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Nintendo 3DS XL review – hands-on

Ninty's super-sized handheld lands in our laps – but is it a giant killer or a huge disappointment?

Nintendo 3DS XL – design and build

The XL does exactly what it sets out to do – be really damn big. But it manages to make the leap in size from the Nintendo 3DS without feeling too overbearing – an important point, given that smartphones are encroaching on the handheld gaming market. With a body that now measures 155mm across (versus the original 3DS’s 135mm) the extra real estate also makes for a less cramped feel.

Nintendo has swapped out the 3DS’s reflective casing for a more rounded matte finish – available in silver, red or blue. While it certainly rocks more of a premium look in keeping with the forthcoming Wii U, it feels a little more plasticky in the hand. On the interior surface, the new matte black innards are – pleasingly – less fingerprint-friendly than the 3DS’s glossy finish.

Nintendo 3DS XL – display

The XL’s trump card is its screen size – leaping from 3.02 inches to a whopping 4.88 inches, almost as large as the PlayStation Vita. The bottom touch screen has also been given a stretch, bouncing up to 4.18 inches across.

While the 3D effects on the standard model often pop nicely, they’ve too often felt cramped. Take the XL for a spin, and you’ll feel like you’re discovering glasses-free 3D all over again. The resolution does remains the same, though we found the picture feels more vibrant and lends itself well to the vast environs in games such as Kid Icarus: Uprising and Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Place it next to the Vita’s 5in, 220ppi screen, though, and the 3DS XL still pales in comparison. The battery has been given a boost, with Nintendo claiming that the XL will deliver half and hour more play time for 3DS games – around 3.5 hours of 3D gameplay goodness. That’s something we’ll put to the test in our full review.

Nintendo 3DS XL – playability

Since the 3DS landed, owners have complained about its lack of a second analogue stick. Well, Nintendo may have heard you, but it’s not doing anything about the problem just yet. In some ways we can understand why Nintendo hasn’t added one to the XL – it would leave developers in a tricky position in deciding whether to build games that require two sticks or one (and would potentially leave original 3DS owners with an outdated console just a year down the line).

The news that the XL will be getting its own Circle Pad Pro doesn’t do much to solve the problem, given that it’s likely to make the console so bulky it won’t fit in your pocket. This gripe aside, however, the XL feels pretty comfortable in the hand despite its size. In some ways it’s easier to use than the cramped 3DS, and we found the 3D effect a lot easier on the eyes with the additional screen space.

Nintendo 3DS XL – verdict

Those who upgraded from the original DS to the DS XL will have an idea of what to expect with the 3DS XL. But add 3D to the equation and there’s a real benefit to picking up the larger 3DS – the benefit of that extra screen real estate on the glassless 3D is keenly felt.

The missing second analogue stick does make the XL feel a bit of a wasted opportunity – but overall it feels more ergonomic than its smaller sibling. For those who already own a 3DS, though, the lack of an extra stick does make the XL a tough sell. For those wondering whether to take the plunge with Nintendo’s 3D handheld, the XL may just be enough to persuade you. It’s available from July 28, priced £180 – check out our 3DS XL unboxing and first look video if you’re still pondering a purchase.

[by Hugh Langley]

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