3DS XL: making Nintendo make sense again

Friday, 20 July 2012 09:00 GMT By Patrick Garratt

3DS’s miniature form factor crippled Nintendo’s latest handheld, but XL, the machine’s first major revision, finally makes good on the excitement we all felt at E3 2010. Patrick Garratt tries it out and comes up grinning.

It’s obvious the larger hardware provides a more satisfying game experience. 3DS XL is worthwhile for that reason alone, but the achievement goes further: the 3DS concept now makes proper sense.

The original 3DS didn’t make much sense to me beyond the first glassless 3D “wow” moment. Beside the fact there’s no social networking and no 3G, the play experience really wasn’t pleasant. The 3D effect is amazing (nausea and eye-strain arguments aside), and created a giant buzz at E3 in E3 2010 for good reason. The problem was the size. I was shocked by it. It’s tiny. It’s slightly smaller than the screen on my HTC Desire S. For a modern, dedicated gaming handheld, that’s just ridiculous.

I clearly wasn’t alone in that opinion, and so we have the 3DS XL, Nintendo’s first major revision since 3DS launched just over a year ago. It’s out in the EU next week, and it’s a good one. The screen on XL is big enough to allow 3DS to finally make sense. Both displays are 90% larger. The top screen is 4.88 in (124 mm) and the touch-screen on the bottom is 4.18 in (106 mm). The weight’s been increased by nearly 50% as a result, but I like the increased robustness. XL is more substantial than the original console. I tend to play handheld games at home or on long journeys, so I prefer the tablet-style experience of having a larger screen and something solid to hold. Vita does a great job of this, and is far more comfortable to use than 3DS as a result. 3DS XL is actually only about an inch shorter than Vita, and the two larger screens coupled with an excellent build quality give a feel of luxury distinctly missing from the original 3DS. I couldn’t help comparing 3DS to a mid-range phone in terms of build: XL is easily up there with Vita.

The screen’s slightly darker than the original’s, and it looks as though there’s a bit of non-native resolution stuff going on, especially in the UI. I’m nit-picking, though: the display’s a treat. Going back to it, the original 3DS screen is actually superbly bright and pin-sharp, so a tiny drop in clarity is fine.

What’s vastly improved with XL is the glassless 3D, which appears to be a lot more usable with the extra screen size. The smaller 3DS strained my eyes, but I’ve put in a few hours on the XL with the 3D slider on maximum and I’ve experienced no real discomfort apart from a bit of the good old 3D “whooziness”. The 3D “sweet spot” is pretty punishing on the original screen. If it moves even slightly, the effect blurs. XL’s more forgiving in this respect, and I found it easier to play games like Mario, just as I had more room to better judge distance and there was little danger – sitting at my desk, at least – of any wobbles in the 3D.

The touch-screen upgrade probably isn’t as successful, as it’s still based on the stylus. Because it’s made for a physical pointer it’s relatively unresponsive to finger presses, and after using glass-front phones for so long it’s annoying. The stylus has been moved round to the right side of the unit with XL – it was at the top behind the flip-screen on the original – and the telescopic version has been replaced with a fixed stick. It does work with your fingers, but you have to think about it and make definite presses as opposed to taps. It gets better as you get used to it, and the general usabililty’s improved with the larger screen, but it’s still a down-point in my opinion.

3DS XL deserves to do well when it releases later this month. With New Super Mario Bros. 2, Pokémon Conquest, Kingdom Hearts 3D, Heroes of Ruin and Freakyforms Deluxe joining Mario 3D Land and Zelda this summer, you should be seriously considering either getting involved or making the upgrade.

Whatever the niggles, though, it’s obvious the larger hardware provides a more satisfying game experience. 3DS XL is worthwhile for that reason alone, but the achievement goes further: the 3DS concept now makes proper sense. Thanks to the increased size, I’m finally realising that 3DS is a capable handheld and that the UI isn’t just some random, anachronistic touch-jumble. The desktop stuff isn’t this string of squashed icons any more, and I’m turning it on to find I’ve been pushed gifts that I’m not immediately frustrated to receive. I got sent a Pokedex, for example, and the process of getting it – for free – really wasn’t that bad. The eShop’s hardly the slickest delivery system in the world, but it’s no more cackhanded than buying stuff through the mobile versions of the PSN Store. That’s not the point, anyway: what’s noteworthy is that I was being dragged, not unwillingly, into Nintendo’s online delivery system. I downloaded stuff to a 4Gb SD card already fitted into the handheld. There were games on sale (who knew?). VVVVVV was on there for €8 (it’s €2.49 in the Steam sale, but whatever). I could spend money, update apps and all the rest of it. This was all there before, obviously, but the hardware felt so obtuse I never got as far as knowing about this stuff.

To answer some of the questions from this thread very quickly (I’ll answer whatever I can in the comments below this article):

  • There’s no second stick, but I really don’t care. It’s not made for dual-stick gaming. I gave Kid Icarus a shot, and it’s just as unplayable with a larger screen as without. That said, there does appear to be enough room under the buttons on the right for another nub. The one stick that is there feels looser than the original.
  • The speakers are comparable to the original hardware. I can’t really tell any difference.
  • I can’t really comment on the battery. Apparently it’s been improved over the first version, but I’m really no expert and I didn’t do a comparison. These impressions are based on two or three days of casual play. I had to recharge once.
  • It fits comfortably in my pocket, but it’s pretty chunky.
  • Remember, it doesn’t come with a power adaptor. It works with the normal 3DS unit. If you don’t have one, you’ll need to buy it separately.

3DS XL has, finally, given me a solid reason to go back to Nintendo’s world of gaming. I’ve been away for a very long time. Nintendo’s idea of what the real world looks like in handheld form is quirky and sometimes outright bizarre (still not entirely sure why I’m watching a 3D EuroSport video of a cyclist touching a competitor’s bottom at about 50KPH, and not being able to share the 3D images and movies you can capture is a decision carved out of madness) but proper 3D Mario, without pesky motion controls, on a system that makes sense of it all can never be a bad thing. Can’t we just have Twitter and Facebook apps now, Nintendo?

3DS XL deserves to do well when it releases later this month. With New Super Mario Bros. 2, Pokémon Conquest, Kingdom Hearts 3D, Heroes of Ruin and Freakyforms Deluxe joining Mario 3D Land and Zelda this summer, you should be seriously considering either getting involved or making the upgrade. On first impressions, I doubt you’ll regret it.

3DS XL releases on July 28 in the EU and August 19 in the US.


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  1. Gheritt White

    How does New Super Mario Bros for DS perform on the 3DS XL? What does it look like – good?

    #1 3 years ago
  2. Kabby

    I’m sure it’s an improvement for us Westerners and our spam hands but was the size really a problem? I don’t see how a larger device is going to really stimulate new consumer buy in at this point in time. People who have passed on 3DS will generally remain out of the loop.

    Sure, all of the pointless Gameboy size/colour iterations boost sales in the short term but doesn’t the real problem lie in the stale software and its cost? I’m a lost cause when it comes to Nintendo and none of their decisions seem to be winning me back.

    Review wise: Any chance you could post some real photos of the device next to a standard 3DS? I think that would add quite a bit to your writing.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. Patrick Garratt

    @1 – I don’t have it! Is it on the eStore? I’ll download it, if it’s there.

    #3 3 years ago
  4. Patrick Garratt

    @2 – There’s comparison pics here

    #4 3 years ago
  5. Kabby

    Ah yes, in the old post. Cheers.

    #5 3 years ago
  6. DrDamn

    Pat, you mentioned the touch screen not being great for fingers – how does it compare to the Wii-U touch screen controller? Hopefully the Wii-U is better?

    #6 3 years ago
  7. Patrick Garratt

    @7 I’ve never used a Wii U pad, I’m afraid. The XL’s touchscreen’s fine, but sometimes you have to get the stylus out to make it work properly. For most games, I think they assume you’re going to be using fingers, so the input fields are big and chunky and work well. I’ve been playing Kingdom Hearts this morning, and it works with fingers no problem. The UI works loads better with the stylus, though, so it’s a bit frustrating that you have to chop between the two. It’s the one thing about it that’s made me properly roll my eyes.

