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New Nintendo 3DS XL Review

In 2003, Nintendo redesigned the Game Boy Advance to make it more attractive while singlehandedly solving many issues people had with Nintendo handhelds since the original Game Boy launched. For the first time, Nintendo had a traditional backlight (at least over here), a rechargeable battery and a clamshell design that prevented scratches on the screen. All of that was also wrapped in a nicer design that told people it was more a consumer electronic and less a toy. Nintendo has kept many of these upgrades as a standard in all their future handhelds.

Why the history lesson? Because Nintendo has decided to do it again – this time to the popular Nintendo 3DS with the New Nintendo 3DS XL. Thanks to again a list of enhancements to the current model, the New Nintendo 3DS is the most evolved redesign of any system since the Game Boy Advance SP.

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First and foremost, we’re stuck with the XL model here in North America, so if you were an earlier adopter of the 3DS and have the smaller model, it’s time to readjust. This also means if you were planning on importing a ton of faceplates to use on your standard New 3DS, from the Isabelle one to the wood panel one to many of the Zelda ones (like me), your plans have just been shot. While I feel burned out on the fact that we Americans got shafted on a model because of American retail logistics (and how Nintendo’s losing retail space by the year), it wasn’t all lost. Like the older 3DS XL, the system is very comfortable and very adult-sized with my hands wrapping around it naturally. In fact with the slimmer design and the even rounder edges of the New 3DS XL makes this even better in your hands. My only true gripe on the system’s comfort is that my hands still cant wrap naturally with the Slide Pad so close to the edge, but asking for the system a centimeter longer for my thumb to naturally be on it might be asking for a bit much.

One thing that is still getting used to is the locations for various staples in the DS family. Both the stylus and cartridge slot are located on the bottom of the system with the games going near your left hand. It’s dangerously close to your hand when playing more intense games like fighters, because one small slip and pop goes your game. The volume slider is now relocated opposite of the 3D slider, making better symmetry with the top half as well as eliminating accidental sliding since it’s not in a finger’s way. The SD card has been upgraded to a MicroSD standard and is now hidden within the battery compartment. While upgrading your card isn’t as crazy as people put it out to be, and yes it requires unscrewing two tiny screws for two seconds, it does send shivers up your spine once you pry the compartment off with your stylus since it sounds like you’re breaking it.

As someone who did about a dozen transfers to the New 3DS, the process is suicide-inducing, though it’s nice to have options it provided. You can now transfer all your data wirelessly, so you can get everything on your system if you’re not within range of a PC/Mac. Otherwise, the classic PC/Mac option is still the fastest option, where the system does a license transfer and you just copy/paste everything to the new card. The process requires you to go back and forth and if your Internet isn’t up to snuff (I did many of those transfers on public wi-fi), it can take forever.

Upgrades

The techiest of the additions is the enhanced 3D, and to say that it’s an upgrade from previous models is an understatement. Next to the front facing camera is an IR camera that finds your head, eyes and orientation and determines how the 3D should be rendered. The result is the obliteration of the infamous “sweet spot” with a more organic 3D that moves with you with less strain on the eyes. That’s not to say it’s perfect since moving fast or resuming play after leaving it docile requires the device to recalibrate, but it only takes a second and it’s a total night/day difference. It works on all 3DS games too, so after testing it out with games that already looked good in 3D like Ocarina of Time, A Link Between Worlds and Fire Emblem Awakening felt a bit fresher. This, ladies and gents, is the 3D we were promised four years ago and it is awesome.

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One of the more noticeable additions is a small cylindrical growth near the face buttons, and it’s one of the most oft-requested features for the 3DS: a second analog stick. Dubbed the C-Stick, this is less a stick and more a nub you see on laptops and is used like any other right analog stick. In games like Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, it’s to control the camera and in games like Resident Evil Revelations or Metal Gear Solid 3D (since it supports all games that use the Circle Pad Pro), it’s used to aim your weapon. It works pretty well, but for those few shooters on the system, rubbing against a nub for consistent aiming won’t be the same than using a more traditional means. After some getting used to, many will grasp the concept on how to work the C-Stick to their favor, as if you’re getting adjusted to a new controller.

