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Nintendo 3DS XL Review

Pros

  • A more immersive big-screen experience
  • Makes 3D more effective and more practical
  • More comfortable than the original 3DS
  • Great games, and easy and fun to use

Cons

  • Big screen spoilt by low resolution
  • Battery life still not great

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £169.00
  • 4.88 inch upper and 4.18 inch lower screens
  • 3D upper screen and touch sensitive lower screen
  • Larger and heavier than normal 3DS

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After the DS Lite, the DSi and the DSi XL, it was a no-brainer that Nintendo wasn’t going to leave the 3DS alone for long. The first generation of any new Nintendo handheld is never the definitive article – remember the hideously clunky first DS? – and later versions always bring enhancements, whether bigger, better screens, new features or just a more solid and usable design, as was the case with the DS Lite or the Game Boy Advance SP.

Nintendo 3DS XL

Going XL
No prizes for guessing which route Nintendo has taken with the 3DS XL. This is the extra-large version of the 3DS, bumping up the dimensions from 134mm by 74mm by 21mm to 156 x 93 x 22mm. It’s no longer pocket-sized, unless we’re talking combat trouser pockets, while the weight goes up by nearly 100g, from 241g to 339g. However, this brings with it a range of benefits, the most obvious being a dramatic increase in screen size. Where the existing 3DS had a 3.58-inch 16:9 3D top screen and a 3.02-inch touch-sensitive bottom screen, the 3DS XL goes to 4.88 inches and 4.18 inches respectively.

Nintendo 3DS XL

This upsizing has two major good effects and one, well, not quite so good one. The screens are bright and sharp with rich colours, and those extra inches makes gaming on the 3DS XL as immersive as it is on the PS Vita, which goes slightly bigger with its 5-inch OLED touchscreen. Just as importantly, it also makes the 3DS’s USP – 3D – that bit more practical. The problem with the 3DS’s 3D screen has always been keeping your head and the 3DS in the right position in relation to each other. Shift either by half an inch, and you found yourself in the land of double vision.

Nintendo 3DS XL

The 3DS XL doesn’t alleviate this problem entirely, but there’s a little more margin for error, and the result is that you’re more inclined to play 3DS games with – shock, horror! – the 3D slider turned up. If this is an improvement in games like Super Mario 3D Land, it’s a revelation in Kid Icarus: Uprising, which finally seems like the widescreen blockbuster we were always promised. And once again, size matters. 3D always seemed slightly wasted on the 3DS’s cramped screen. On the 3DS XL, it’s given room to breathe.

Nintendo 3DS XL

Bigger = Better?
However, there is one downside. While the screen size has increased radically, the pixel count hasn’t. The 3DS XL’s screens have the same 800 x 240 and 320 x 240 resolutions as the original 3DS, with the top screen resolution halved to 400 x 240 pixels per eye in 3D games. This doesn’t compare well with the 960 x 544 resolution of the PS Vita, let alone the 960 x 640 resolution of the 3.5-inch retina display in the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and iPod Touch. You can see every pixel in the average 3DS game, and it can’t match PS Vita for contrast, clarity or detail.

Super Mario 3D Land

Up to a point, this doesn’t matter. The best-looking games on the 3DS, like Super Mario 3D Land and Resident Evil: Revelations still look great on the bigger screen. What’s more, the handheld’s ARM processor and DMP PICA200 GPU probably aren’t capable of delivering graphics with the kinds of surface effects and detail that would make the most of a higher resolution, which is where PS Vita’s ARM Cortex A9 and quad-core PowerVR SGX543MP4 GPU come in.

Nintendo could arguably have upgraded processors and used the overhead to either render 3DS graphics to a higher resolution or upscale, but here there would have been cost implications. All the same, that screen can be merciless in exposing the shortcomings of some 3DS titles, and with the PS Vita and iOS and Android devices getting more graphically intensive titles, games on the 3DS XL just don’t look that cutting edge.

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).

Nintendo 3DS XL

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.

Nintendo 3DS XL

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.

System Firmware
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.

Nintendo 3DS XL
 
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.

