The New Nintendo 3DS XL refines an already great handheld

When the Nintendo 2DS released in October, 2013, I took this as a strong indication from the company that they were finally easing off on pushing the 3D aspect of their flagship dual-screen handheld. Sure it was a console marketed to parents concerned about the long-term effects of their children viewing 3D images, but it was also a reinforcement of what many of us who owned a Nintendo 3DS already knew: the 3D effect was not all that it was hyped up to be. Like most, I thought the stereoscopic effect was novel at first, but fighting to stay inside the limited “sweetspot” proved to be simply too much of a bother. As a result I, like most Nintendo 3DS owners I know, played the majority of our games either on a very low 3D setting or turned it off all together.

Cue the New Nintendo 3DS XL, the next iteration of Nintendo’s 3D portable gaming console (launching February 13) and its much touted “Super-Stable 3D” feature. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on this newest member of the 3DS family last month and after plenty of testing, I have to say the new built-in head-tracking technology really is a game changer. With it, the 3D effect calibrates itself on-the-fly, resulting in a much wider sweetspot and a near flawless illusion of depth. In one fell swoop, Nintendo has shattered my idea that 3D handheld gaming was going the way of the dodo bird, as suddenly it’s back in style and better than ever.

3D Effectsnew nintendo 3ds xl

I still remember my first couple of weeks with the original Nintendo 3DS console, playing games like Rayman 3D and Pilotwings Resort, and thinking to myself that the glasses-free stereoscopic effect was completely mesmerizing. However, once the novelty wore off, I found myself gradually lowering the 3D effect (as it was jittery and unstable) until — less than 3 months from launch — I turned it off entirely when playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D.

In fitting irony, the first game I tried on the New Nintendo 3DS XL was The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D, and as far as the 3D aspect is concerned, my experience was totally different. On the new system, the 3D illusion is so convincing that I’ve found myself in hours-long play sessions on the maximum depth setting and being fully immersed in the 3D environment nearly the whole time. That’s not to say it was perfect, as from time-to-time the 3D image would blur and then abruptly pop back into place, but overall it’s an enormous improvement over existing Nintendo 3DS hardware.

Not only is the 3D image much more stable on the New Nintendo 3DS, but you can also tilt the system from side-to-side at about a 45-degree angle and still maintain the illusion of depth. On current models of Nintendo 3DS, even a slight angle adjustment is enough to turn the 3D image into a blurry, muddled mess. Also, the Super-Stable 3D has the side benefit of making the 3D image significantly more comfortable on the eye. Just this past weekend I played a three and a half hour session of Majora’s Mask with 3D on the whole time, and I only had to look away from the screen a handful of times each hour — exactly the same frequency as I do when on my computer or tablet. That’s how big of a difference the new head-tracking technology makes.

It’s also worth noting that the new console tracks your head, and not specifically your eyes, so if you wear glasses like me, you do not need to worry at all about the image blurring. The 3D effect is just as clear wearing glasses or without.

The C-Stick

new nintendo 3ds xl c stick

Another new feature getting a lot of attention on the New Nintendo 3DS is the analog C-Stick that appears on the right side of the console, above the four main face buttons. It’s a small, grey, circular analog nub that feels and handles much like the red pointing nub found on Lenovo ThinkPad laptops. On New Nintendo 3DS, the C-Stick responds to small applications of pressure, and in games like Majora’s Mask, it allows you to freely control the camera.

This is not Nintendo’s first attempt at adding a second analog stick to Nintendo 3DS, as about a year into the console’s life they released the Circle Pad Pro peripheral attachment that added a large, round, right analog pad identical in size to the left one. The good news is this means all games compatible with the Circle Pad Pro are also optimized for New Nintendo 3DS, including games like Kid Icarus: Uprising, Resident Evil: RevelationsMonster Hunter 3 G, and more.

