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New 3DS Review | Small Wonder

Jonathan Lester
Games consoles, Handheld consoles, Hardware reviews, New 3DS, Nintendo

New 3DS Review | Small Wonder

We've already reviewed the New 3DS XL, which is a fantastic piece of kit for serious handheld gamers, but here in Europe it's not the only option on the table. The New 3DS includes all the extra inputs and new features -- faster processor, C-Stick, Super-Stable 3D, Z bumpers and more -- but manages to cram them into a much smaller form factor at a lower price point. With swappable cover plates to boot.

I must admit to writing off the New 3DS as a bit of a novelty, especially given its no-show on the other side of the Atlantic, but Nintendo were kind enough to lend me a review unit which I've been thoroughly testing over the last seven days.

Consider my eyes well and truly opened! While the 3DS XL was a great console that only needed small refinements, the original 3DS was deeply flawed in a number of respects that have all been completely shored up. Far from a gimmick, the New 3DS is actually a seriously impressive little machine that might even be more suitable for some players than its big brother.

Design, Form Factor & Build Quality

New 3DS Review | Small Wonder

Click to enlarge.

Unlike the New 3DS XL, which has remained almost completely unchanged in terms of dimensions, the New 3DS has put on a bit of girth. Or love handles, to be precise. Clocking in at 142mm x 80.6mm  x 21.6mm (compared to 134 mm x 74 mm x 21 mm), it's slightly but definitely chunkier in all but depth, which still lends the clamshell a slim form factor that can easily slip into a regular pocket or bag.

This extra heft is very much appreciated, though, as it allows the New 3DS to deliver a range of sweeping improvements starting with a larger screen. The top 3D screen has increased in size by a factor of 1.2 (3.88 inches vs 3.53 inches), which is still piddling compared to the beastly New 3DS XL or almighty Vita, but original 3DS owners will notice a massive difference in terms of comfort and viewing distance. The resolution remains the same, but in practice you'll actually be able to see more of the fine detail in better-looking titles.

New 3DS Review | Small Wonder

Once you've opened the clamshell, you'll clock the full compliment of face buttons, triggers, circle pad and D-Pad largely where you'd expect them, but better machined and much more tactile. However, you'll have to get used to a few changes, in that cartridges now slot into the bottom-left of the unit, the Start and Select buttons have retreated to the right hand side, the Home button is astonishingly small and the volume slider can now be found on the lid as opposed to the main body. Unfortunately, the stylus placement is extremely awkward at the bottom-centre of the console, making it inconvenient to remove and replace while playing, but at least the stylus itself is much sturdier and easier to hold than the nasty telescopic original now that it's a chunky single piece of black plastic.

Overall build quality is excellent, to the point where the unit feels much more solid than the New 3DS XL due to the fact that there's less lid flopping about despite the same degree of play in the hinge. The default finish is also less susceptible to fingerprinting than the New 3DS XL, a nice touch.

New 3DS Review | Small Wonder

Click to enlarge

More exciting, though, is new C-Stick. This grey rubber nodule is well-built and convenient to use, located to the Northwest of the face buttons, and acting much like a traditional thumbstick. New ZL and ZR buttons have also been added to the top of the unit, which currently double up as extra triggers but will eventually function much like home console controller bumpers.

But perhaps the biggest improvement is also the most subtle. Can you spot it?

New 3DS Review | Small Wonder

Congratulations if so, because it only really becomes apparent once you start using the console for an extended length of time. The corners are now rounded, almost circular rather than angular, and it makes the New 3DS exceptionally comfortable to use.

The difference is incredible. No longer do the angular corners jut and cut into our palms (even if you didn't notice this before, you will!) when playing the likes of Super Smash Bros or Ocarina Of Time, making lengthier play sessions easy. Combined with the slightly chunkier form factor, the New 3DS is extraordinarily comfortable so long as you don't have enormous hands, with the added benefit of easier access to the C-Stick and Z bumpers due to the smaller distance for your thumb and trigger finger to cover.

New 3DS Review | Small Wonder

Something had to give in order to cram so much new gear into such a small volume, though, so Nintendo compromised on the battery. As a smaller power pack compared to the New 3DS XL (powering screens of identical resolution if not size), you can expect less bang for your buck, with something resembling 3-6 hours being an accurate benchmark. Naturally playing online and at a high screen brightness can suck a lot of juice, so prepare accordingly or lower the brightness if you're in any doubt.

Cover Plates!

New 3DS Review | Small Wonder

Cover plates are gimmicky, silly, a desperate attempt to separate us from more of our money and most importantly of all: awesome. We finally have the opportunity to express our individuality... or at least brand loyalty, let's not get ahead of ourselves... and customise our console with a range of themed shells.

Equipping them is relatively simple. You'll need a small Phillips screwdriver to remove two #0 screws in order to replace the rear cover plate (a must for most people if you plan on transferring content or upgrading your MicroSD card -- more on that later), whereas the front cover plate literally just clips onto the dorsal surface of the device and slightly juts out at the top. As an NVIDIA Shield owner, I was slightly disappointed that the top cover plate isn't secured with magnets, but as an entry level device I don't expect premium materials.

Thankfully the cover plates do feel like premium products, and there are some superb designs out there. Nintendo provided me with Luigi plates and, frankly, it looks fantastic. As a side-effect, should you drop your New 3DS, the cover plates should crack like a motorcycle helmet, absorb much the impact and prove easy to replace. Please don't test this hypothesis, though, and we definitely take no responsibility if you decide to test this theory!

My one concern, however, is that Nintendo might not properly support the Cover Plate market over the coming years with new designs. Without the American market to buoy up sales, and given Nintendo's ridiculous issues with producing Amiibos to demand, I suspect that we could be in for a lean harvest. Hopefully third-party manufacturers and publishers will step in to fill the gaps.