Better still, the 3DS XL has one major advantage over the 3DS at its launch – a decent line-up of games. Even Nintendo’s most exuberant fanboys would have to admit that the 3DS lacked killer titles in the first few months, with the best launch title being a solid conversion of StreetFighter 4. Now, however, the 3DS XL can boast titles of the calibre of Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7, Resident Evil: Revelations, Rhythm Thief and the Emperor’s Treasure and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, plus a few fine flawed gems in Kid Icarus: Uprising, Heroes of Ruin, Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater and Dead or Alive: Dimensions. What’s more, with New Super Mario Bros 2, Epic Mickey 2: Power of Illusion, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon on the horizon, there’s plenty to be excited about in the near future.

Resident Evil: Revelations

Missed Opportunities
Overall, there are some very good reasons to buy the 3DS XL. However, there are also a few reasons why you might not want to. The first two come down to baffling omissions. Firstly, Nintendo has – in its cost-cutting wisdom – decided to sell the larger console without a power supply, the rationale being that most people purchasing one will be upgrading from a DSi, DSi XL or original 3DS, in which case they’ll already have the PSU required. That’s fine if that’s the case for you, but if not you’re looking at spending another £10 or so on the proprietary charger.

Secondly, Nintendo has blown a golden opportunity here to add a second analogue pad. It’s not as if there isn’t space for one on the right-hand-side, and it’s something that revolutionises action games on the 3DS, as anyone who has played Resident Evil: Revelations with the clip-on Circle Pad Pro will attest. Instead, 3DS XL owners will have to stump up for their own Circle Pad XL accessory, which will make an already large handheld a little bit epic in size.

Nintendo 3DS XL

And those aren’t the only issues. Battery Life remains a stumbling block. Nintendo claims that the 3DS XL will give you at least an extra half hour of battery life over the 3DS, giving you three hours of 3DS gaming and up to eight hours while playing DS titles. Well, we were still running dry after approximately two and half hours of Super Mario 3D Land, Kid Icarus and general mucking around, albeit with an hour or two of sleep in-between, and three hours isn’t that much to write home about anyway. If you’re planning to use the 3DS XL on long journeys then you won’t be any the more impressed to find it running out of juice so quickly.

Nintendo 3DS XL

3DS XL vs The Rest

Finally, going XL pumps up the price. The post price-cut 3DS will now set you back around £120. According to the prices we’re seeing online at the moment, the 3DS XL will be £170 to £180. This puts it within spitting distance of Sony’s technically superior PS Vita, which brings you a bigger, better screen, dual analogue controls and a clutch of fine games for approximately £20 to £30 more. While Vita has its fault and there’s a certain atmosphere of doom and gloom around it – not helped by a lack of Sony announcements at this year’s E3 – it still has a lot of potential. Making the decision between the more established 3DS platform and a system with the 3D grunt of PS Vita is a pretty tough call.

What’s more, £170 to £180 (plus £25 to £30 per game) is a lot of money in a world where high-performance, big-screen smartphones are everywhere and some very good games are available for a fiver, a pound or even less. And that’s before you even consider the fact that £150 could bag you one of Google’s Nexus 7s. Most of us would pick a proper handheld with physical controls and games of the depth of a Mario or Zelda every time, but we’re not necessarily in the majority. It’s a choice that every gamer is going to have to make. Incidentally, aren’t we due a new version of the PlayStation phone by now?

Verdict
The whole debate over dedicated gaming handhelds in a world of tablets and smartphones aside, the 3DS XL is a vast improvement over the original 3DS. It’s more comfortable to hold, the 3D effect works better on the larger screen, and games are that bit more immersive. However, these enhancements will cost you an extra £50, and the decision not to add a second analogue stick when the system could obviously do with one is – frankly – bizarre. This is a better version of an already fine handheld with a good and growing line-up of software, but in some respects it’s still something of a missed opportunity.  It’s the best 3DS so far, but maybe not the definitive version.

We continually check thousands of prices to show you the best deals. If you buy a product through our site we will earn a small commission from the retailer – a sort of automated referral fee – but our reviewers are always kept separate from this process. You can read more about how we make money in our Ethics Policy.

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