New Nintendo 3DS XL review: pry it from my cold, dead hands

There were many things that Nintendo got right with the debut 3DS and 3DS XL systems. They were easy to hold, lasted long on a charge and had a plethora of great titles to choose from, but they also had their flaws. One of them was ashamedly highlighted in their name. While the 3D system caused more migraines than good memories, there was also a lack of control nubs modern day console gamers are used to.

So the Kyoto gaming giant went back to the drawing board furiously penciling in new, refreshed ideas for its New Nintendo 3DS XL and 3DS iterations. But has the new 3DS XLsystem (the only one brought to the Western world) solved the issues of the past, or is it just another drab disappointment?

To be fair, Nintendo’s the only real player in the handheld console market (I’ll be damned to add Sony to the mix), so does the New Nintendo 3DS XL actually make sense to a generation spoiled on smartphone gaming?

This relatively small device has some big shoes to fill, so let’s get those size twelves out.

Unboxing

I must admit, from the offset I was about as excited as a toddler on Christmas Eve when I received the 3DS XL Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate Edition. I was also strangely surprised — it’s probably the heaviest box in the known universe. Luckily, it turns out that it was the foreign language manual that weighed the package down, and not the console itself.

The 3DS XL is cocooned in a sandwich of cardboard and impact absorbing plastic — the kind that you’ll likely intend to keep until you purchase an adequate pouch for the system, and this is advised. Especially if you happen to have the Zelda or Monster Hunter special editions.

Both are delectable, but even the generically coloured editions are attractive.

Remember that Nintendo, for some reason practical people can’t quite understand, didn’t include a charger in the new console boxes, so either you’ll have to spend another day hunting for the mythical grey-tailed beast, or you’ll have to charge your 3DS XL using hopes and dreams. Luckily, I was given a charger because I asked nicely, and generally PR companies are wonderful things.

New Nintendo 3DS XL review

We’ll come back to this glaring mistake later.

Aesthetics

In the meantime, let’s get back to what really makes my heart skip literal beats — the Nintendo 3DS XL’s facade.

The Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate Edition is a sexy beast, smothered in silver and embellished with the Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate tattoo art. The Majora’s Mask version, I can attest, is equally beautiful, and the prospective buyer should really be happy with either.

The console itself isn’t too big either, even with the XL label attached. It’s easy enough to hold it in one hand, and light enough to forget that you’re carrying something tangible. Perhaps the only issue is the depth of the unit — it’s about as thick as a few stacked BlackBerry Classics, so it won’t fit comfortably in a pocket. Nintendo has also gone with the rounded hinge, which I personally like, but harks back too much to the good ol’ 1990s for some Millennial babies (or some Lenovo engineers) to endure.

New Nintendo 3DS XL review

If measurements is your forte, get your ruler out. The device measures in at 93.5mm high x 160mm wide x 21.5mm thick, with a 4.88-inch top screen and a 4.18-inch lower touchscreen. Note, the upper screen’s resolution falls short of what Apple employees are allowed to bring to campus at 800×240. There’s no such thing as “Retina” here. Nevertheless, the top screen is 3D (duh) and allows 400 pixels per eye when in 3D mode.

We also find a few buttons carried over from the last system, including the circular direction nub, the four-way D-pad, the A, B, X and Y buttons, L and R buttons at the left and right rear of the console and the usual Start and Select buttons in a more rubberised finish. Around the front of the console you’ll find the home button closest to the screen and moving around to the edge, the power button sits flush with the console itself along with the notification lights.

There are new welcome additions including a duo of new buttons joining the L and R buttons at the rear while a new controlling nub, dubbed the C-Stick, is placed above the firing squad at the top right. That little nub has a few big promises to fulfill.

New Nintendo 3DS XL review

Practicality and Playability

And fulfill said big promises it duly does.

Instead of using the D-pad to pan the camera, which became annoying and unintuitive especially on faster-paced titles, the C-Stick takes over that duty, and makes gameplay on the 3DS XL feel more like a Sony or Microsoft controller. It’s more natural and feels a lot better to the touch. The nub is also aware of its angle and anger of its agitator, so mash it quickly and the camera swings quickly, love it gently and it follows your protagonist around nicely.

The directional nub still feels a bit too flimsy for my liking (and my post-work haste), and so does the D-pad. The button often wobbles around in its housing which has me scrambling wildly for that warranty slip more often than not. It really shouldn’t sever though, and if it does it’s probably a testament to how damn fun this thing is to use.

Nintendo 3DS XL review bundle 1

Annoyingly, it is practically impossible to switch the console off without massing the R button by mistake, but this isn’t a major flaw.

TL;DR: all buttons feel great to the touch, and are adequate when gaming.

The touchscreen is difficult to use and often sluggish especially when typing on the QWERTY keyboard, but this is where a stylus would come in particularly handy. If often neglects to respond upon touches but a firmer gesture immediately remedies this.

The resolution of both screens leaves a lot to be desired, and I often found myself reaching for the painkillers at the onset of a pixel-induced headache. With that said, the 3D system is leaps and bounds better than the previous system. Annoyingly, both screens suffered from terrible wash-out in direct sunlight, so gaming outside will have to include a parasol.

Nintendo has fitted the front camera with an additional infrared sensor which takes your head position and movement into account whilst flying through Hyrule seated at your dinner table. This cancels out those 3D-killing rapid movements that forced the user to remain in a fixed position to enjoy the 3D effect. Now playing on the 3DS XL with the 3D system on is more natural and is actually something you want to do (especially in games like Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate).

