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A look at Nintendo's new 3DS XL, a helpful guide and review

Updated on February 18, 2015

What's different?

Looking over the new 3DS XL for the first time, it might not be obvious that you're holding a new console. Everything that the previous XL model has is in tact and the system doesn't appear to be much different. So what makes this device different? To answer that, I've listed in short detail what changes you should expect:

  • The 2 shoulder buttons have been replaced with 4
  • There is now a small analog nub over the main buttons (not a control stick)
  • The internal processing power has been doubled
  • Amiibo support has been added
  • Super stable 3D technology has been added

Aside from a few other insignificant changes (such as the Start and Select buttons being moved, face plate and button color variations), there may be little reason to list the other changes because they aren't improvements per say, but were decisions to move internal components around to get more into the small box.

4 buttons (top) from 2 buttons (bottom)
4 buttons (top) from 2 buttons (bottom)

Second analog, does it work?

By introducing a control stick and two additional should buttons, Nintendo is clearly saying, "Let's allow developers to achieve console style games on our handheld device." With the additional analog, it shows that modern games with precision camera movement can be played on the new 3DS. It's less stylish than what you might expect, but it gets the job done and is reminiscent of the c stick we saw on the Gamecube controller, albeit inferior in every way. It's small and not as versatile as something you'd see on a modern day controller. This nub is no different than the mouse nub you would use on a laptop computer.

I first tried the shoulder buttons and control nub on Resident Evil Revelations. I found that the game handled surprisingly well. When you look at it, the nub is not much to look at and the shoulder buttons are crammed together in the back. However, once I played a round or two, I forgot about my initial impression and continued to play comfortably with ease. This was a pleasant surprise.

When playing a fast paced game, it was much simpler in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate to click the left trigger button to realign the camera than use the analog nub. I found that the touchscreen camera stick was just as effective. In all honesty, this game did not appear to take advantage of the new hardware. It's hard to suggest using the nub over the touchscreen as both are equally responsive. The circle pad pro, although bulky and frankly ridiculous will give the gamer the feeling of a console experience. It's unfortunate that so much time has come by for Nintendo to come up with this solution and deliver on such a disappointing alternative to a second circle pad pro. I've gathered second opinions on this and the consensus is that the Monster Hunter software may not support the second camera very well in general.

Majora's mask also received the second analog support. This game was originally designed without the need for a second analog stick and to add it now didn't seem at all useful. I found myself using the left trigger in the rare moments that the camera didn't align itself automatically. However, having the option conveniently out of the way doesn't harm the experience and it's nice to know that Nintendo will be taking the enhancement seriously for future developments.

wait a few more seconds and it plays the same on the old one
wait a few more seconds and it plays the same on the old one

Faster processing time!

The encouraging news is that Nintendo is expecting to put some more powerful games on the system, much of what we saw on the original Wii. It may be a sad day when many players are told that their 3DS does not support all 3DS games, but the processing power was an imminent change that comes at a cyclical time in the consoles life.

So is the processing power much better than before? Well, unless you show someone that games load faster and hold the old and new 3DS together, it's doubtful many will notice. Having played both the PSP and Playstation Vita in the past, the loading time on 3DS is pretty good in general. The new 3DS loads a bit faster, but it only happens at the initiation of each game. Unless you're actively popping in and out of games, this feature is not going to add to the experience. I would expect that some people may be excited for this feature, but it will take some time before it's put to good use.

Now with amiibo!

The amiibo craze continues. As these things continue to fly off the shelves, many parents and families are wondering what to do with these things. You'll be happy to know that Nintendo has a lot of plans for these things and there are at least 2 3DS games out now that support them.

Having tested the amiibo with my kids, I was surprised to come home and see Bowser at level 50 in one day (that's the max level, in case you didn't know). I don't yet understand the hook that these things bring, but my kids do. I think adding this feature to the system is reason enough to upgrade for kids that love it. I hope that adults can see a reason to do the same, but at this point there are no dlc or games tied to the figures that excite me or have me rushing to the store to buy more. I hope that can change, but it's nice to see the process in action.

the red light (right of camera) tracks you
the red light (right of camera) tracks you

Super stable 3D!

Now I saved the best for last. Having shared a lot of my criticisms, the real value add is the new 3D technology. Now, 3D is not at all popular in the sense that people are going out and buying videos to support it (like the technology had hoped), but the 3DS still continues to provide glasses free 3D that works, and works well. Having given us an amazing library of 3D games over the last several years, it's only fitting to improve upon that technology and make those games enjoyable again. That's what Nintendo did.

Turning these games on with the stable 3D felt like a new experience. Fast motion games like Star Fox and Kid Icarus become new again. Due to the intense movement and controls, many chose to turn the 3D options off in these games when they first came out. But now, I found myself playing in 3D about 80% of the time (as opposed to 10% before).

I think it's important to mention that aside from the new face tracking technology, there has been no change to the screen resolution. This didn't matter much to me, because the screen is too small for a resolution upgrade to make much of a difference. However, some would suggest that moving the resolution from 480p to 720p, etc. would make a compelling difference. It seems to me that Nintendo prefers to stay out of the specifications war and focus primarily on providing unique experiences.


In conclusion, if it aint broke...

Nintendo has done a good thing. Having spent numerous hours playing several handheld gaming platforms, the 3DS XL stands out as a comfortable first rate iteration of what a console should look like on the go. It's no surprise that they leveraged the existing design for the upgrade, while retaining all of its strong points. The clam shell exterior has been in popular demand since the original DS, but the weight and frame is both comfortable and easy to play.

It is a bit disappointing that the C stick and faster processor don't seem to add much to the experiences, but given time this will change. It is, however, good to see two compelling changes with out-of-the-box amiibo support and super stable 3D. We look forward to spending time with this new hardware.

Improving an already great device

4 stars for new 3DS XL

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