A Shot in the Eyes – New 3DS XL Review

Here we go with my second and final new hardware review of 2014 – this time, amazingly, for a timed western exclusive to Australia and New Zealand!

N3DS_Main

The XL model, in glossy yet understated metallic blue.

 

A few months ago Nintendo “did a Nintendo” and announced yet another hardware revision to its successful line of handhelds. Met initially with confusion, as these things often are, followed by a wave of alternating anger and desire from videogame fans, the totally-not-badly-named New Nintendo 3DS is the result. As an Australian, I was one of the first in the western world to get my hands on one, and I’ve got to say I’m pretty glad that I did. The New 3DS, and its “XL” brother (which I chose), is better than its predecessor in dozens of tiny ways and a handful of big ones, even if some of its most impressive technological advances are wasted on the current Australian market. It may represent a tempting, if currently unnecessary, proposition for current 3DS owners, but it’s an absolute no-brainer for curious newcomers to Nintendo’s latest family of handhelds. Read on to find out why.

When you take the $250 AU New 3DS XL out of its alarmingly small box (the device does not ship with an AC Adapter, meaning you either need to use your old DSi/DSi XL/3DS/3DS XL/2DS charger or buy one separately for about $15 AU), the initial impression that may strike you is the system’s “premium” build quality. Though the idea of another portable console with a fingerprint-boosting gloss finish initially made me feel a little ill, I was certainly surprised by how well the New 3DS XL pulls the look off. Both the black and the blue variations lack the garish triple toned colour scheme of Nintendo’s last glossy handheld, the original 3DS, and they also feature a subtle diagonal pinstripe design over their exterior surfaces that offsets the shininess a little. The interior surfaces are made from a nice glittery matte material. The plastic feels weightier than that of the first 3DS XL model, with a harder exterior to boot. Both face buttons and the system’s folding hinge are “clickier” and feel more rigid than those on older 3DS’s, and there’s more of a gentle curve to the system’s exterior edges than ever before. This 3DS has got class, and it no longer needs to feel ashamed sitting next to Sony’s Playstation Vita Slim in this regard.

It also has common sense, and it has it in spades. It seems that everywhere you look on the New 3DS XL, you’ll find some small improvement over previous 3DS models that, while not quite game-changing, makes you stop and wonder why it wasn’t that way to begin with. The system’s HOME button is, for example, now alone on the bottom panel of the system, a la the Wii U gamepad and last year’s 2DS, which finally allows the START and SELECT buttons to sit vertically underneath the four slightly coloured face buttons like they always should have.

Everything is right with the world.

Everything is right with the world.

The volume controls now sit directly opposite the 3D slider on the top half of the 3DS, which not only makes for some pleasant symmetry but minimises accidental bumping of the switch. The relocation of the now deeper set cartridge slot to the bottom right of the device mean you don’t have to worry about moronically removing the cartridge (as I have done on a few occasions) when closing the system with one hand, and also allows both the charging port and the headphone jack to sit smack-bang in the middle of the action. The SD card slot is gone, as the New 3DS takes Micro SD cards and sits them under the removable bottom panel, along with the now easily accessible battery pack. One of my absolute favourite new changes, however, has to be the new location and feel of the power button, which now sits on the front-facing exterior of the system next to the stylus slot. This means you can turn the system on for the sake of StreetPass hits without even opening the device, and after doing it the other way time and time again over the last three years I can tell you that is pretty damn cool. What’s more, it only takes a quick touch to turn on while closed, but takes a full 3 seconds of constant pressure to turn off, meaning if you’re paranoid of losing save data while you’re out and about, you shouldn’t be.

N3DS_Bottom

The relocated power button (centre), in a super-blurry shot just to show good I am at this.

But enough about the small changes – the New 3DS XL exists because it brings a few pretty major improvements to the 3DS family. The first and most widely documented new feature – and for good reason – is the new “Super Stable 3D” capabilities of the top screen. Whereas previously to view stereoscopic 3D images on a 3DS you needed to keep your head locked at a certain viewing angle, which if broken would cause you to see two images that confused your brain and hurt your eyes, the New 3DS uses its top camera in conjunction with a new infrared sensor to locate and follow your eyes for about 60-70 degrees either side of centre, constantly readjusting the angle at which it projects images and effectively meaning the 3D effect is never lost. And for the most part, it performs exactly as advertised, even in the dark, making it one of the most impressive 3D displays currently available in consumer electronics.

Though I found the effect to be slightly less consistent when a single strong light source was directly behind me, or when my glasses weren’t entirely framing my eyes, these are abnormal situations and Nintendo has ultimately nailed what they said they would here. Gyroscope aiming features of compatible 3DS titles now no longer disrupt the stereoscopic effect, which is awesome, and those who were previously against using the 3D display feature of the 3DS at all when playing games now have a very good reason to reconsider their stance. As I’ve said before, the 3D capabilities of Nintendo’s current handheld family go a long way towards making up for its lower resolution and graphical power compared to the PS Vita and smartphones, so having it work this well can only be a good thing.

