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Nintendo 3DS XL review

Nintendo 3DS XL – overview

Nintendo’s handheld console refreshes have followed a predictable pattern over the years, firmly centred around Nintendo’s ‘bigger is better’ philosophy. The Nintendo 3DS XL – successor to the original 3DS – is no exception to Ninty’s tried and tested game plan and arrives packing a bigger battery and two larger screens with the aim of creating a longer-lasting and more immersive 3D gaming experience.

Is it enough to warrant an upgrade from the original 3DS or fend off the advances of the powerful PlayStation Vita? Read on to find out…

Read our Nintendo 3DS review

Read our PlayStation Vita review

Nintendo 3DS XL – design, build and connectivity

The 3DS XL really earns its XL moniker: it’s a good chunk bigger than the standard 3DS. Impressively, though, it’s only 1mm thicker. Its 156mm length (compared to the 3DS’ 134mm) does make it less pocket-friendly, though, so you’ll ideally want to pop it into your bag when you’re on the move.

Although the 3DS XL is 100g heavier than the 3DS it’s still light and comfortable enough for a strain-free gaming marathon, and we also like the fact that the screen can now be locked into a number of different angles as opposed to moving freely on its hinges, making it sturdier and more durable in the long run.

The Nintendo 3DS XL also gains a new matte plastic chassis to replace the glossy plastic of the original 3DS – a welcome move for obsessive gadgeteers who hate fingerprint smudges. Overall the 3DS XL feels more premium than the slippery finish of the standard 3DS, although the grey and black finish of our review sample is a little unexciting.

There’s been a bit of a change in port locations as well, with the SD card and stylus slots now gracing the right hand side of the device. Sadly, the extendable metal stylus has been replaced by an all-plastic affair, but it’s nice to see that the bundled memory card has had an upgrade from 2GB to 4GB. The exclusion of a charger is rather annoying, though, not to mention a little presumptuous on the part of Nintendo to assume that the majority of 3DS XL buyers will be upgrading from the 3DS and re-using their existing chargers.

Nintendo 3DS XL –  screens

The Nintendo 3DS XL’s screens are, of course, central to the 3DS’ redesign. The top and bottom screens are now 4.88in and 4.18in respectively, which is a massive improvement over the comparatively postage stamp-sized 3.53in and 3.02in screens found on the standard 3DS.

The bigger top screen has a somewhat bitter-sweet impact on the gaming experience. It provides more immersion by serving up a larger, more forgiving ‘sweet spot’ for the best 3D effect, and although we crashed a few times in Mario Kart 7 due to the odd bit of 3D distortion-related confusion, the extra space was definitely a good thing for maintaining 3D image stability.

Cranking the 3D slider to max also results in a deeper 3D effect that, although pleasing, still has to be toned down after a while to give strained eyes a bit of a break.

What’s a bit disappointing is that the same 800×240 screen resolution has been carried over from the 3DS, and the stretching that needs to be done to make it fit the bigger screen means images and text appear far less sharp and much jaggier than before. It’s a real shame that Nintendo didn’t spring for a higher resolution screen: without it the 3DS XL’s picture isn’t the all-round improvement we were hoping for.

Compared to the PlayStation Vita’s gorgeous 960×544 5in AMOLED display, the Nintendo 3DS’ screen looks positively shoddy, with washed-out colours and jagged edges aplenty. Also unlike the PlayStation Vita, the 3DS XL’s bottom touchscreen is still rocking older resistive touchscreen technology, which means no multitouch and a requirement for surgically accurate finger/stylus pecking when browsing websites and entering URLs.

Nintendo 3DS XL – controls

There’s been a fair bit of controversy over Nintendo’s decision not to include a second analogue circle pad with the 3DS XL and, as before, we were left yearning for the extra precision offered by a second circle pad at times. Although its omission has resulted in a slimmer, longer-lasting handheld, we can’t help but feel that a little more heft and one hour less battery life would be fair trade-offs for a second circle pad.

Nonetheless, the existing controls (which are identical to those found on the 3DS) work well, with the one circle pad on offer providing a satisfying balance of resistance, accuracy and smoothness. The Select, Home and Start buttons have also had an upgrade and are now much easier to press mid-game.

After a few hours of gameplay we also noticed that our thumbs felt a lot less cramped than after a heavy 3DS session – a testament to the extra comfort served up by the increase in size.

Nintendo 3DS XL – battery life

Part of the reason Nintendo chose to omit a second circle pad was to improve battery life, and we can happily say that it’s at least done the trick. The 3DS XL lasted a little under 5.5 hours with heavy gaming, light web browsing and camera usage, which is an impressive feat given that Wi-Fi and 3D were on with the screen cranked up to max brightness.

Nintendo 3DS XL – gaming and camera

The 3DS XL doesn’t bring anything new to the gaming or imaging department and has the same pre-loaded AR apps and library of games that grace the 3DS. The front and inward-facing cameras also remain the same and provide more of a passing distraction as opposed to any real imaging uses, due to their low resolution.

The 3D effect for still shots works quite well as long as nothing sticks too far out towards the lens, although video proves to be more temperamental with distracting ghosting present more often than not.

Nintendo 3DS XL – verdict

Perhaps as expected, the 3DS XL is an evolutionary step rather than a revolutionary one, and while there’s no denying the benefits offered by the larger screens in providing a more immersive and enjoyable gaming experience, the lower resolution makes its success a rather qualified one.

Existing 3DS owners will have to ask themselves just how much size matters to them, and given the crispness of the smaller 3DS’ screen, we would suggest that it’s far from a necessity to upgrade to the 3DS XL right now.

First-time buyers, however, should have no qualms about picking up the 3DS XL over the 3DS. It’s bigger, better-built and offers up the familiar Nintendo gaming roster of Mario, Link et al with a portable 3D experience that not even the more powerful PlayStation Vita can offer.

The Nintendo 3DS XL isn’t for gamers who want HD graphics or the latest tech and console gaming on the go – that’s the PlayStation Vita’s calling. Rather, it’s an embodiment of what Nintendo has always stood for – innovation and good old-fashioned fun.

Review by Esat Dedezade

Stuff Says…

Score: 4/5