So there I was, minding my own business in the living room, when an army of flying robot heads appeared out of nowhere. They’d smash their armored helmets into me and punch holes through my walls.

I haven’t lost my mind. I was just testing out the augmented reality features on the Nintendo 3DS. I just won the system at a school fundraiser and think the augmented reality, rather than the 3D, could be the real draw of the system.

The 3DS is equipped with three cameras and (essentially) three screens. One camera faces you. The other two are in the back. There are two visible screens and an LCD barrier behind the top panel that is used to create the 3D illusion during gameplay.

argamingkidicarus Augmented Reality Gaming

AR cards can come alive in your environment with the 3DS cameras

For the augmented reality gaming, the back screen becomes a live video feed of your surroundings while the front screen plays the programming of the game. The third camera can scan paper–cards or booklets–to activate certain gaming elements.

This is not essential to the augmented reality gaming aspect. The system has a number of AR games that work without cards and some games have features built into the cartridge. I just think that the scanning AR aspect has the most potential.

Games like Kid Icarus: Uprising and Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir come with augmented reality add-ons that can impact the way the game plays. In the case of Kid Icarus: Uprising, you’re given a stack of six random cards that can be read by the 3DS with the third camera. The AR cards can be lined up to battle each other in your environment. They’re a minigame that can be expanded on by using or trading cards with your friends.

In the case of Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir, you start to see the true potential of an augmented reality gaming experience. This is the newest Fatal Frame game about the powers of the camera obscura to battle ghosts through photography. For the 3DS, you play with a booklet–the cursed memoir itself–that has AR codes hidden throughout its pages.

argamingspiritcamera Augmented Reality Gaming

The cursed memoir is the key to an immersive AR gaming experience

You jump from sitting in your living space to trapped in a haunted house. You move through the rooms by physically moving the 3DS–your camera obscura–throughout your room. The system reacts to how you move, giving you a different view of the haunted house. You probably look like a fool doing it, but the gameplay is engrossing enough to overcome self consciousness.

As the game progresses, the line between the haunted house and your own living space blurs. Ghosts appear in your room and try to destroy you as the break out of the book. You have to scan your physical space with the console to find them and photograph them before they kill you.

I can understand skepticism about the augmented reality gaming on the 3DS. How portable is the gaming console if you need to be able to stand up and move around to play? What about the amount of direct light you need to get the AR codes to activate properly? Does staring at a screen really give you an immersive playing experience?

Those are legitimate questions. Not every developer is going to go for the AR gaming, so there will be plenty of traditional portable games to work with. The amount of light needed is honestly a small desk lamp in an otherwise dark room, so it’s really not that distracting.

As for immersion, that’s up to you. If you don’t like Japanese-style ghost stories or don’t care for survival horror gaming, you’re not going to be sucked into Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir at all. You’ll actively look for excuses–the room is too bright, I feel foolish, I know I’m not actually in danger so it’s not scary–to write off the AR gameplay. But if they could create the same experience with a first person shooter or an action rpg, you might see it differently.

I don’t know whether or not developers will go further into the AR gaming elements. Even adding in optional features could be a fun way to build up gameplay. Imagine being able to walk through the ever changing village of Animal Crossing or play a minigame in a Zelda release where you control your horse through an obstacle course by moving the 3DS around. The augmented reality elements do not have to be the entirety of the game. It would just be interesting to see what other ways developers can come up with to use a pretty inventive system for interactivity.

Thoughts? Any games you wish could overtake your playing space? Ideas for how AR gaming could evolve to the mainstream? Love to hear your ideas. Sound off below.