Have you ever heard of Occam's Razor? This familiar figure of speech suggests that 'the simplest solution to a problem is usually the best,' (if you paraphrase massively) and Nintendo certainly found themselves in a bit of a pickle. The 3DS' single circle pad simply wasn't capable of supporting the increasingly complex titles that third party publishers like Capcom and Namco wanted to release, so after being subjected to what we can assume to be some serious pressure behind closed doors, Ninty applied Occam's Razor with all the foresight, wit and grace of a Diplodocus.
Our console needs two thumbsticks. So let's slap another one on the side. Job's a good'un.
The result is the Circle Pad Pro: a cradle that locks the 3DS in its plastic embrace while providing an extra thumbstick, triggers and all the other features it otherwise smothers. It's a strange beast to be sure - good, bad and ugly in equal measure - so whether it works and whether you should actually buy one are two very different arguments.
Functionality & Setup
The Circle Pad Pro packs a fair bit of functionality into its chunky, asymmetrical design. As well as the second analogue slider pad, the peripheral also features an extra right shoulder button to accommodate for the increased depth on the right hand side, along with two brand new digital triggers that bring the handheld in line with traditional console controllers. An IR bar on the rear of the unit communicates wirelessly with the 3DS and will function from a few centimetres away.
Setting up the Circle Pad Pro couldn't be easier. Just clip in the 3DS and you're ready to go; with games automatically recogising whether the device is attached and tailoring their control schemes appropriately.
Once attached, you'll still have access to the headphone socket, volume control and power port - though it obviously won't be compatible with a charging dock unless you remove the 3DS. The stylus and game card port are blocked by the IR bar... but we'll get to that in due time.
Considering the £16.99 retail price, I was rather impressed by how solid the Circle Pad Pro proves to be. Its analogue slider offers a satisfying amount of resistance and features far less play than I expected, bolstered by an all-round feeling of solidity and heft. The triggers are nicely weighted, if a little on the stiff side.You won't be worried about breaking in transit or the 3DS slipping out of its rubberised grasp. It's also surprisingly light, which is a must for a handheld peripheral. The triggers are nicely weighted, if a little on the stiff side.
Resident Evil: Revelations is currently the only game to support the peripheral, so taken solely on comfort and gaming experience during my time with Capcom's latest survival horror title, the Circle Pad Pro is an unmitigated success. Mapping camera control to the right thumb pad is infinitely more intuitive than Resi's horrendous 'tank' setup and the extra heft makes the console much easier to hold for long periods. If you've got large hands or find the existing console painful to use for long periods, you'll find the Circle Pad Pro an absolute godsend. It's extremely comfortable, mainly because the curved chassis gives you something to wrap your fingers around as opposed to scrambling for purchase on the 3DS' rectangular body shell. We can see future games using the extra analogue slider and triggers to devastating effect, and it should allow for a broader range of hardcore titles to reach the long-suffering audience. Frankly, we can't wait.
It's worth noting that the Circle Pad Pro's best feature might actually be the price. Nintendo resisted the urge to debut their new peripheral at an extortionate price level, but since so few games are slated to support the device, you're infinitely better off buying it as part of a bundle deal (and getting your hands on the sublime Resident Evil: Revelations in the process). Which, conveniently, brings us nicely on to...
So far, only a handful of games promise to support the Circle Pad Pro. Revelations notwithstanding, you've only currently got Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D, Monster Hunter 3G and Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance to look forward to. Kid Icarus: Uprising will only use the peripheral to allow left-handed gamers to take part. Once again, I'd urge you to buy it in a bundle - as an investment as well as a saving.
Comfort also comes with an unexpected learning curve. Finding the most comfortable hand position for you can take an hour or two (more if you already play the 3DS on a regular basis), and the asymmetrical design puts the screen slightly left of centre. Having to compensate by holding the console slightly to the right takes a lot of getting used to, especially when you're trying to stay inside the restrictive 3D sweet spot. What's more, The Circle Pad pro is the first ever controller to place the right thumbstick and face buttons side by side, so it you'll need to put in some serious practice before muscle memory sets in.
And then there's the battery. To avoid putting any extra strain on the 3DS' pathetic power supply, the Circle Pad Pro contains a AAA battery that purports to offer over 500 hours of usage. However, it's unclear whether this figure actually has any basis in reality - and like many 3DS owners, I'd have actually paid more for a cradle that included a backup Lithium-Ion power pack to augment the console's onboard supply. Bear in mind that you'll need a coin or screwdriver to open the battery door.
But by far the biggest problem is that you can't change Game Cards or remove the stylus when you've deployed the Circle Pad Pro without removing the 3DS. Which is, for want of a better word, upsetting. For the life of me, I can't work out why a Stylus holder wasn't included in the design.
These problems aside, there's no getting around one simple design flaw with the Circle Pad Pro. It's hideous. The 3DS' sleek and elegant lines are marred and distorted by the clunky cradle, akin to turning a Lamborghini into a hovercraft or making Scarlett Johansen wear a rubber ring at all times. More pressingly, though, portability has also been completely compromised. While the 3DS can be easily slipped into jeans pockets (admittedly I've got bigger jeans than most, I should probably get some exercise) or a handbag, the Circle Pad Pro's extra bulk means that you'll have to carry it in a bag or separately from the console.
Most gamers will be willing to accept substance over style - and in this case, you probably should. Just bear in mind that your sleek little darling will put on a few unsightly extra pounds.
- It has a second circle pad. Hooray!
- Intuitive controls, bags of potential
- Blocks Game Card bay and stylus
- Ruins portability
- Limited software support
The Short Version: The Circle Pad Pro is a simple solution to a problem that never should have existed in the first place. Raw functionality, comfort and an inexpensive RRP make for a close-run success... but one that's worth buying as part of a games bundle rather than an individual purchase.