Nintendo's handheld may have had a rough start in life, but this year, the 3DS has become one of the best consoles on the market. And I do mean 'consoles,' not just 'handhelds.' A superb game collection, compatibility with all DS games and massive first-party support (i.e. excellent new entries from classic franchises) means that you'll rarely be able to put it down, even if the stereoscopic 3D is a bit of a gimmick.
It's a smart buy this Christmas, then, and a cinch to set up. However, with two different models available - alongside the new 2DS that can be bought for less than £100 - we're somewhat spoiled for choice.
Luckily we're on hand to help with a buyer's guide containing practical advice, the best games and links to the cheapest prices around.
3DS vs 3DS XL vs 2DS: Which Should I Buy?
Taking choice of colours and special editions out of the equation, Nintendo's handheld is available in three different flavours: the original 3DS, 3DS XL and 2DS. All three options offer the same selection of games and features, but differ in a number of ways - meaning that choosing the right one for you is important in the long-run.
The 'vanilla' 3DS is still a decent bit of kit. Though shiny and prone to smudging, the slim casing fits neatly into almost any pocket or bag, affording you a massive library of quality games and stereoscopic 3D functionality on the move. However, its limited battery life is a concern if you play for extended periods, while the build quality of its hinges is somewhat suspect, often leading to a loose jangly feeling after a few weeks. The telescopic stylus and headphone socket are also mounted in a very inconvenient position. Little niggles, but they can all add up over weeks and months. Here's the hardware review.
So if you're serious about handheld gaming, the newer 3DS XL is hands-down a better machine. Its massive screen and enlarged chassis make for a much more comfortable gameplay experience, and lets you enjoy the fine detail that would go unnoticed on the smaller 3DS. It's the difference between watching a telly and watching a telly through a keyhole, once you've experienced the difference. Though not as portable as its predecessor, the XL is still slim enough to slip into a coat pocket, while its notably beefier battery affords you an extra hour or two of gaming per charge... though be aware that you'll usually have to buy an AC adaptor separately. With intuitive stylus and headphone socket placement, it is, quite honestly, the best of the three models. Here's the hardware review.
Expect to pay between £140-£180 depending on the retailer and bundle. Tesco Direct will part with one for £140 if you use the TDX-FQ7W voucher code (requires you to be a new customer or create a new account), or a special edition bundle with The Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (one of its best new games) for £189-£179. [Thanks to hollabalooza @ HUKD!] Amazon are selling for £139 on the nose as of 21/11.
Finally we have the 2DS, which is aimed squarely at a younger market. This wedge-shaped device is easily the most comfortable of the three to hold during long sessions, boasts a battery life comparable if not slightly better than the XL and is incredibly inexpensive. You can get one for just £89.00 at Tesco Direct with the TDX-FQ7W new customer/account code, courtesy of goonertillidie @ HUKD! Bargain.
However, the budget price leads to a few annoying compromises. There's no hinge, so it's barely portable beyond carrying it around in a bag. There's no stereoscopic 3D, which isn't a major concern considering I only tend to use it sparingly, but the screens are also fairly undersized. Its speakers are also only capable of mono sound, though headphones output in stereo. Be aware, then, that it's really only an option if you're buying for kids, or want to play some of the 3DS' best games without paying over £100 for the privilege. But there's nothing wrong with that!
Memory Cards & Screen Protection
The 3DS is compatible with SDHC cards of up to 32GB capacity, and is bundled with a 2 or 4GB card as standard. This will be more than enough for most gamers' needs, though the increasing ubiquity of the eShop means that you may consider an upgrade at some point - a simple matter of just copy/pasting the content onto your PC, then onto the new card. If you do, however, be aware that the card's write speed has a massive effect on the efficiency of your system. Stick to decent deals on big-name established brands when possible (such as high-quality digital camera cards), because a sluggish write speed can lead to annoyingly lengthy boot and saving times.
You'll also want to get a decent screen protector as quickly as possible, especially for the upper screen on the original 3DS and XL models. If sharp grit or dust ends up settling on the lower screen's bezel, it can easily scratch or pock-mark the upper screen when the hinge is closed - an infuriating design flaw for many unsuspecting buyers. Be sure to check your new handheld thoroughly to ensure that this hasn't already occurred during transit - it's very uncommon, but not unheard of.
We've provided links to our (still somewhat quirky) price comparison engine, the smartest bargains and our reviews where possible. If you've found a cheaper price, let us know!
No review as yet, but a cursory scan of Google will tell you that this is an utterly superb adventure. Many of my peers have reported this to me first-hand - frankly, I'm going to be sorely tempted to ignore the next-gen consoles and play this instead.
It'll run you £30.95 from The Game Collection.
"Animal Crossing: New Leaf is an utter delight, but then you knew that already. For all of the little tweaks and new treats, the core experience remains the same. But stepping into the role of mayor connects you better than ever before to this joyous world of camaraderie and generous spirit. New Leaf is a game that lets you fashion an identity in whatever manner you choose, and then share it with the world. It's the best game in the series so far." - 9/10
It'll run you £27.99 from Amazon.
"Pokemon X and Y set a brave new standard for the series on its new platform, delivering a host of new features, expressive 3D visuals and sensational online functionality for future games to build on. Regardless of age, ability, gender or tastes, there is something here for you, another charming adventure that's both nostalgic and newly revitalised. Or in other words: it's Pokemon. Choose it." - 8/10
"Fire Emblem Awakening is an absolute masterpiece, whether you're a series veteran or rank newcomer. As one of the finest Strategy RPGs available on any handheld format, not to mention the best game on the 3DS thus far, you owe it to yourself to plumb its tactical and emotional depths. Do not, for any reason, miss this triumphant saga of love and death." - 9/10
Costs £28.99 at Games Centre.
"Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon sees the green sibling joining his brother in the lofty heights of puzzle-platforming excellence, though this is no Mario colour reskin. Instead Next Level have created a game made from Luigi's quivering, cartoonish, paranoid DNA, producing a game so stuffed with charm and character that it could make Scrooge beam." - 8/10
Costs £29.97 at Gamestop.
Portable Mario Kart with excellent online multiplayer, loads of tracks and fun glider gameplay sections. An absolute blast, as you'd expect. "There's enough here to make Mario Kart 7 an essential purchase for anyone who owns a 3DS." - 8/10
Costs £28.97 at Amazon, but is often included in 3DS bundles.
An anarchic, entertaining and fantastically enjoyable platforming romp that's best enjoyed in 3D.
Rather than buying this individually, you can actually get it for free if you register one of the 3DS' flagship games and a new console! Details here.
Another superb 3DS puzzler that provides hours of cerebral fun.
Costs £31.85 at ShopTo, though cheaper short-lived bundles and deals keep popping up from time to time.
Other games to consider: