's a nice diversion to share ramblings with, but overall there is a great amount of room for improvement. Those of you who don't care for diversions that don't solve one of the 3DS system's main online problems should avoid Swapnote.

[SuperPhillip Says: 7.0]

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