So far, my thoughts on the C-Stick are decidedly mixed. On the one hand, I found smooth, gradual camera turns in games like Majora’s Mask and Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D work very well, which probably accounts for 90% or more of my movement in these games. However, sharp 90- or 180-degree turn motions were too clunky and slow, so sometimes (as in Majora’s Mask’s Deku butler race), I temporarily turned the C-Stick off. As far as I could see, there’s no way to turn up the C-Stick’s sensitivity to mitigate or completely eliminate this issue.

Also, because the C-Stick is very small, from time-to-time my thumb would slip off and accidentally press the Y or X buttons below. Compared to the large analog pad found on the Circle Pad Pro, the C-Stick feels like a small downgrade. That said, it is built right into the form factor of the new handheld, so it’s much more sleek and compact compared to the excessively bulky Circle Pad Pro attachment.

Hardware Specs & Layout Changes

new nintendo 3ds xl shoulder buttons

Whereas Japan received two versions of the New Nintendo 3DS, the smaller regular edition and the larger XL version, over here in North America we’re only getting the XL version, available in Black and Red. From a size and weight perspective, the New Nintendo 3DS XL is nearly identical to the Nintendo 3DS XL, with the new console measuring 0.85 x 6.30 x 3.68 in and weighing 11.6 oz. For comparison purposes, the older Nintendo 3DS XL is 0.87 x 6.14 x 3.66 in and weighs 12 oz. With these specs being virtually the same, the good news is if you have a carrying case for your Nintendo 3DS XL, it should fit the New Nintendo 3DS XL no problem.

Despite similar size and weight, the New Nintendo 3DS XL shuffles around and tweaks quite a few of the buttons and ports. For instance, the game card slot is now located on the base of the console, as is the stylus and power button. Additionally, the WiFi on/off slider that used to be on the right of the system is now removed and is a built-in menu feature, and the volume control has moved to the top left side, directly across from the 3D slider. On the top of the system, you’ll find two shoulder buttons — the ZL and ZR — that were first introduced with the Circle Pad Pro and are now built-in to the hardware.

Flipping open the console, you’ll see a couple of minor design changes; specifically, the Start and Select buttons are now below the four main face buttons, and, while the Home button is still found below the touch screen, its shape is now small and round. In a nostalgic nod to the Super Famicom, you’ll also notice that the YXBA face buttons are colored green, blue, yellow, and red, respectively. All these incremental design changes result in the most refined and sleekest version of Nintendo 3DS yet, but by no means is it a radical departure from what we’ve already seen on the Nintendo 3DS XL.

Power Plug Sold Separately

new nintendo 3ds xl have you seen it

When Nintendo first announced the North American version of New Nintendo 3DS XL, the mention that no AC adapter would come in the box caused a bit of a stir. This uproar makes sense. After all, when’s the last time we’ve seen a handheld console with a built-in battery release without a charger? I certainly can’t recall this ever happening before. Nintendo was quick to note that chargers for all versions of Nintendo DSi, Nintendo 3DS, and Nintendo 2DS are compatible with the New Nintendo 3DS XL, so if you own one of those consoles, you’re all set. If you don’t own one of them, you can purchase an AC adapter for New Nintendo 3DS, sold separately at launch.

From a buyer’s perspective, I think it actually makes perfect sense. Nintendo was very clear to say that by taking out the AC adapter they have effectively reduced the cost of the console, which is good news for all current owners of the DSi/3DS family of consoles. Of course, if you don’t own one of these consoles there is the small inconvenience of having to track down and purchase the AC adapter separately. Hopefully though, the adapter will be available in abundant supply at launch.

On the topic of powering the New Nintendo 3DS XL, there is one more related design change to be aware of. The power slot has move to the top middle of the device, so if you own a Nintendo 3DS XL and use a charging cradle, the connectors won’t line up when using the New Nintendo 3DS XL. You’ll therefore new to pick-up a new charging cradle compatible with New Nintendo 3DS XL, or use the regular charge plug that came with your older system.

