3DS XL Review – Going Big On The Small Screen

Re-releasing your hardware with just a slight physical upgrade is not a new thing; the practice dates back to the days of the Atari 2600 and the Intellivision. Not much has changed with modern day gaming – just ask Nintendo, who have become famous (infamous?) for updating their systems without really adding any new features, particularly their handhelds. The 3DS is the latest handheld to fall victim to the upgrade gods, this time it’s been super-sized, and re-branded as the 3DS XL.

When the 3DS was released last March, it was not without its flaws, but I doubt most people thought, “you know what’s really wrong here, it’s too small.” Yet, somehow, Nintendo managed to make their 3DS bigger, and turn it into a more enjoyable version of itself with the 3DS XL.

While many people are clearly fans of the 3DS (some five million plus in the U.S. alone), it came with its share of problems. Some people complained about the 3D effect, others gripped about the lower screen scratching the top screen, and still more had problems with its considerably short battery life. Complaints aside, in about 17 months, the 3DS has proven itself to be a contender in an increasingly competitive mobile market. Nintendo has pulled out the big guns (Mario, Link, Fox McCloud, and even resurrected Kid Icarus) to prove that the device has legs with great games to keep its owners happy. The 3DS XL is meant to keep that momentum going, and hopefully solve some of the problems that gamers have expressed with the original version.

The XL is a straight hardware redesign – there are no new bells and whistles this time around. The device’s most noticeable upgrade; new screens that are 90% bigger screens (4.88 inches on the top and 4.18 inches on the bottom) that make gameplay on the 3DS more immersive. Traditionally, Nintendo has made repeated attempts to decrease the size of their devices (the DSi XL is the only other system to go up in size) offering a more space efficient way to game on the go. The 3DS XL’s increased size and features genuinely improve the overall experience of using a 3DS, and are more than just bigger screens… it even makes the original DS games look better too. This redesign addressed many of the aesthetic and superficial grievances with the system.

Starting At The Top:
The covers for the redesigns (blue or red) are no longer glossy, and instead employ a matte finish, which should keep all those pesky fingerprints off the outer case.

Moving Inside:
There seems to be a de-emphasis on 3D (even though the larger top screen allows for a better parallax, really driving home the 3D graphics) with an updated depth slider that locks in and out of place. One of the only things that was actually removed from this device is the handy glowing “3D” indicator that conveyed when something in 3D was actually being displayed on the screen. It’s a guessing game now.

And Down At The Bottom:
The 3DS included touch sensitive buttons for the “Start,” “Select,” and “Home” buttons, and you could never really tell if they worked. While they did make the functionality seem sleek, the lack of tactile feedback proved to be frustrating. The XL includes actual buttons for these functions now, solving another problem.

Moving Deeper Inside:
One of the biggest problems with the original 3DS is its limited battery life, and this is probably one of the most important things that the XL addresses. Making the jump from 3 – 5 hours of battery life up to 3.5 – 6.5 hours for 3DS games, the XL should keep gamers playing longer, even with the bigger screens pushing the power output.

And Then There’s The Little Things:
The top screen doesn’t touch anything any more, so you won’t see vertical marks appearing up and down the sides of the screen due to it rubbing up against the bottom any more.

The stylus returns to the same approximate location it was on the DSi (right hand side near the SD card).

DS games look better on this system since the pixel ratio is 1:1, meaning they don’t look distorted.

The 3DS XL’s size has an unexpected benefit in that it increases the comfort for players with grown-up hands. The adjusted placement of the circle pad, d-pad and face buttons to accommodate the larger lower screen actually sit in a more comfortable position than on the original model.

The XL goes extra large on the SD card that is included in the box as well, increasing the storage space from 2 GB to 4 GB, to accommodate Nintendo’s push for downloadable content.

All of these upgrades only come at a slight cost to the overall weight of the device, adding 336 grams of weight to the device – an insubstantial amount unless you’re gaming for hours on end. It is obviously going to take up more pocket space, so much so that you’re probably going to have to jump to carrying it in a bag, unless you have really big pockets.

The 3DS XL is a fantastic piece of portable hardware, but is it for you? Do you already own a 3DS, and not have an extra $200 to spare (especially because you purchased it before the price dropped)? Then you probably shouldn’t run out and pick this up right now. It’s great, but as a re-investment it’s a tough sell. With no new added features to the console, only improved ones, the XL is a much better entry model for new owners, instead of converting current ones. However, if you do have the $200 to spare, it’s one of the best upgrades that Nintendo has ever offered.

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