While on the subject of display, the New 3DS actually boasts screens with better contrast than those on the previous 3DS models. This means colours are deeper and more vibrant than before, leading to a less “washed out” look on games, but the difference isn’t huge, and unless you have the older model alongside the newer you’re unlikely to notice. It also totes a new “Auto-Brightness” feature that adjusts screen brightness based on light conditions to save power. It’s turned on by default, much like on most modern smartphones and tablets, but my experience with it has left much to be desired. The differences in the brightness settings that it toggles is hardly subtle and the system seems wildly indecisive about when it wants to change things up. During the overcast launch day of the system there were periods of time when the screen would change multiple times within a minute, which ended up hurting my eyes more than the 3D effect ever has. I’ve had the feature switched off ever since.

Another big feature the New 3DS brings is faster processing speed and better Wi-Fi protocol, and for previous 3DS owners this will likely be as tangible an improvement as the fancy new 3D tech. I have an awful lot of stuff on my 3DS home screen, including dozens of downloadable games, and loading them all during initial system startup was starting to become a real pain, especially since Nintendo added the ability to install custom themes in recent months. The New 3DS makes initial loading a snap, and it also launches games much, much faster than before. The Miiverse app, which loaded so slowly in the past that it was practically a joke, is now actually usable, not to mention you can summon it during processor-intensive games like Super Smash Bros and Pokemon X, which was previously impossible. The Nintendo eShop now also loads noticeably faster, and game downloads don’t require me to go have a meal while I’m waiting. It’s just another thing that makes playing the 3DS a more attractive proposition.

Dat download speed. Note the new symettrical layout of the volume and 3D sliders.

Dat download speed. Note the new symmetrical layout of the volume and 3D sliders.

Finally there’s the added inputs the New 3DS can boast over its predecessor – the two new shoulder buttons, ZL and ZR, situated further towards the centre of the unit adjacent to L and R, the new NFC reader built into the bottom screen for the purpose of Nintendo’s Amiibo functionality, and finally the so-called “C-Stick”, found right above the X button. The latter is a curious beast, as it doesn’t really move like you might expect. The nub resembles the kind of analogue mini-trackpads found on a lot of old laptops, only concave rather than convex. If this thought worries you, fear not. The pad is super sensitive and responds quickly, whether you’re navigating menus, moving a camera or executing a quick smash attack. Any game that previously made use of the cumbersome Circle Pad attachment for the original 3DS will work with it. As for the new shoulder buttons, they feel good to press and stick out slightly more than L/R to minimise finger arching, but they aren’t yet used for anything substantial in any games I’ve encountered. Amiibo functionality, while cool in concept and even cooler in action on the Wii U right now, just isn’t available yet for any 3DS games or apps.

Indeed because Australia is essentially a New 3DS test market in the west, no notable games outside of Smash have been patched to take advantage of the New 3DS’ newfound speed or controls, so those expecting, say, more 3D usage or less framerate drops in Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire shouldn’t hold their breath. Of course, the promised “New 3DS exclusive” games are nowhere to be seen at the moment, and with the remake of much-loved Wii JRPG Xenoblade Chronicles the only confirmed exclusive title thus far, we could be waiting a while. This feels very much like a console with only half its potential realised thus far.

All this adds up to a proposition that will appeal greatly to some Nintendo fans and won’t really push the needle for others. The myriad improvements, large and small, brought about by the New 3DS might make an immediate upgrade worthwhile for people who play a lot of 3DS games, and best believe if you’ve never had a 3DS before there has never been a better time to jump on board. The slew of excellent games on the system have never looked better or been more comfortable to play. It’s a bit harder, however, to recommend the newest kid on the Nintendo block to current 3DS owners who only play one or two games a year, at least right now. The impressive device will come into its own, and begin to make a lot more sense to potential buyers, in the coming months, when its extra buttons, faster processing power and built-in Amiibo functionality actually start to mean something. Until then, you may find you’ll be fine with what you’ve got.

A quick note on the “non-XL” version of the New 3DS: I have played with the model quite a bit, and to me it honestly looks like the superior, or at least more fun, version of the console, given its smaller (though still 20% larger than the original 3DS) screen and therefore more pleasing resolution, colourful face buttons, customisable face plates and slightly lower price tag ($220 AU). There are two notable and important caveats, however, which pushed me towards the XL – the larger screens mean naturally deeper 3D, and the XL’s battery life is noticeably longer. Something to keep in mind if you’re contemplating a purchase.

The other model. Fun!

 

.

THE VERDICT

-◊-◊-◊-◊-
Good:
Highly premium feel, common sense design choices, loads much faster, 3D improvement works brilliantly
Bad:
Distracting auto-brightness, many new features yet to be used
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

515/110A M A Z I N G

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: