Today I was privileged enough to get some hands-on time with the bigger brother of Nintendo’s 3DS console, the 3DS XL. I was given Super Mario 3D Land to try out and I also had my regular 3DS with me – with the same game, by some stroke of luck – to be able to draw up a comparison.
I have been vocal about my concerns about this iteration of the Nintendo console cycle, mostly due to the continued omission of the secondary circle pad (instead an XL add-on will be sold separately) and the fact that it is releasing in the UK without a power charger. Will my concerns be silenced? Will they be emphasised? Only one way to find out…
So right off the mark it is noticeably huge. The top screen in particular takes up almost every possible inch of space, and looks brilliant. The bottom half of the device however feels a little more plasticky that the original, with in-set buttons and a more matt finish. (I own the Cosmic Black 3DS for comparison) I was told that this lower profile was to cut down on the depth of the device, and after holding it for a while I can agree that it is the right shape, if not a little too large for the usual Nintendo target market. It is, however slightly smaller than the PS Vita (another console that I feel is a little too large).
So how do the visuals stack up?
Well, to put it bluntly they look very much like the 3DS versions. I had some concerns over the fact that while the screen was almost doubled in size, the resolution was not going to be changed (and obviously it couldn’t be, easily). I feared blurry images that coupled with the 3D effect would make it almost unplayable, but I was pleasantly surprised. The visuals don’t really seem too blurry, but aren’t as sharp as they were on my 3DS version of the game. What was improved was the overall 3D effect, despite Nintendo recently stating that it was not the key component of their plans for the 3DS XL it seems to work better with a larger screen. Perhaps having so much cramped in a smaller screen encouraged more eye-strain? I’m not sure, but I did notice that it was easier to find a sweet spot in terms of holding it at the optimal angle, and as such can see it working better in the long term, especially with games that require some use of motion control.
Sound quality seemed no better, nor noticeably worse than on the original 3DS, but without trying a set of headphones, I wouldn’t want to comment too much on this area. It’s always best to play handheld titles with a good set of headphones, and that build quality will have far more of an effect on your appreciation of a game than a small set of tinny on-system speakers. While the 3DS/XL speakers seemed fine, I would always recommend the cans option.
Finally we come to the sheer size. The XL is significantly larger, obviously, but this has an effect on the portability. My 3DS fits comfortably in my jeans pocket, but the XL would be a bit of a squeeze, and I’m always loath to squash tech into small holes (despite what the story in last week’s Sunday Sport stated). If you want a handheld console for use mainly at home, or have access to a decent man-bag/handbag/rucksack then you are set, but it always gripes me to see a portable device become less portable just for a design choice. I dread to think how uncomfortable Kid Icarus sessions would be with the larger device, but on the whole it is a nice build, with nicely rounded edges. It feels just right in my larger-than-average adult hands, and I can’t help but think that this is Nintendo’s strategy, produce a device for the older gamers who are buying 3DS consoles presently. No-one likes getting ‘The Claw’ from prolonged gaming sessions, and I can safely say that the XL was a lot more comfortable to use and hold than the original device.
So, with all this in mind is my mind changed? Sort of.
You see I love gaming, I adore gadgets and I am a huge fan of the original 3DS. Of course a larger, more comfortable version would be preferable, but the aforementioned omission of the second circle pad is enough to hold me back from a launch day purchase. Had it have released with the second pad in place I’d have been throwing my money at a bemused shop assistant, but as it is I can’t justify an ‘upgrade’ when it really doesn’t feel like an upgrade at all. For folks considering a 3DS it’s a shoe in, especially if you are later teenage years or above. For kids I’d recommend the smaller device.
If Nintendo release a third iteration soon, with that secondary pad and a slightly improved button design, I’d be first in line, but for now I can simply recommend it to anyone looking to get into 3D gaming. For everyone else, probably best to wait a little longer. Keep getting those street pass hits and finish off those jigsaws. Now if you’ll excuse me, the little green light is flashing… WAHOO!