Also added for more control options are the ZL and ZR shoulder buttons. These two tiny buttons are located near their partner shoulder buttons on the back of the device, and they just glide onto your fingertips once you wrap your hands around the system. I’ve had zero issue reaching or using these suckers for Monster Hunter and when more games utilize them for regular gameplay, like the upcoming Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, they will be a breeze to use. I really like them, much more than I ever expected to.

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With the amiibo craze in full swing, the only thing that is worse for Wii U owners are more amiibo collectors. That’s because the New 3DS XL has the same function for select 3DS games. Other than the increase of people to boot in the face when a new shipment of Marth or Lucario figures arrive, the system uses the figures roughly the same as the Wii U, and no game shows that off than Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. The function for the little buggers mirrors that on the Wii U version and they are cross-compatible for those with both versions, making their versatility even more useful. The NFC chip under the touch screen can be used for other things like credit cards, but who knows if Nintendo uses it for anything else.

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The system is also more powerful than the older 3DS with more processing power and double the RAM (to 256MB), so now devs can use the system for exclusive games that can only be read on the New 3DS, or even better performance for regular 3DS games. With increases to load times with cartridge games, this addition to the system is very welcome, but only when it uses it. While load times on games were shorter than the older 3DS, it won’t make games that aren’t programmed for it to perform better, for instance have a better framerate. All the apps preloaded on the main menu, as well as the eShop itself loads much faster, and booting to the home menu no longer takes a few seconds.

While the system sports some neat upgrades, there are a few things that stood the same. First up, the battery life is similar to the regular 3DS at around five hours, but thanks to an added auto-brightness system for the screens, this will add to your battery mileage. Though the brightness has been tweaked, the system’s three cameras are still the awful and vastly outdated VGA cameras, and still produce a terrible photo. My biggest gripe, and it comes from someone upgrading from an original 3DS is the resolution, since this could have been the model to get rid of the low 240×400 (240×800 in 3D) top screen for something a bit more modern. The system is still region locked too, so don’t expect to import a smaller 3DS and use your American games on it.

The Future

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If the growing list of amiibo-compatible games is any indication, Nintendo will make a ton of enhanced control options to the next wave of 3DS games. We’re already seeing it with games like Majora’s Mask 3D and Codename S.T.E.A.M., and expect it for ones in the future like the new Fire Emblem. These changes won’t (and haven’t really been) game-breaking if you own a Nintendo 3DS, 3DS XL or 2DS, but you’ll know that your new investment will come with its share of perks. My wish actually is that Nintendo will update older games to use it like they did with Super Smash Bros. for 3DS.

The million dollar (or more like two-hundred dollar) question is if Nintendo will release a ton of New 3DS-exclusive games. We know the port of Xenoblade Chronicles is the sole example of this for now, but if that becomes a trend, people will either reluctantly upgrade or abandon it altogether. My theory: Nintendo will do this to select hardcore games, so don’t expect a Mario, Animal Crossing or Pokémon to do something as drastic as that.

This “New” refresh on the 3DS sports a ton of upgrades and additions as long as the game utilizes any of them, so newcomers buying this solely for Pokémon games may be a bit overkill. Though for the same $200, it’s going to be the sole XL model, and sole 3DS, on store shelves. The upgrades are nice additions for the same price, minus the exclusion of the AC adapter that you can snag for $10, but just don’t forget that there’s still the 2DS for $70 less if you’re just going to casually use it. For core 3DS users, even if you’re like me and swear by the smaller model, it’s a must own since many games will utilize it and you’ll get your money’s worth. There are just too many things right with this model.

This is the handheld Nintendo should have released in 2011.

Rating
8.5
Pros
  • 3D is amazing now
  • C-Stick will offer better camera options
  • ZL/ZR buttons feel excellent
  • amiibo support built in
  • Faster loads
  • Feels good in your hands
  • Same price as the now older 3DS XL
Cons
  • Screen is too low res for an XL model
  • Transfer was a pain
  • Cartridge slot is too close to left hand
  • Cameras stood the same

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