More Power, Great Compatibility

new nintendo 3ds xl amiibo

The New Nintendo 3DS XL comes with a more powerful processor that speeds up access and downloading times across the board. I powered on the New Nintendo 3DS XL at the same time as my Nintendo 3DS XL, and the newer system booted up seconds before the older model did. This reduced loading time was similarly felt when I started games and applications, surfed the internet, and downloaded from the Nintendo eShop. It’s not drastic reduction mind you, but the few seconds saved every time you switch applications, use the web, or download content really add up over time.

The 3D camera included on the new system is also improved, and from my experience, it took much clearer photographs in low light situations. It’s still not good enough to make you want to take it out and use it as your pocket camera, but for taking fun 3D photos around the house it’s more than sufficient.

Additional, the New Nintendo 3DS XL will include a built-in near field communication (or NFC) reader, located underneath the touch screen, that will let you use amiibo figures with compatible games. The first game that will be receiving a compatibility update is Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS, though at time of writing the patch is unavailable and therefore I’m unable to test out this feature.

Battery

The battery life for New Nintendo 3DS XL’s is marginally better than what you’ll find in the older Nintendo 3DS XL models. I’ve been getting approximately an extra hour of juice out of the new console with every charge, averaging between 5-6 hours of play time with Nintendo 3DS software before the power button starts flashing red. If you play regular Nintendo DS software, you’re looking at nearly double the battery life, or about 9-10 hours from my experience.

One aspect of the New Nintendo 3DS XL I really enjoyed is how the screen brightness will automatically adjust itself based on the lighting in your surroundings. So, for example, if you walk into a dark room, the backlight on both screens will automatically dim slightly, enabling your eyes to more quickly adjust to the new lighting level. Conversely, if you walk into a brightly lit room, the dual screens will also become brighter to better match your environment. The reason I mention this feature here is because it has implications on the battery life, similar to how your smart phone battery life varies depending on your screen brightness. In essence, your battery life is longer in dark places (because the screens dim) and shorter in brighter areas (as the screens also get brighter). I loved this new feature, as it was really easy on the eyes, but you can turn it off and manually adjust the screen brightness if you prefer.

Storage

new nintendo 3ds xl

In a change from previous iterations of Nintendo 3DS, the new console uses Micro SDHC storage (as opposed to standard SD storage). A 4GB Micro SDHC card comes built in to the system, and you can easily swap it out for a larger capacity card if you prefer. Doing so is done by taking out a pair of screws on the back, flipping up the plate, and swapping the cards. It’s really simple, and takes just a couple of minutes to perform.

If you have a Nintendo 3DS or XL already, you can perform a system transfer to import all your data into your New Nintendo 3DS XL. I had roughly 20GB of data saved on the SD card in my Nintendo 3DS XL, so I picked up a 32GB Micro SDHC for the New Nintendo 3DS XL in preparation for the system transfer. To transfer your data, you can either use a PC as an intermediary device, by saving your Nintendo 3DS data on it and then transferring the data to your New Nintendo 3DS, or you can transfer the data wirelessly between the two systems (but keep in mind, this method can take hours). While I found the system transfer to be extremely simple overall, it’s definitely a nuisance that Nintendo has decided to switch the storage medium in the middle of the Nintendo 3DS’ lifespan, and it can add an extra cost if you want to upgrade your storage and don’t have a high-capacity Micro SD card.

Conclusion

new nintendo 3ds xl majora

From my time with New Nintendo 3DS XL, I walked away mostly impressed. It’s not a monumental leap forward, but rather a solid refinement on an already great handheld. The most significant upgrade is the Super-Stable 3D, and I think the new system is worth it for this alone. I’ve put in more than twenty hours of gaming on the console so far, and had the 3D slider up to max the whole time. The extra shoulder buttons, new C-Stick, and other additions are nice touches, but it’s the new head-tracking and sturdy 3D image that will make you fall in love with 3D gaming all over again.

Going forward, there will be games intended to be “better” on the New Nintendo 3DS XL, such as the upcoming Majora’s Mask and Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, as well as games developed exclusively for the system, including Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, a port of the Wii role-playing game, so that’s also something to consider.