3DS XL: Now with 50% Less Agony
Luckily, there’s more to the increase in size than just a bigger screen: the 3DS XL is also more comfortable to hold. Nintendo has helped things along with a subtle redesign, rounding off the sharp corners of the original, smoothing off the two shoulder buttons and changing the finish, with matt interiors and a light sheen on the base and lid. It’s better weighted, with more in the base and less in the lid, and the larger size makes the 3DS XL a better fit for adult hands (younger children might struggle).
While this doesn’t make playing the legendarily uncomfortable Kid Icarus: Uprising exactly easy with the console hand-held, it makes it an estimated 50% less agonizing, and the change in balance means you can now put the 3DS XL flat on a desk and play the game from there. To help, Nintendo has made another improvement: the screen now locks open at two points, one nearly flat and the other at roughly 100 degrees open.
Other physical changes are fairly minor. The headphone socket has moved from front-centre to the front-left corner, the power button is now larger and rounder. The select, home and start buttons are now three discrete, clickable buttons below the touchscreen and the SD card slot now sits on the right rather than the left. Nintendo giveth and Nintendo taketh away, so while we now get a larger 4GB SD card included, we lose the 3DS’s cool metallic extending stylus for a standard plastic affair, which slots into place on the right-hand-side.
Otherwise, the new system is functionally identical to the old one. Sadly, this means the stereoscopic rear-facing cameras and single front-facing camera are the same 0.3MP VGA resolution as the old ones, and seem equally as useless in low-light. This doesn’t matter much when you’re taking 3D videos or photos for your own amusement – nobody buys a Nintendo handheld expecting to take serious stills with the thing – but it does matter when you’re trying to play augmented reality games like Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir, which is still all but unplayable if you’re not in daylight or really strong artificial light.
The 3DS XL has the same firmware as the 3DS. An evolution of the UI we first saw in the Wii, it’s simple and extremely easy to use, and comes with a number of secondary features. There’s a Camera app for shooting photos and video, a Sound app for recording and playback of audio, and a Mii Maker that enables you to create new Miis (and also user profiles), either by selecting faces, features and haircuts, or by getting the front-facing camera to take a photo, and then customising the inevitably weird-looking Mii that the 3DS XL interprets from it.
There’s also an activity log, where you can track how long you’re spending in your favourite games and how many steps you’ve taken while carrying the 3DS XL, and an app to access the Nintendo store, where you can download new apps, new budget and vintage games and short videos. New since we last looked at the 3DS is Letters, where you can scrawl little notes and drawings on the touchscreen and ‘post’ them to friends over the Internet. Best of all, the handheld still ships with the baked in games Face Raiders and AR Games. The first is a simple augmented-reality shoot-em-up where you blast little heli-critters bearing photos of your face. The second is a series of fun mini-games that explore various uses of AR with the aid of some bundled AR cards.
This all means that there’s a little fun you can have with the 3DS XL without even splashing out on a game. This kind of generosity also permeates Nintendo’s attitude to its online functionality. Over the time since the 3DS’s launch we’ve been able to get to grips with its Spotpass and Streetpass features, where your 3DS gathers and swaps content on the move while ‘sleeping’ in your pocket and bag. We all enjoy getting odd DLC presents from Spotpass, and collecting Miis and collectibles from strangers as you pass them by is practically a game in itself.