I’ve had the original Nintendo 3DS for quite a while now, almost a year, and for the most part I loved it. The 3DS was Nintendo’s entry into the 3D portable gaming world, but without the tell-tale glasses. You just have to keep your vision within a narrow sweet spot directly in front of the screen (which was the part the most gamers had the most trouble with). Skew your head just a little bit to either side and you lose that 3D effect. You don’t need the glasses, but have to basically stay immobile in that sweet spot (which you can conveniently turn off if it bothers you that much). It had two screens, the upper 3D one, and the lower 2D touchscreen where you do most of the navigation and controlling. Both screens are serviceable, but damned small. Which was a criticism leveraged against the 3DS—the screens were, to be charitable about it, tiny. I played my 3DS up close, not just because of the 3D limitation, but just so I could see what the hell I was doing.
The newly released Nintendo 3DS XL has upped the stakes big-time.
The new 3DS XL was recently released in Europe and Japan, and a little later, in the United States. As the two-letter designation at the end implies, it beefs up the display size—by as much as 90%! Which for most gamers is already a winning strategy, 3D notwithstanding. It puts the upper 3D screen at 4.88″, just a fraction less than its direct rival, the Playstation Vita at 5″ flat.
The new, bigger screens are a revelation.
I feel like I was let loose from a small cramped room onto a wide, expansive, immersive field where you could actually see the fine little details. The racetracks of Mario Kart 7 and Ridge Racer opened up into vast streches of roads and tunnels, and the fighting arenas of Super Street Fighter IV became big coliseums you can fight in. (Well, not really, but it sure seemed that way.)
The trouble is that they didn’t really increase the pixel count to match the bigger screen. The 3D games are still at their old resolutions, just blown up 90%. You can make out the pixels in some of the games, but surprisingly, it doesn’t really bother me at all. It made it somehow more… game-y. None of that matching-reality stuff that the Vita’s OLED screens are known to try for. The 3DS XL’s LCD screens still have that old-time game ethic and feel, and that somehow comforts this old coot.
The 3DS XL has been bumped up in size, but surprisingly not by much. The reduced bezels around the big screens saw to that. The 2D touch screen still isn’t multitouch, though, but the increased size of the screen sorta makes up for the lack of newer multitouch functions. It’s a bit narrower than the Vita and just slightly thicker than its predecessor. The fact that it closes in on itself makes it less delicate and less needy of a case and safer to just throw in a bag or a pocket (a big pocket, to be sure). It’s certainly better looking than the old one.
NICER, STURDIER BODY
The 3DS XL is also sleeker and more svelte than the previous iteration. Say goodbye to the sharp corners and hello to rounded, softer lines. Also gone is the grease-attracting shiny plastic surface of the old. Now we have a matte metal-like surface (still plastic, but less of a fingerprint magnet) on the body of the 3DS XL, which comes in blue or red, or the Japan-only white. The interior, when you open it up, is all black though, whatever color the outside is.
The 3DS XL is better built, and sturdier. There are now three convenient indents that the screen rests open on, as opposed to the old one’s two. The 3DS XL is also a bit heavier than the old one, but just by a few ounces. It rests easily and settles much better on the hands than the old one did (at least it does on mine), and I can imagine holding the thing comfortably for long gaming sessions.
Most of the controls are exactly the same as the old 3DS: the circle pad on the upper left and the D-pad below that, and the A-B-X-Y and power buttons on the right. The two shoulder buttons are still there in the back corners, slimmer and more chiseled, and much harder to accidentally hit than before. The volume control is on the left edge of the device, and the wifi switch and indicator light are on the right edge. Gone are the rinky-dink SELECT-HOME-START membrane “buttons” you used to find at the bottom of the second screen that were hard to properly hit. In its place are big, wide, sturdy plastic buttons with etched names on them.
The chunkier non-telescoping all-plastic stylus (yay!) is now in a recessed portion on the right side of the device, easier to access, as opposed to the old, telescoping one that is accessed with more difficulty through the rear of the 3DS.
The power and charge indicator lights are on the right front edge of the bottom screen, and the headphone jack, which used to be in the middle part, is on the far left edge. Also, the 3D slider on the right side of the upper screen? It now has a detent at the “off” end of it that you can safely click on if you don’t want to use the 3D function, and save on battery life. It’s a small but very convenient feature Nintendo put in if you’re going to use the 3DS XL to play older, non-3D games.
A big bummer for some gamers is the lack of a second analog stick. It would have been the perfect time to introduce the new control on a new, updated device, but apparently games that run on second analog sticks are low on the totem pole of Nintendo.
BETTER POWER CONSUMPTION—BUT LOUSIER SPEAKERS, AND EVEN LOUSIER CAMERAS
The old 3DS had lousy battery life. Three hours, if you used it with lowered brightness and 3D settings, and with no internet. Less with everything on. That was the biggest complaint of users. It got so bad, I had to buy an extended battery replacement called a Nyko PowerPack+ (with Charge Base) for it, which effectively doubled the power of the 3DS to five or six hours. Now, the 3DS XL’s fixed that. The new model, with all features blazing, now runs for four to six hours on a single charge. No PowerPack+ needed.
Strangely, in a two-steps-forward-one-step-back move, Nintendo decided to cheapen up on the speakers. The old 3DS, while not really loud, operated well enough that you could hear it in a relatively crowded room. Not so for this one. The smaller bezel space on either side of the 3D screen necessitated smaller (and less powerful) speakers, so I guess you’d be better off attaching a pair of earphones to hear your bloops and beeps. To keep the price point at US$199, I guess Nintendo decided to keep the secondary hardware cheap and inexpensive.
The 3DS XL still sports the same nineties-cellphone-level cameras that the original 3DS had. True, 3D photography is a nice novelty, but keeping the internal and external cameras at a paltry 0.3 megapixels each is kinda slumming it a bit, don’t you think?
Released on the same day as the Nintendo 3DS XL was the 3DS-exclusive New Super Mario Bros 2, and in a first for Nintendo, it was a game released digitally for download on the Nintendo eShop as well, which you can connect to on its wifi. Which means that storage space had better be available on their devices, if big digital releases are ever going to take off. Which was why I guess Nintendo started to include larger flash cards with their new devices, beginning with the 3DS XL.
Free with the 3DS XL is a 4GB SD flash card, double the capacity of the previous one; it’s situated in a small recessed area on the right side of the device where people often forget it’s there, particularly that it’s hardly mentioned on the box. But it’s a refreshing change.
NOT QUITE READILY AVAILABLE YET
The Nintendo 3DS XL comes in a small, compact box, as opposed to the big sucker the original came in. Inside the small box is a thick manual, a quick setup guide in three languages, a Club Nintendo invitation and a small pack of Augmented Reality Cards. That’s it.
The original European release didn’t even include a power adaptor in the box. You had to purchase it separately, which makes the pricing of the device deceptively low; people forget that they need a charger to make their device work and don’t factor the cost of a charger in.
The 3DS XL isn’t readily available in stores yet in this country. Data Blitz has some units for sale, but they’re the European version. Thankfully they include a free charger with the price, which isn’t too far off from the listed overseas retail—P10,500. A precious few other stores carry them in the Greenhills area, but at even more inflated prices.
It’s kinda a toss-up to upgrade if you already own the original Nintendo 3DS, but I really think the bigger screens seal the deal. The Nintendo 3DS XL is an entirely new experience. And if you don’t have a 3DS yet, the XL is the one to get.
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