Nintendo 3DS XL review – An idiot’s guide to the 3DS XL

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It’s not unusual for Nintendo to release revisions of its portable gaming hardware. The monochromatic 8-bit Gameboy made way for the Gameboy Pocket, Gameboy Light and the Gameboy colour; The Gameboy Advance went micro before making way for the dual-screened Nintendo DS – and there have been numerous revisions of that particular system – so it hardly comes as any surprise that it’s newest handheld, the glasses-free, extra-dimensioned handheld is due a redesign. A year and a half down the line, it comes in the form of the 3DS XL. We’ve just gotten our mitts on one – so we’re here to answer any hypothetical questions you might have.

Just what is a 3DS XL?

3DSXL

More evolution than revolution, it’s really just a supersized, but sleeker and slimmer revision of the 3Ds that Nintendo released in March last year. In addition to softer lines and curves, it sports a significantly larger set of screens. The screens give you a 90% larger viewing surface, but have the side effect of reducing eye strain (because you’re not squinting at such a small area) – especially when playing games in 3D. The larger screen increases the size of the “sweet spot” you need to keep your eyes fixed on in order to view the autostereoscopic 3D, reducing strain even further, and as far as I can tell, increasing the impact of the 3D. The increased size of the lower touch screen means that it offers more real-estate for your touch-based input – especially useful for touch-heavy games.

Yeah, but is it REALLY 3D…without glasses?

It most certainly is; the 3DS XL (and its smaller brother) uses a parallax barrier, ensuring that a different image is sent to each eye. Your brain is tricked in to merging the two images together to form a 3D picture – much like it’s forced to do when you look  at normal, everyday objects.

Doesn’t the 3D mess your eyes up?

It varies from person to person. I’m one of the fortunate folk who can spend hours playing in 3D with no ill effects but some complain of headaches and eye strain. Nintendo’s included a 3D depth slider, allowing you to find the right depth for your eyes. For those of you who couldn’t be at all bothered about the extra dimension, you can turn the effect right off, and on the 3DS XL, dragging the slider all the way down rewards you with a satisfying click.

Yeah, but I read somewhere that it melts brains or something.

You probably read that right here. It’s because there’s just “too much awesomeness being beamed directly in to the brain.” That was just an April Fool’s joke that ran away with us.

The screens are bigger. Has the resolution been bumped up?

Well, no. The top 3D screen still runs at the same 800 x 240, while the lower screen runs at 320 x 240. Much like blowing up a jpg image makes it look a little blurry, the same applies to the 3DS XL – but it’s far, far less pronounced than the effect that enlarging the pixels had with the DSi XL. In fact, it’s hardly noticeable.

It’s so much bigger than the original 3DS. Isn’t it bulky and heavy?

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It’s quite a bit heavier than the 3DS, that goes without saying really; It weighs in at 336g – 46 percent heavier that its forebear. surprisingly, it’s not at all bulky. I’d go so far as to say it’s sleeker and slimmer – and more pocket friendly than the original, thanks to smoother curves and rounded edges. It looks friendlier and more welcoming than the 3DS and it is actually significantly more comfortable to hold and play with, especially for extended periods. It just fits your hands better – though I’m not sure those of you with freakishly small hands would agree.

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I spent more time cleaning the 3DS than playing on it. Can I expect the same?

No. Thankfully, Nintendo opted for a matte finish with the 3DS XL, so it’s not the finger print magnet that the 3DS was. In addition to that, there’s some fancy new anti-glare technology in the screen – so you’ll spend far less time looking at fingerprints, or a reflection of yourself while you play.

Why’s it still only got one circle pad?

I honestly don’t know – because there’s certainly enough room on the thing to have included a second analogue. You’d have imagined that Nintendo would have thrown it in – but they’re sticking to their original design guns, and will be giving the larger device its own Circle Pad Pro add-on at some point later this year, presumably so you can feel like you’re holding a dinner plate.

So then what have they done with all that extra internal space?

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For one thing, they’ve stuffed in extra battery power. Nintendo says you’ll get three and a half to six and a half hours of gameplay from 3DS titles, and around five to eight from DS games. In my own tests, I managed just over four hours of play – with 3D effect on full, Wi-Fi turned on and the screen on its maximum brightness settings before it flatlined – showing somewhat modest improvement over the original. With a lower brightness, power saving on and Wi-fi off, I was able to extract just over 8 hours of playtime from a single charge. It’s step up from the three hours I managed on the 3DS.  Mostly though, the size increase is all about the bigger screens.

Can I transfer my data across to a 3DS XL if I’ve already got a 3DS?

Indeed you can; and it’s dead simple to do too. all you need to do is go to the system menu (it looks like a little wrench) on each device, go to page 3 of “other settings” and click system transfer. follow the on-screen prompts and you’re set. You will need internet set up on each console – and doing the transfer will remove whatever data was sitting on your older 3DS. Everything from your old system will be on the new one though – right down to the very last Mii you collected. A word of warning to those of you who got into the Ambassador Program and have 10 extra games sitting on their systems; those games are locked to your original console, and doing the system transfer means you could lose them.

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Cool. Any other significant hardware changes?

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Not really. The headphone jack has shifted all the way to left of the system – which could cause issues for any of you with unnaturally fleshy palms. The little slot for the stylus is now where it should be, instead of telescopically shoved at the back – so it’s far easier to locate and use in those games that only require the occasional tap. The d-pad is a little clicker, and might annoy your spouse if you plan on any late night sessions in bed. An important addition that I noticed was a set of small rubber nipples that stop the screens from touching when the device is closed – so you wont have any scratches running down the sides of the top screen. Also, the system now has three positions that it’ll lock in to when it’s opened, giving you more options for finding the optimal viewing angle.

Any software changes?

Not a damned thing that I’ve noticed. Older DS games look nicer thanks to some new 1:1 pixel mapping though.

Ok. Sounds pretty good. What are the negatives? There’s gotta be some negatives!

Like all Nintendo hardware, it’s solidly built – but the XL’s clamshell feels a little cheap and plasticky. Beyond the slightly stretched visuals and the lack of a second circle pad, the only thing I can think of is that it ships without a charger.

What? Does it really come without a charger?

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I’m afraid so; it says so right on the box. Nintendo says it’s because they expect that most people buying the 3DS XL to be upgrading from an older device.

So how do I charge it then?

You’ll have to buy a charger separately. They’ll be available for around R150, or around R300 for a charger plus a charging cradle.

Any other hidden expenses to worry about?

Nope, this isn’t a Vita. The system comes packed with 4Gb SD memory card. The only other things you’ll need to buy are games.

Since you brought it up; Vita or 3DS?

Vitaincluded

Honestly, I love them both – but right now I’d give the nod to the 3DS. It’s got more good games right now and is backwards compatible with the DS, so there’s a rich library of games you can play.

Ok, I’m sold. When’s it coming, and how much will it cost?

It’ll be available locally from selected retailers, as of  July 28 (more than two weeks before our American cousins), and will set you back R2,349. It’ll come in three colours; Black and Silver, Black and Red, and Black and Blue.

If you made the jump from a DS Lite or DSi to the DSi XL, you’ll know exactly what to expect – and are probably quite excited to get the 3DS XL. And though I think the lack of a second analogue is a bit of a wasted opportunity I do think there are a number compelling reasons to upgrade for existing 3DS users – notably comfort, improved 3D and better battery life and a stylus you can actually reach. For those without a 3DS, this is the one to go for if you’re interested.

Last Updated: July 25, 2012

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I’m old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time – they were capable of being masterpieces. I’m here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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