Saturday, 28 July 2012

Game/Tech Review: Nintendo 3DS XL System

It's certainly bigger, but is it actually better?

Way back in March of 2011, when the 2012 Olympics were still far enough down the line that the horrendous logo wasn't plastered on everything under the sun, Nintendo released their next generation of handheld video game consoles, the Nintendo 3DS. Many eager gamers lined up for midnight launches across the country to get their hands on the new fancy 'glasses-less 3D' system. Despite the heavy anticipation and hype surrounding the system, the 3DS saw fairly lacklustre sales in it's opening months, perhaps it was the wallet-devouring launch price of £220-£230, maybe it was the lack of must-have AAA game titles or it could have been the lack in significant aesthetics and name from Nintendo's previous DS handheld models, the Nintendo DS, DS Lite and DSi appearing to be just another revision rather than a full new, more powerful system. Whatever the cause it prompted Nintendo act quickly and slash the retail price of the 3DS to a far more acceptable £149.99 in stores, this new price cut and a handful of new must-have titles such the Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3DS remake inflicted a huge and healthy spike in 3DS console sales.

Fast forward to now, the end of July 2012 and Nintendo have released a hardware revision of the 3DS, just 18 months after the 3DS launch. This revision, the 3DS XL's main selling point it commands is the 90% larger screens, 'the largest screens ever on a Nintendo handheld' the adverts boast. The top screen  stretches 4.88 inches diagonally and the bottom touch screen at 4.18 inches. The original 3DS displays came in at 3.53" and 3.02" respectively.

Having played a few different games on the top screen, I've already began to appreciate the larger, less reflective screen, 3DS games look great on it and the 3D works even better than before, with a larger 'viewing window' thanks to the screen size boost, this 'sweet spot' for the 3D is much more accessible. I often found myself holding the original 3DS closer than I would like to see more of the detail or get the best out of the 3D. Thankfully the 3DS XL can be played from a more comfortable distance without feeling the need to bring the system closer.
Up close however the 3DS XL does highlight the fairly low resolution (400x240 or 800x240 with 3D) of the top screen. If you look closely enough the pixels are far more visible to the human eye than they were on the 3DS. As Nintendo opted to keep the screen resolution the same some games can appear slightly more pixelated or 'jaggy' but I never found it to detract from my gameplay sessions, infact I found myself somewhat more immersed in games than I had been with the original 3DS.

Alongside the behemoth sized screens Nintendo has given the main body a slight make over, gone are the fingerprint magnet glossy coats and instead we're treated to a more premium and in my opinion, more attractive dual matte finish in black and either metallic Blue, Red or Silver. The stylus (which is now one solid body rather than the telescopic 3DS stylus) has been re-positioned to the right hand side, in a move mirroring the DS to DS Lite stylus relocation, which is far more accessible during gameplay. Scrambling to find the stylus on the back of the original 3DS during gameplay was either hectic or game-pausing, the experience is far more seamless now.

The face buttons have seen some minor improvements, which now feel more clicky and as a result ever so slightly more responsive. The D-pad has received a minor size increase and due to the larger 3DS body, is far more practical to use in games, the original 3DS' size and shape made using the D-pad cumbersome and even cramp-inducing, so far I've had no complaints about using the D-pad on the 3DS XL. This brings me to the overall ergonomics of the unit, the console feels much sleeker and more comfortable to hold than it's predecessor, which had protruding square edges and corners which I found didn't get on well with my gaming palms. This one fits far more elegantly into your hands and doesn't over stay it's welcome when playing for longer periods of time.