    #7 3 years ago
  8. DrDamn

    I found the same with the original 3DS. So was wondering about the Wii-U as it continues to use a resistive screen.

    #8 3 years ago
  9. Patrick Garratt

    I reckon it may well be the same deal, yep.

    #9 3 years ago
  10. _LarZen_

    No powercord when you buy it wil probably get filed a complaint here in Norway and the 3DS XL wil be removed from stores intill it ships with it.

    And that’s a good thing.

    #10 3 years ago
  11. Patrick Garratt

    I’ll add that in, actually.

    #11 3 years ago
  12. polygem

    good to hear. the small display was the only minor issue i had with the 3ds. nintendo made a lot of stuff right with the 3ds though imho. being bigger now it´s an even better deal. in the software department they are definiteley doing a great job now and it looks like it will even get better with a lot of promising games in the pipeline. i am very positive about the 3dsxl becoming a success. imo every gamer should at least own ONE nintendo console
    there are just some great gems to be played that mix up your gaming with some unique, quality, fun games. the 3ds is perfect for that. you can have some cool e-shop games for 10 euro or less and the retail games are 39 euro brandnew. for most titles that´s reasonably priced i think.

    #12 3 years ago
  13. PEYJ

    Never understood why Nintendos kiddy stuff appeal to so many people; they’ll never bring on board.

    Anyway – I am baffled by the increase in size. Now it seems to be more like a netbook and not something people can put in their pocket.

    #13 3 years ago
  14. DrDamn

    Stock response is that they are great games in terms of design and gameplay – and that’s perfectly valid. I can see where you come from to an extent though as I detest Mario. He’s a shite character living off the design of the games. Same goes for a lot of Nintendos output to be honest. I would love to see Miyamoto shed the shackles of Nintendo’s core IPs and try something different. It would likely be really fantastic.

    #14 3 years ago
  15. Blista

    @13 Yeah, man! Metroid and F-Zero really are kiddy stuff!

    #15 3 years ago
  16. Dragon246

    You dont need a reason to like something. Many people like mario etc. and thats why it sells. Also because its cheaper.

    #16 3 years ago
  17. polygem

    yea, the kiddie stuff argument. unfortunatley it never gets old. it´s just not true though and repeating it over and over wont make it right either. nevermind those people who bring this up all the time. they miss out on some of the best hardcore, top quality and fun games in video game history, it´s their own loss.

    #17 3 years ago
  18. stretch215

    Whether something is “kiddie” stuff or not is entirely subjective. Shit, there are people who think gaming as a whole is “kiddie” stuff. Leave them to their opinions. That being said, I can relate to #13. It’s no secret Nintendo caters to a young audience(Mario, Kirby, fucking Pokemon), and I’m turned off by that personally. That’s the stuff my children are into. If you like it, enjoy, but just because you like the games doesn’t mean #13 is wrong.

    #18 3 years ago
  19. Clupula

    Yeah, I find the “everyone should own one Nintendo console” to be a weird thing to say. Why? What do Nintendo do that Sony and Microsoft can’t? There’s plenty of Action RPG and platforming on the adult consoles. Sure, the Vita’s lineup is fairly anemic right now, but so what the 3DS’ at the same point of its lifetime.

    And yes, there is a reason why people say that Nintendo games are kiddie games: because they are. They don’t seem to acknowledge that people grow up, so they keep pushing the same family-orientated crap and milk the same four franchises over and over again. As I said once before, this was not a problem during the days when they had Rare, because then they were putting out stuff like Goldeneye and Conker, to balance out the family stuff. But now, that’s ALL they do and as an adult, I want to be treated like an adult.

    #19 3 years ago
  20. OlderGamer

    I will try and keep this to a short spin. And it isn’t so much a defense as an explanation. Or just a pov, mine.

