Investing in a portable gaming platform soon after it releases can be a wretched business at times since hardware revisions are so common in this area of the industry. If you’re a gamer on a budget then it makes sense to wait a bit until an improved model of the handheld in question is released, since it should be cheaper by this stage and will have a much wider selection of software than it did at launch.
It’s been 17 months since the 3DS launched in Japan and already a revised model is available in most parts of the world. The 3DS XL is an alternate model to the 3DS rather than a replacement and features screens that are 90% bigger than the original, as well as longer battery life. The new model also sports a sleeker, rounder design than the 3DS and has a slimmer top screen.
I’ve been putting the 3DS XL through its paces this past week as I play through Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance for my upcoming review. It’s been an excellent game to test out the new system as it’s long enough to require three or four full battery charges to complete and has some very large environments that give you a good idea of how well the 3D effect works on the XL’s impressively large top screen.
The 3DS XL’s top screen is the largest out of all Nintendo’s previous handhelds. It measures 4.88 inches (124 mm) diagonally while the bottom screen is 4.18 inches (106 mm) – just a fraction smaller than the DSi XL’s 4.2 inch screens. Nintendo has used an anti-reflective coating on the XL’s top screen to significantly reduce glare compared to the original model and this works brilliantly if you’re playing close to a window or beneath bright lights.
While both screens have the same resolution as the 3DS, the image quality looks very similar to how it did on the original model despite the increased size. Text is slightly more pixelated and jaggies are more noticeable, however, while crosstalk/ghosting is also more apparent when you’ve got the 3D slider turned all the way up (this can easily be eradicated by slowly moving the slider down until it disappears).
Unlike the 3DS, the XL’s slider clicks when you move it from its bottom position (i.e. 2D) into 3D mode – providing you with some welcome tactile feedback to help differentiate between the two settings.
The large size of both screens on the 3DS XL definitely has a positive impact on gameplay. Menus are easier to read and HUD elements don’t feel as squashed as they did on the 3DS, while the bigger bottom screen makes it easier to use your finger instead of the stylus for touch controls.
The 3D on the XL is really something to behold and has a lot more impact on the larger screen. It effectively draws you into the large-scale environments of games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D and Kingdom Hearts 3D, and does a great job of highlighting the geometry in each level. I’ve actually found it difficult to go back to a non-3D game like Mass Effect 3 after playing so much on the 3DS XL since you don’t get that same sense of moving through ‘open’ space.
The 3DS XL’s improved battery life is one of its biggest selling points. Nintendo has stated that we can expect to get 3.5 to 6.5 hours out of the XL’s battery while playing 3DS games and 6 to 10 hours while playing DS titles. I’ve been getting between 4 to 5 hours out of a single charge while playing Kingdom Hearts 3D on maximum brightness (power-saving mode off) and with WiFi turned off.
The battery icon on the XL comprises four bars and I’ve found that they don’t deplete equally – the first bar takes the longest to disappear and the last bar the shortest. Unlike the PS Vita, when your battery dies on the XL then any unsaved data is lost – even if you charge it immediately after the screen goes black.
One thing that’s disappointing about the new battery is that is takes just as long to charge as the one on the 3DS, if not longer – expect to wait over 3 hours for your XL’s battery to fully charge. Apparently Nintendo considered making a special adapter for the 3DS XL but instead opted to use the same charger that has been used ever since the DSi was released. Due to this fact there’s no charger included in the box – you’ll have to buy it separately if you don’t own one already.
The form factor of the XL is another element that has been improved compared to the 3DS. It sits more comfortably in your hands thanks to the rounded edges on the bottom of the device and your thumbs are allowed to fully extend when they rest on the circle pad and face buttons respectively. The 3D slider is within easy reach of your right hand’s index finger and I often found myself adjusting it during gameplay to get the desired degree of depth.
All of the buttons on the XL are slightly larger and more risen than they are on the 3DS, with the shoulder buttons and face buttons feeling particularly comfortable to use. Unfortunately the D-pad still falls short when it comes to playing fighting games and is a tad too hard, stiff and ‘clicky’ for my liking.
The 3DS XL has a stylish matte finish that feels great to the touch and doesn’t show dirt or fingerprints easily. The non-extendable stylus slides into the right side of the system, meaning that left-handers are at a disadvantage. The SD card slot sits just below the stylus and Nintendo was generous enough to bundle in a 4GB card with the XL.
The new model XL is quite a bit heavier than the 3DS but that extra weight is distributed evenly over the larger surface area. You get used to the extra grams after awhile but I think small kids could potentially feel a bit of wrist strain after long sessions with the XL.
Some gamers are disappointed that Nintendo didn’t put a second circle pad on the 3DS XL but apparently the new battery and hardware design made this an impossibility. One option developers have is to put a virtual circle pad on the touch screen – something similar was done in Monster Hunter 3G and it worked fairly well as a manual camera control scheme.
Nintendo has created an excellent handheld in the 3DS XL and finally delivered an immersive 3D gaming experience on the go that isn’t constrained by just a few hours of battery life. With a sleek form factor and two big, beautiful screens, the XL is one of Nintendo’s most well-designed systems yet and is arguably the crowning achievement of its history as a handheld manufacturer.