New Nintendo 3DS XL review

The absent charger

With more practical matters at hand, Nintendo has graciously ditched the cumbersome SD card format for more intuitive microSD cards, which does up the price of storage but guarantees a slimmer console. But with that said, the lack of a charger is one idiotic move, considering that Nintendo should be building on its user base rather than cultivating its current one.

Let’s put this idiocy into perspective: you purchase a smartphone tomorrow that requires a microUSB charger. Sure enough, you probably have one of these from an older phone, but you’d still feel hard done by if there’s no charger in the actual box. Nintendo has done this with a proprietary charging system, which means that you’ll need to hunt one down, pay additional fees for it, before you can charge your 3DS XL. If you didn’t want to bundle the charger, Nintendo, why not graduate to a system that practically all devices use?

SAMSUNG CSC

Nevertheless, in a nutshell, holding the 3DS XL in bed, on the train or at the dinner table is a pleasure and I could easily game for hours.

Performance

Nintendo has also upgraded the business end of the hardware, improving performance of the entire system. And it shows.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is an extensive, deep game, but cut scenes, rapid animations and transitions are dispatched with startling ease. All operations on the 3DS XL was fluid and natural, and didn’t seem to stress the console at all.

Start up and shutdown are also completed in under three seconds, which makes a quick game during lunch or under the boardroom table during the weekly sales meeting a definitely possibility.

And with that said, the volume and 3D sliders work well too. The audio pounded out through dual speakers on the primary screen is crisp too and audio through the 3.5mm headphone jack is as clear too. The sliders do make it easy to switch the audio and 3D off quickly without faffing around in the menus, which is a welcome retention from the previous consoles.

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The screen brightness is adequate too, as noted, perhaps only lacklustre in sunlight, and the 3D system doesn’t seem to stress the console either.

WiFi connectivity is stellar too, and seems to boast more amplified WiFi awareness than most modern phones — especially wonderful for road warriors. The inclusion of NFC is nice too, and gives that sizable Amiibo collection a new platform to play on.

Alternative Bundled Software

It’s not all about gaming though.

Nintendo has included additional software on the 3DS XL, including AR Games, Face Raiders, Mii Maker, StreetPass, Mii Plaza, Activity Log, the integral Nintendo eShop, an internet browser, a camera app and a “Sound” app, which lets the user play music on the device.

Mii Maker, StreetPass and Mii Plaza are integral if you plan to use your 3DS XL system out and about. The former allows you to design a avatar which you can use to communicate with other users’ avatars via StreetPass.

Nintendo 3DS XL lead

This probably won’t work too well in South Africa, where I’ve barely seen anyone else with a Nintendo DS on the street, let alone a previous or current-gen 3DS XL, but should be an absolute treat if you’re looking to move to Tokyo in the near to mid-future.

Available Titles

Here’s one valid reason for purchasing one of these consoles.

Read more: Nintendo Direct: 3DS XL confirmed, games galore coming this year

If you’re a fan of The Legend of Zelda series, Kirby, Monster Hunter, Super Mario Bros. or Pokemon, you won’t be left disappointed in the year ahead. Nintendo has announced that a new edition in each of the game series mentioned above will get a new game on the 3DS XL. So there’s a bonus.

For now, the two special edition launch packs come with The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask or Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, the latter we’ve played extensively thus far and love to bits and pixels.

Nintendo 3DS XL review amiibo

There’s a healthy blend between serious and kid-friendly titles to choose from too, so if you’re planning to surprise your toddler this Christmas in July, they’ll be quite happy with your parenting skills.

“What’s the point, Nintendo?”

At this point, I began to wonder what all the fuss was about considering that the age of handheld consoles are genuinely threatened by the prevalence of high powered smartphones. Just look at Sony’s Xperia range with its PS4 Remote Play feature and you’ll understand what I mean.

Read more: Sony Xperia Z3 Compact long-term review: sexy, submersible, sensational

Raising these questions is a valid exercise, and one that has to be done, but it’s completely missing the point of handheld consoles.

The New Nintendo 3DS XL isn’t competing with smartphones, its appealing to gaming lovers though and through. Those who can’t go a wink without thinking about leveling up, or the next enigmatic romp through a foreign land, or the previous failing and how to remedy it. The 3DS XL is a portable gaming paradise. Sure, it’s not as practical as a smartphone, or the Nvidia Shield for instance, but it is more immersive, more entertaining and boasts denser titles than smartphones could ever hope to have.

New Nintendo 3DS XL stock

If you’re one who classifies “gaming” as momentary lapses of time playing Angry Birds, or that Kim Kardashian game, the 3DS XL probably isn’t for you, but I could be wrong.

Value and Price

Of course, if you want to game remotely on a budget, the New3DS XL probably isn’t for you either. At US$199, or R3000 in South Africa for a non-exclusive version, the 3DS XL isn’t cheap. But is it worth it?

If you’re the type of person who thinks about gaming everywhere, including church, this is the console for you. And for the money you pay, you get a good dosage of innovative technology, a swathe of games and one well built package.

New Nintendo 3DS XL review

Verdict: I’m in love with my New Nintendo 3DS XL, and no, that’s isn’t some PR quip. I genuinely love this device, but it doesn’t exactly re-imagine the handheld genre. It did do something that not too many devices seem to do though — fill me with absolute glee. I felt something like this when I reviewed the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact, but that was a smartphone — all business and no pleasure. The New Nintendo 3DS XL is all pleasure.

It has its flaws thanks to the bad decision making at Nintendo, but what it does it does damn well, and that’s all you can really ask for as a gamer or a consumer.

Score: 8.5/10

Andy Walker
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