The New 3DS XL is here, and it's brilliant. Its predecessor, which we affectionately refer to as "The Bigness" here at the office, already improved on the original 3DS in every way imaginable, providing greater comfort, practicality and an infinitely superior gaming experience.
Now The Bigness is even better, as the New 3DS XL finally corrects the most blatant design flaw in Nintendo's handheld line while adding a faster processor, stable stereoscopic 3D, onboard Amiibo support and a range of extra tweaks. The result is the most desirable handheld console on the market if you're even remotely serious about portable gaming.
However, it becomes significantly less desirable if you already own an old-model 3DS XL, since many of the new features lack games that truly take advantage of them yet. Seeing as the firmware, onboard software and basic user experience remains unchanged, this review will largely focus on the hardware itself, meaning that newcomers might want to brush up on our 3DS XL Review, 3DS hardware review and 3DS onboard software review first.
Design, Build Quality & New Features
The New 3DS XL measures in at 93.5mm x 160mm x 21.5mm, making it very slightly smaller and surprisingly lighter than its predecessor too. It's still a beast of a clamshell in terms of surface area with a largely unchanged form factor and overall design, but remains relatively slim, allowing you to slip it into baggy jeans or coat pockets with little fuss. The rounded design, coupled with its heft and reduced weight, makes for a comfortable console to hold for long periods, a far cry from both the original 3DS and Vita.
Once you open the console, you'll note that the two screens are exactly the same as the original 3DS XL as far as size and resolution are concerned, while the stereo speakers are no less capable (naturally you'll want to rely on headphones while playing on the move, mind). The full compliment of face buttons, triggers, circle pad and D-Pad also return in familiar locations, but benefit from a round of extra machining and refinement, feeling pleasingly solid and responding to your touch with satisfying clicky feedback.
The first thing you'll notice, however, is the new C-Stick located to the Northwest of the face buttons, which acts as a second thumbstick. This tiny rubber nubbin is completely immobile, yet can register surprisingly small thumb movements accurately and responsively, with no danger of the stick becoming loose or jangly as the years roll on. We'll discuss the C-Stick in more detail later in the article, and its position takes some getting used to, but for now suffice to say that it's more than fit for task.
The C-Stick isn't the only new input that the 3DS has to offer, however, since two new buttons have also been added to the top-side of the unit next to the existing triggers. The ZL and ZR buttons function much like traditional bumpers (they act as alternate L and R triggers by default in existing games), and once again they're well-machined, but it's a crying shame that they aren't situated above the triggers on the plastic hinge panel. Pressing them requires you to stretch your fingers up, around and over the triggers, which can prove uncomfortable and counter-intuitive.
A few cosmetic changes are worth noting. Cartridges now slot into the bottom-left of the unit, the Start and Select buttons have retreated to the right hand side, while the volume slider can now be found to the left of the screen (symmetrically opposite to the 3D intensity slider). This is a massive improvement versus the original 3DS XL, which all too often caused us to accidentally nudge the volume control during normal operation.
Another improvement is that you can switch the New 3DS XL on without opening the hinge, since the power button has moved to the front edge of the device. As a Streetpass junkie, this allows me to surreptitiously power up my console on the tube or even on the street without taking it out of my bag.
My one major gripe is that the Stylus has been relocated to the bottom centre of the casing, which is incredibly inconvenient to access mid-game compared to its previous position on the right hand side of the unit. It used to sit directly under the right middle finger, but now we have to move our entire hand. The Stylus is also difficult to find, remove and replace using touch alone. We'll have to get used to this, but it's still a step backwards in terms of convenience.
The ventral backplate can be removed by way of two #0 Phillips screws (most glasses repair kits will suffice if you don't have a decent tool kit handy), granting easy access to the battery. Battery life is already reasonable at somewhere between 5-8 hours of active play time depending on how graphically intensive your games are and the screen brightness -- as a tip, I'd suggest disabling the default 'auto-brightness' setting as it can prove very distracting -- but you'll be able to upgrade to higher-capacity batteries with relative ease once they become available. More importantly, though, removing the backplate also lets you access the spring-loaded MicroSD card bay, which will be essential if you plan on transferring digitally-downloaded games and content across from your old 3DS. More on that later.
I have to point out that the plastic casing is surprisingly thin, to the extent that I was terrified of snapping the backplate during the System Transfer process. Gone are the days when Nintendo handhelds were practically invulnerable, since the New 3DS XL will likely suffer major cosmetic damage from falls that would barely bother a Game Boy or GBA SP! That said, the system still feels solid and I suspect that the brittle backplate will act like a motorbike helmet if dropped, snapping and absorbing most of the impact with easy replacement. Please don't test my hypothesis, though -- treat yourself to a case instead.
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.
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.
The New 3DS XL 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.
The New 3DS XL 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
Unlike all previous 3DS models, the New 3DS XL 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 XL! Read our easy New 3DS XL system transfer guide for all the details.
Should You Buy One?
If you're looking to buy your first 3DS then the answer is definitely. The New 3DS XL is a superior gaming handheld, and one that I'd recommend without hesitation. The extra money is well worth it.
If you own an original 3DS, you should also seriously consider an upgrade to take full advantage of the new features while enjoying significantly improved comfort and overall gaming experience on a much larger screen.
However, if you already own an old-model 3DS XL, there simply isn't a compelling reason to own one of these right now. Few games use the C-Stick for anything meaningful (plus the Circle Pad Pro is cheap as chips) and no games leverage the extra processing power yet, meaning that the slight increase in loading times, super-stable 3D and NFC capabilities are a big ask for £200 for all but the most hardened Amiibo fantastics. That said, isn't it nice to own something 'New'?
- Great build quality, comfortable and practical design
- 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
- 4GB MicroSD included
- Magnificent games library
- Awkward Z-trigger and stylus positions
- The System Transfer process is arcane and ridiculous (be smart)
- No power cable included as standard, cover plates are not swappable
- No games currently take advantage of increased processing power - and we suspect few ever will
The Verdict: The New 3DS XL is an excellent piece of kit that improves on a fantastic portable console with small yet smart new features, all of which will add up over the coming years. If you plan on getting into Nintendo handheld gaming, the New 3DS XL is the console you want, while original 3DS owners should seriously consider an upgrade to take advantage of the vastly increased comfort and enhanced gaming experience.
However, if you already own an old-model 3DS XL, the case for upgrading isn't strong enough to be worth spending the best part of £200. At least, not yet.
We do not score hardware reviews.