Along with a new version of the standard 3DS, February brings us a new version of the super-sized 3DS XL. In a nutshell, we’re talking about a handheld that’s roughly the same size as the old 3DS XL with identically-sized 4.88-inch and 4.18 inch touchscreens, but with all the new features and enhancements of the New Nintendo 3DS. It’s not so much a new console as a 3DS XL plus, running all your old 3DS games, but with the addition of two new shoulder buttons, improved 3D effects and – most importantly – a second analogue stick.
Physically, the new 3DS XL is very, very similar to the old one. It’s a few millimetres wider and thicker, flatter on the top and approximately 6g heavier than the previous model. Open it up, and the screen doesn’t just have the same size but the same 800 x 480 resolution, working out at 400 x 240 pixels per eye with stereoscopic effects. It’s here that the new model really shows it’s worth. As Damien pointed out in his review of the new 3DS, the console’s revised 3D system is both more sophisticated and more effective than the original, using the front-facing cameras to track head movement, then using that data to adjust the 3D image.
Hands up who has a 3DS but has the 3D slider turned right down? With the New Nintendo 3DS XL, you’ll actually want to slide it right back up again. Not only is the 3D effect more convincing, but it’s much more stable too. You no longer have to keep your head in the perfect sweet spot; the 3D only breaks up and hits double vision mode when you’re looking at the console from an oblique angle. Combine this with a brighter screen and the sheer size of the 3DS XL display and you have the best screen Nintendo has ever put in a handheld device. Play Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate or The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, and objects pop from the screen with a whole lot more impact than they did before. It works so well that I can actually use the 3D without wearing glasses – something that just wasn’t feasible on the old 3DS XL.
Otherwise, there have been changes to the layout. The cartridge slot now sits at the front towards the left-hand corner, while the headphone socket moves to the centre. The stylus slots a little to the right, while a new power button fits in, slightly awkwardly, near the front right corner. The back houses the power connector – the 3DS still uses the same proprietary charger as the older versions – but you’ll also spot new ZL and ZR buttons in-between the old L and R buttons on the rear corners. Combine these with the analogue pad and digital D-pad to the left of the bottom touchscreen and the Start, Select, X, A, B and Y buttons (now colour-coded) and the 3DS XL can now match the controls of the old Gamecube controller.
See also: Best 3DS Games 2015
The new C stick is going to be crucial here, and we’ve already had a chance to try it out on a pre-release version of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. It’s a bit of an oddity, feeling closer to one of the analogue nubs you used to find on IBM Thinkpads than a proper analogue stick. It’s fine for moving the camera around, but I’m not sure it has the sensitivity or finesse for, say, a first person shooter or AAA action game. Given that this probably isn’t Nintendo’s priority, anyway, it should be fit for the purposes they have in mind.
One minor inconvenience of the new design is that SD cards are out, micro SD cards are in, and for good measure the slot is concealed beneath a removable back plate, which comes off only when you’ve removed two tiny screws. The upside of this is that you can replace the backplates with different colour options and custom designs, while you don’t have to worry about your micro SD card falling out and getting lost. The downside? You can’t switch the cards in a hurry or simply take one out and slot it in your laptop or tablet to take off your pics. Nintendo gets around this with a new application that allows you to transfer data wirelessly between your 3DS and a PC. Browse to your 3DS through Windows Explorer, enter a username and password, and you can drag files on and off the micro SD card much like you can on a media player or Android device.
See also: Best Games 2015
The other major changes with the new 3DS XL are currently hard to gauge. With built-in NFC it’s now compatible with Nintendo’s Amiibo figures, and we’ll be trying that out with Super Smash Bros. when we come to do our full review. The new, faster processor doesn’t seem to make much impact at present, but we will eventually see games that run on this new 3DS XL and 3DS, but won’t run on the older models. This sounds like a recipe for confusion, and will need careful handling from Nintendo if it’s to work.
From a couple of days of play, the new 3DS XL seems like a winner. It’s a better, more comfortable design than the old 3DS XL, and while the bigger screen makes it more of a handful than the smaller new 3DS, that makes it more comfortable for long sessions of play. Once you’ve played games with the new 3D screen you really won’t want to go back. The one disappointment? Battery life. The new 3DS XL doesn’t appear to last any longer than the old one, though we’ll make sure before we finish our review.
With the enhanced 3D screen, second analogue stick and revised controls, this is the best version of the 3DS made even better. Nintendo seems to have thought very carefully about each and every change, and produced a handheld that can handle more ambitious games than the existing 3DS XL. We’ll keep playing it, trying it with old favourites and new titles, and come back with a proper verdict nearer launch.