The C-Stick

New 3DS Review | Small Wonder

Please note: this section has been copied from our New 3DS XL review as the hardware is identical in this respect.

The 3DS' lack of a second thumb stick was a crippling design flaw. No ifs, no buts. Nintendo's decision to release the Circle Pad Pro peripheral proves that their console was simply not capable of supporting the range of games that third-party developers wanted to make for the system.

Thankfully the C-Stick rings in the changes.

As mentioned, it's a robust, satisfying and practical little nubule as far as little nubules go, providing responsive camera control in the likes of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy + and Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, while facilitating full FPS gameplay in the generic if pretty Ironfall Invasion. Games that support the Circle Pad Pro, such as Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D and Resident Evil Revelations, automatically detect and recognise C-Stick from the get-go.

Now that the 3DS has a second thumbstick as standard, I hope that we'll see an even greater range of genres make their way to the 3DS' already-exceptional games library.

Super-Stable 3D

Please note: this section has been copied from our New 3DS XL review as the hardware is identical in this respect.

I'm one of the weirdos who actually likes the 3DS' stereoscopic 3D and uses it regularly. It grants even graphically mediocre games extra visual clout, tricking your brain into thinking that they look better, but more to the point it provides a thrilling sense of distance, depth and speed. Unfortunately it has also proved to be uncomfortable to hold the console in the restrictive correct viewing position for extended periods, meaning that I've only ever used stereoscopic 3D in short bursts.

Super-Stable 3D changes all that, however, by using the rear-facing cameras to track the position of your eyes relative to the screen and adapting the parallax barrier appropriately (so long as the system can see you, i.e. you're not playing in the dark). The effects are seriously impressive; though not completely perfect, the 3D viewing angle has been massively extended, allowing you to tilt, turn and move your head without breaking the illusion or experiencing a headache-inducing blurred image.

Will stereoscopic 3D ever be seen as more than a gimmick? I hope so. I can only speak for myself here, but now that Super-Stable 3D makes using it convenient and comfortable, more players should be willing to test the waters for themselves.

Processing Power

Please note: this section has been copied from our New 3DS XL review as the hardware is identical in this respect.

The New 3DS boasts a more powerful processor, which will allow it to run more complex and graphically intensive games. Eventually. None of them have released yet, and more to the point, very few ever will seeing as handheld games need to be marketed to as wide a user base as possible to make any money.

So naturally you won't see any magical increase in graphics or performance, seeing as how a game looks depends on how it's coded and optimised. Sorry.

However, what you will see is a marked and very welcome boost to UI navigation, menu population and loading times. Though eShop browsing is limited by internet speeds more than the CPU, I'm delighted to report that game boot times seem to have been reduced by 1.5-3x on a case-by-case basis, with the most obvious improvement being Super Smash Bros which now takes mere seconds to boot compared to the best part of a minute. It's real proof of the New 3DS XL's beefier gaming chops, and one that I hope -- perhaps in vain -- that more developers will take advantage of.


New 3DS Review | Small Wonder

Please note: this section has been copied from our New 3DS XL review as the hardware is identical in this respect.

The New 3DS comes equipped with an onboard NFC reader that lets you scan and sync Amiibos without buying any extra peripherals.

There's not really much more to say on this point. It works perfectly in the small range of games that support Amiibos -- currently limited to Super Smash Bros and Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy + -- so as Nintendo continues to expand the product line and the supported software, this will hopefully become even more useful over time.

Storage & System Transfer

Please note: this section has been copied from our New 3DS XL review as the hardware is identical in this respect.

Unlike all previous 3DS models, the New 3DS uses MicroSD cards as its primary storage. Thankfully it comes equipped with a 4GB MicroSD card as standard, which will be more than enough if you don't plan on buying many digital games. Likewise, if you only have a few small games on your old 3DS SD card, you can wirelessly transfer them over at a rate of approximately one hour per Gigabyte.

However, if you already have a large collection of digital 3DS games on your old system, you'll have to undergo the dark and time-consuming ritual of the full PC System Transfer process. Outlined in the video above.

It's a ridiculously convoluted rigmarole that shows Nintendo's reluctance to embrace cloud storage and account-bound purchases, but you can make the system transfer much easier if you upgrade to a high capacity MicroSD card before you even buy your New 3DS! Read our easy New 3DS system transfer guide for all the details.


  • Great build quality, practical, compact and exceptionally comfortable due to retooled form factor
  • C-Stick is well-built, responsive and finally provides a second thumbstick
  • Face tracking makes stereoscopic 3D convenient and natural
  • Markedly improved loading times and multitasking due to increased processing power
  • Onboard Amiibo support
  • Cover plates are awesome
  • 4GB MicroSD included
  • Magnificent games library


  • Mediocre battery life
  • Awkward stylus position, tiny Home button
  • The System Transfer process is arcane and ridiculous (be smart)
  • No power cable included as standard
  • No games currently take advantage of increased processing power - and we suspect few ever will
  • Will Nintendo properly support the Cover Plate market?

The Short Version: The New 3DS is a little marvel; essentially the console the original 3DS always should have been. The new features and inputs future-proof the handheld for the next few years, while the compact form factor, larger screen and newly rounded design conspire to create an astonishingly comfortable gameplay experience for all but those with massive hands.

As such, it's a fabulous entry-level option and a perfect middle ground between the 2DS and New 3DS XL, so long as you're happy to sacrifice screen size and battery life for comfort and convenience. And Cover Plates.

Still not sure which model to buy? Stay tuned for our comparison guide! [Which will be linked here once published - Ed]

We do not score hardware reviews.

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