    Most of the time when people complain about a game being kiddie, it comes from younger gamers. I think it is a self identification reflex. They feel that if they play say Gears of War instead of say Donkey Kong it reflects to others(maybe even to themself) that they are mature.

    I had a 9 year proudly boast that he only plays Mature games, when asking me if I played GTA. He thought it meant something. of course it doesn’t.

    Much the same way that a 24 year old wouldn’t have much interest in a new Pixar movie, instead would rather see say Battle For LA. the irony would be that the same person would prolly eat up The Avenger(a movie based on spandex wear super hereos from comic books that kids read). or even enjoy some Menga/Animie. It is all perception.

    When you get older(and life is just a series of phases and stages really) you get to a point where you don’t care what other people think. You get to point where you see things a little differently.

    I fully understand that be it Mario, Zelda, or Jax n Dexter, Uncharted, or Halo, Gears, they are all just toys. Digital toys. The actual act of playing them speaks more about you then which one you chose to play.

    It is funny really, but you must be secure in your age(ie mature) to be able to play Nintendo. Kind of oppesite of what some folks like to think. I think that is why so many older gamers own and play Nintendo games. Sort of the same way that a man who is secure in his masculinity can pull off wearing pink. It just isn’t an issue.

    If you were to objectivly peel away the layers of glitter that make games, all games. At the core you will find gameplay. At its purest form. Lets take a kill cam moment. Your char could walk up behind an enemy and eviserate him, while blood splaters in all directions and the enmey gurgles and chokes on it. His body could slump to the ground and bleed some more. or you could walk up to an enemy tap a button and the body disappers. maybe there is even a bubble poping type sound. In both cases the gameplay is exactly the same. Your sneaking around, staying out the enemies visual radar, and removing them from blocking your plath.

    While one scene might come from an Ass Cred title and the other from a Zelda game. Can you see the actual difference?

    Or, another example, in one game your trying to save a scantily clad helpless women, in another game your saving Princess Peach. Same principle.

    The big differences is in how these games present themself. Who are they trying to impress and who are they trying to appeal to? At my age,I am not impressed with graphical violence(enough of that in the real world) and I am not impressed with digital sexuality either(been married for decades). In truth I am mature. Far more then I used to be when I was 24years old.

    So people go through phases. When a gamer is 6,7, or 8 years old they don’t think about the violence and sexuality the same way as wehn they get older. And when they get older older they stop being preoccupied with it too.

    Nintendo games are what they are. If you don’t enjoy them now, I bet if you wait 20 years you will find a new appreciation for them. The same way your prolly going to enjoy catching a Pixar movie once in a while.

    #20 3 years ago
  21. Clupula

    Well, Oldergamer, let me ask how old you are, exactly? Because I’m 37. My first system was a Colecovision. My second was an NES. Then a Genesis. Was still in high school then. Now, my 20 year reunion is next year and Nintendo still don’t hold any appeal to me.

    I’m of the belief that there is a place for both, mature and family-orientated games. However, I have no urge to play the family orientated ones because I’m not a manchild. I’m an adult. I don’t watch children’s movies unless I’m in the presence of a child. Why would I want to play games made for them? If I had a kid, of course, I’d get a Wii, so he’d have something appropriate for his age to play.

    But I’ve yet to have one, so there’s no need for me to. You said it yourself that a game can be just as fun to play with blood and gore as not. So, why not play something more aimed towards adults? If I have to choose a movie to watch and my two choices are Finding Nemo and There Will Be Blood, I’d actually think there was something creepy about the guy who chose Finding Nemo.

    #21 3 years ago
  22. OlderGamer

    I am going to just say over 50 and leave it at that, Clupula.

    But same(enough) ballpark. I think the thing about rules is that they don’t apply to everyone all of the time. But I still think what I said holds true in most cases.

    #22 3 years ago
  23. PEYJ

    “Or, another example, in one game your trying to save a scantily clad helpless women, in another game your saving Princess Peach. Same principle.”

