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Nintendo New 3DS XL: The Review

Back in mid-February, Nintendo released what, upon first glance, might seem like a half-step update to the Nintendo 3DS XL. The name — New 3DS XL — asks us to think of the latest model as part of the same family, just with a few minor upgrades.

Of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

While there is precedent at Nintendo for releasing small updates to its handhelds, the New 3DS XL is more Wii U than, say, Nintendo DSi. Yes, it can play 3DS games. But the updated processor, additional shoulder buttons, and built-in c-stick mean that some future games will be built solely for the new hardware.

Would Nintendo be so foolish as to do away with support for the old 3DS entirely? That’s the really big question. The installed base for that system is enormous. It makes me think that, while we’ll get the occasional game for the New 3DS XL only, most will be built to support both, adding perks for the new hardware that those on the old systems won’t get.

This is what makes reviewing the New Nintendo 3DS XL so difficult. I’m torn between approaching it as a first 3DS experience for new buyers, or as an upgrade for those who are already part of the ecosystem.

I’m going to hit the need-to-know stuff first, and then I’ll address the system from those perspectives later.

The Hardware

If you want both pocketability and a sleek design, the New Nintendo 3DS XL will not disappoint. I wound up with the red model this time around (after having a black 3DS XL) and it’s one of the prettier Nintendo handhelds I’ve ever owned.

The surface likes to keep your fingerprints around — that’s what you get with a glossy finish versus matte — but fortunately, that issue is limited to the outer shell. Inside, it’s all matte, as it should be.

There are some new features on the New 3DS XL that you won’t find on the older systems — eye-tracking 3D, for example, made possible by the system’s front-facing camera, which works pretty well. I’ve had issues when wearing glasses from time to time, but this seems to happen to players on a case-by-case basis.

There are also two additional shoulder buttons, LZ and RZ. And there’s a c-stick that I just haven’t quite gotten comfortable with. I’ve never been a fan of the little rubberized nubs, going all the way back to when they were included as pointing devices on laptops. I wish Nintendo could find a way to incorporate another circle pad, which I feel is a pretty good analog stick (even if it’s flat).

The displays are the same-old displays — nothing new to report here. Like the glossy finish on the outside, both screen attracts fingerprints. They also attract dust. You’ll need to wipe both down on a regular basis. This isn’t anything new, as the older 3DS XL suffered from the same issue.

Ports and slots have been moved around; for example, the cartridge slot is now found on the bottom-left side of the system instead of the center-top on the original 3DS XL. The charging port has moved from top-right to top-center. The power button has been relocated from inside the closed clamshell to bottom-right outside. The headphone jack was moved from bottom-left to bottom-center.

What’s really going to kill you is the new location of the stylus. For weeks, I’ve been trying to pull the stylus out of the right side of the handheld, as I did with the previous model. Old habits die hard. One day, I’ll learn to take the stylus from its new location, on the bottom-right of the device.

As far as ergonomics go? The New 3DS XL is just as comfortable to hold and play as the previous 3DS XL — not very. I’ve found one comfortable way to game on the New 3DS XL without feeling like my hands are cramping: holding the system down near my lap, allowing gravity to keep it in my palms as my thumbs move to the various buttons. If you want to lay in bed and hold the system above your head to play, it’s probably not going to happen without some discomfort. This is an area Nintendo really needs to work on, in my opinion.

And hey, there’s a new processor in that New 3DS XL! How is it? Well, we still don’t have a game to truly push it (Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is coming, though!), so until then, all we have to go off of is the 3DS operating system. I’m happy to report that the OS and its menus are WAY faster than on the previous hardware.

Lastly — upgrading the SD card. It’s definitely NOT the most pleasant thing in the world to do on the New 3DS XL. The design decision made here is a bit of a head scratcher. My advice: put a really big card in so you don’t have to open your system again.

The Software

nintendoThis section can be distilled down to seven words: we don’t have anything to play yet.

Really, though, the launch of the New 3DS XL is Nintendo launching what is essentially a new platform without any launch titles, which is baffling. Some games should have been ready to go to show off the hardware’s new features (beyond the support for the c-stick in Majora’s Mask 3D).

Until we get games (and more than one, Xenoblade), the New 3DS XL is essentially a typical 3DS for those who want to buzz around menus at a faster speed and play in 3D a bit more conveniently.

You can probably guess how this is going to affect my recommendations in the next section.

For the First-Time Buyer

The New Nintendo 3DS XL is, hands down, the best handheld bearing the 3DS name you can buy right now. If you’ve never owned a Nintendo portable in the 3DS generation, buying in will get you an impressive back catalog of 3DS titles, plus prepare you for the eventual New-3DS-only games that will undoubtedly come.

You’ll also get the best 3D experience out of all Nintendo’s handhelds. The eye-tracking 3D works wonders. I used to be someone who turned 3D down. Now? It’s on all the time, and I’m actually discovering older games that I enjoy a lot more with the 3D effect cranked.

And you can’t beat the price. $200 — the same price the older 3DS XL previously sold at.

For Someone Already in the 3DS Family

If you’re already playing with a 3DS device and you’re happy with it, I honestly can’t find you a reason to pay $200 more for another system.

Perhaps that’ll change in a year, when we have a more clear picture of where Nintendo’s New 3DS XL fits into the company’s grand scheme. Rumor has it that Nintendo’s next-generation hardware, code-named NX, will combine the best of the portable and home console worlds. If Nintendo truly plans to make its next system even a little bit portable, the New 3DS XL era could be over in a matter of 2-3 years.

That’s a short life for any console, but again, Nintendo isn’t really calling the New 3DS XL a new console; instead, it’s a 3DS with some extra bells and whistles. So it’s grouped right in there with the original 3DS that launched in 2011, which is already four years old.

If you hate your current 3DS, then by all means, upgrade to Nintendo’s latest handheld. But if you’re reaching for reasons why your current system isn’t as good, there’s a reason for that: because it currently plays all the same games that are available, and it won’t cost you two more Benjamins.

Where to Buy

The Nintendo 3DS XL is available from most major retailers (Amazon, Best Buy, Target, etc.) at an MSRP of $199.99.

Agree? Disagree? Have some views to share of your own? Sound off below with your comments.


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— Shawn Farner

Shawn Farner is a Harrisburg-based tech blogger who has been involved in online media for over eight years. He covers consumer electronics, Web companies, and gaming.


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