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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