    But not the same practically. That’s the biggest difference between mature and kiddy games. Also, I feel its completely off to compare Nintendo and Pixar. Pixar’s humor is mainly aimed at adults and NOT at kids – that’s why the formula works so well with both groups.

    I’m 38 and I wasn’t interested in games until Playstation came around and showed me adventure, action, choices, simulation and escapism in interactive 3D. Close to the PS3, Wii and 360-launch I was almost convinced that I would get all three consoles at one point. I have since tried all of them and closely followed many of their games (either through youtube walkthroughs or my work at Gamestop) and they still do not appeal to me. Only Gears of War (the co-op part) and Alan Wake had me wish for being available on the PS3, and absolutely NOTHING from the Wii.

    Peace be with those who like it (and I often recommended Nintendo consoles for firsttime-buyers and their kids) but that everyone should get one with all their non-mature, kiddy, fluffy and little-expressionable material?

    I will NEVER personally embrace Nintendo in their current form and I will NEVER try to disencourage those who do.

    #23 3 years ago
  24. Dragon246

    Looks like many people here are older than mario!
    Well I dont think its bad if an adult wants to play kids games, everyone has its own favs. But in my opinion the worrying thing about ninty is that their franchises are getting somewhat stale. Their last big franchise was pokemon which arrived in 1998, which means they have failed to generate a single new franchise in the 21st century. Is that good?

    #24 3 years ago
  25. polygem

    i am 36 and i really cannot see why a halo, gears or even uncharted game should be more mature than…say…skyward sword? my father, who is in his late 60´s still loves micky mouse and donald duck comics. i read dostojewski, steinbeck, henry miller and so on-pretty “mature” literature i would say, still i never ever found a mario game was a kids game, it is for EVERYONE…
    i seriously cannot understand that kids argument (it even makes me kind of angry tbh, because i feel it is very unreflected, unfair and plain wrong) and i am very much agreeing with og here. i mean i love halo, i really do, but a space marine with a half naked ai sidekick, slaying different alien races to save the world isn´t exactly my definition of mature entertainment….even a game like heavy rain is mainly aimed at twens, it definiteley lacks the depth of what i´d call mature entertainment – like a dostojewski book for example. in the end it´s all just games and the most mature way to play a game is playing a freaking kirby game with your girl imho!

    #25 3 years ago
  26. Gekidami

    Pikmin in 2001 was Nintendos last original IP, though it was hardly a “big franchise”. But since then they’ve pretty much stopped trying, they have made new IP’s but its stuff like Wii Sports, Wii Fit or that Orchestra game. They’ve also published some third party games, but even then, they havent done much of that.

    The real kicker is that Nintendo dont really release that many games at all no matter the IP, which was a serious issue for the Wii seeing as with third parties abandoning the platform, they were the only ones left to supply it with games. Its no wonder so many people either traded in their Wii then brought it back when the next Mario game came out or left them to gather dust till then.

    #26 3 years ago
  27. Kabby

    “Sort of the same way that a man who is secure in his masculinity can pull off wearing pink. It just isn’t an issue.”

    Wearing pink is never OK, OG.

    #27 3 years ago
  28. polygem

    nintendo EAD are among the most creative gamedesigners despite not creating new ip´s but caring for those they already have and letting them evolve….that´s what makes them so special. this nintendo magic y´know… complaining about them not creating new ip´s is completeley missing the point. those ip´s are constantly evolving, they take very good care of them and create something new around those existing ip´s. imo this is very very smart. mario galaxy is a completeley different game than paper mario is, hell, it´s even a completeley different genre. why can´t people see and respect that. it´s a freaking strength and no weakness that nintendo handles it like that…

    #28 3 years ago
  29. Erthazus

    At least these guys supporting 3DS with games. No original iP’s? Millions of people still like it and buy it.

    Sony on the other hand invested a lot this generation in new iP’s and so far 90% of them is a total miss even if some of them not so successfull games (in sales) are good games or series.

    inFamous series are one of my favourite series of this generation and gosh, it is not successfull really but it deserves 4 million sales at least.