The lack of a second analogue slider pad is disappointing but I'd be lying if I said it was a deal-breaker, there are only a handful of games that make use of the Circle Pad Pro accessory for the 3DS, which I primarily used as a means of acquiring a more comfortable grip for my original 3DS. Nintendo announced a 3DS XL Circle Pad Pro would be released later in the year for those who refuse to play Metal Gear Solid 3, Resident Evil Revelations and the other couple of games without dual analogue action. Oddly the 3DS XL also lacks a power supply in the box, while this may benefit the size of the box and production costs it does leave new 3DS XL owners without a means to actually charge the system, Some retailers have bundled it with the system or it can be purchased separately for less than a tenner, the box subtly alerts consumers with small warnings as to the lack of a charger. One thing I felt the original 3DS did right was the inclusion of a plastic charging cradle users could effortlessly dump their console in to charge when they were done gaming, without the need to fiddle around and plug in the power cable, sadly Nintendo has opted out of including a cradle for the 3DS XL in the box, although it is available for cradle lovers to purchase separately along with the missing charger for a questionable £20, I guess that's what Nintendo consider the price of conveniently charging your portable games system.

As well as all the aesthetic and ergonomic improvements Nintendo have also shoved in a larger battery for good measure, an inevitability really when those larger screens are going to need more precious energy. The battery life actually improves and last an hour to an hour and a half longer than the original original 3DS on a full charge depending on brightness and wireless settings, a welcome upgrade considering the original 3DS' battery life wasn't great which goes against the grain for a Nintendo handheld.

Many of these improvements help fix many of the issues I had with the original 3DS and as a handheld the 3DS XL feels far more suited for longer gameplay sessions. However there are still a few areas the 3DS XL leaves me wondering why they didn't touch them up too. The cameras are as still shockingly bad as they were back on the DSi and original 3DS: grainy and low-quality, and I was disappointed the analogue slide pad isn't coated with a more grip-able texture though it's far from unusable. The sound levels coming from the unit's speakers were almost if not entirely identical to the original 3DS speakers, even at maximum volume it's not particularly loud and doesn't impress the ears. Of course the use of headphones can alleviate this problem but I'm not one to wear headphones around the house which is, is where I spend the majority of my 3DS gaming time, despite it being portable.

Perhaps it's all due to my issues with the original 3DS but when it comes down to it, I'd be hard pressed to argue that 3DS XL's improvements aren't significant enough to recommend it over the original for first time buyers looking to buy a Nintendo 3DS. The longer battery life and the more ergonomically satisfying form factor were enough for me to opt in to an upgrade from my 3DS. The larger screen is definitely a bonus too, especially for the glasses-less 3D.  For others considering upgrading, I'd still recommend if like me, you find the original 3DS' comfort levels just aren't adequate enough for something designed to frequently fit in your hands for various periods of time. If you're still happy enough with your original 3DS and don't have the cash to spare then stick with it. A substantial influence to my decision to upgrade was a local retailer's surprisingly generous trade-in value for the original 3DS when put against the new 3DS XL. The lack of including a power adaptor is a confusing move by Nitnendo but a problem that can be easily and cheaply solved. Those looking for more power and higher end graphics closer to the likes seen on home consoles may be better suited to Sony's marginally more expensive offering, the PS Vita.

Product: 3DS XL
Manufacturer: Nintendo Co. Ltd
Release Date: 28/7/2012 (Europe/Japan) 19/8/2012 (North America/Australia)
Retail price: £179.99 (UK) $199 (USA)
Colours Available: Red+Black/Blue+Black/Silver+Black (Europe/Japan only)

The Good:
+ Playing games on the new larger screen looks and feels great
+ Less glare/reflection on the top screen
+ Glasses less 3D simply looks and works better thanks to the larger screen
+ Improved battery life
+ Nicer Dpad and face buttons and proper start/select/home buttons
+ The units sleeker and more rounded edges makes it more comfortable to hold for prolonged gameplay sessions
+ Stylus now far more accessible during gameplay
+ Less fingerprints thanks to the matte finish

The Bad:
- Heavier and less portable
- Still the same low screen resolutions
- Some games can look slightly worse on the larger screens
- Lack of second analogue slider pad feels like a missed opportunity
- No charger in the box
- No significant improvements to the mediocre speakers
- Incompatible with many 3DS accessories (including circle pad pro)


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