    #29 3 years ago
  30. Gheritt White

    Whos cares about a lack of original Nintendo IP? The 3DS XL has got bloody Castlevania coming out on it this year!

    #30 3 years ago
  31. GwynbleiddiuM

    @Erth exactly, Sony has built a 300 dollar machine and has failed to support it times and times again, and also they wont let the great potential of the device shine on other areas like remote play. I had both DSi and PSP on past gen handheld, I’m regretting the day that I sold my DSi to buy PSP in order to play MGS:PW. The machine stays useless on top of my desk, I don’t use it for nothing, while when I had DSi, the least I did with machine was creating animations (crappy I might add) with Flipnote studio.

    BTW, is flipnote studio on 3DS and 3DS XL?

    #31 3 years ago
  32. Dragon246

    Sony definitely got arrogant after ps2, which can easily be seen in ps3s early cycle and high cost.
    Also about 3ds games, how many months it took them to bring their franchises to the handheld. People are not willing not to give even that much time to vita.
    Psp got discarded not just because lack of sony support but mainly because of rampant piracy on it. Ask any developer and this is the response. That is partially the reason why I dont blame sony for proprietary vita memory sticks, if it can result in a almost hackproof system like ps3 and results in 3rd party dev returning, then its a worthy tradeoff.
    Who cares if 3ds sells, fucking AC is coming to vita this year.

    #32 3 years ago
  33. polygem

    …i really couldn´t care less for AC on the vita, seriously- but i cannot wait for castlvania, epic micky, luigis mansion, animal crossing, paper mario…we just have a very different taste in games.

    #33 3 years ago
  34. guapo

    @25 you get mad when people talk about Nintendo? LOL. I literally spit out my coffee when i read that line. That’s pretty sad. Especially when it’s true that most of their franchise are aimed at kids. Of course it’s fun for adults too (like most things made for kids), but it’s made for children. Stop the denial dude.

    #34 3 years ago
  35. lexph3re

    @dragon thats been the problem from the get go. Everyone gives Nintendo a pass for years when lacking something. But, Sony is always bashed like the ugly cousin if people think it has a shortcoming. Also, people just refuse to try new things. They complain they want new things but they don’t they want old dressed in new.

    Why Sonys knocked always baffles me. Poy for instance will go nuts for luigis mansion, star fox and Zelda. But, won’t give to sharts about Gravity Rush, Ragnorok Odyssey, or Assassins Creed lib. The only thing that i find stupid is the arguement Vita has no game both backwards and forwards but 3ds does. i have bought a ton of cheap digital psp games since i got my vita that are tons of fun. Kenka Bancho: Badass rumble, Crimson Gem Saga, FfIV complete and soon the persona series because they have them on psn for 10 a pop.

    The only time anyone can say theres “no games” is when they don’t see anything their willing to try.

    #35 3 years ago
  36. polygem

    @34: i am sorry but repeating this “nintendo games are for children” stuff like a mantra wont make it right, it still is a huge pile of BS. you lied about your coffee too, if not, instead of using the wrong mantras practice some real ones, it´ll help you taking controll of your body ;)

    @35: it is because i do not like gravity rush much, i never liked assassins creed….i do like the jak and daxter hd collection and the ratchet one….i am totally diggin´journey and i thank sony for supporting stuff like this but i want remote play. i already played all those psp games. so i agree, the vita has games, but there just isn´t much in store for me, but hey that´s ok. one thing that annoyed me though: i am a huge resistance fan….have you played burning skies?? it is a freaking crime. i cannot understand how sony can let that happen to one of their ip´s. this is something you will never see from nintendo. i never ever bashed sony in general, i love some of their games….i can only see a bunch of guys bashing nintendo here…for NO reason at all, pretending nintendo games are kids games, which is absoluteley, insaneley wrong, that´s all.

    #36 3 years ago
  37. Kabby

    From Chart-Track (UK) figures:

    3DS XL less than 10,000 sold thus far.
    3DS during the same time period sold 10 TIMES as many units. (100k)
    DSi XL sold around the 100k mark.

    Bit of a disaster, no?

    #37 3 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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