Nintendo 3DS XL Review: Bigger, Refined, but Still-Flawed 3D

  • Share
  • Read Later
Nintendo

If the original 3DS seemed a little puny for a games handheld touting “glasses-free 3D,” Nintendo’s new, almost paperback-sized $200 3DS XL expands your range of options to two: pint-sized or big gulp.

If you already own a 3DS, on the other hand, that choice may feel like a pain point: Live with the perfectly decent, pocket-sized handheld you might have paid as much as $250 for (before Nintendo dropped the price last August), or cough up another $200 for extra eyeball room.

Though we’re not talking just eyeball room — like the DSi XL, the 3DS XL is a king-sized 3DS that folds in subtle but gratifying refinements.

(MORE: Is the Handheld Video Games Market Shrinking? Or Just Changing?)

The 3DS’s clamshell exterior was a glossy fingerprint lure, whereas the 3DS XL employs a smudge-resistant matte finish that feels sleek and clean (and less like a grease trap after extended play). The “Select,” “Home” and “Start” buttons along the bottom edge of the 3DS’s lower screen are now discrete rectangles with the labels chiseled into the plastic instead of the 3DS’s flat, barely depressible mono-membrane. It’s now much easier to hit these buttons without looking at them.

The diamond five-point stereo speakers are now nine-point circles, though whether that improves acoustics is difficult to say (if anything, the 3DS XL at max volume sounds a little softer than the 3DS). The 3DS XL’s bottom corners now sport fuller curves, nestling more comfortably in the center of your palms.

Where the 3DS had three lid positions: closed, 160 degrees and 180 degrees, the 3DS XL has four: the 3DS’s three, plus a new 110-degree angle, laptop-style, which seems geared for use while resting on a flat surface. And the stylus now slides easily from the right-hand side, instead of its awkward position along the top/back next to the game slot on the 3DS.

There’s nothing subtle about the 3DS XL’s screen upgrades, of course. The top one — the wide-angle, autostereoscopic 3D centerpiece — now stretches an impressive 4.88 inches, a 38% improvement over the 3DS’s comparably anemic 3.53 inches. It’s tantamount to switching from Apple’s 3.5-inch iPhone to Samsung’s 4.8-inch Galaxy S III. The bottom 4:3 aspect touchscreen, which on the original 3DS was actually smaller at 3.02 inches diagonally than the DSi’s 3.25 inches, is also a third bigger here, expanded to a more-than-comfortable 4.18 inches. Pull up Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D on the new system and, proportionally speaking, it’s a lot more like gaming in front of a big screen TV.

Which isn’t to say playing with the 3D slider cranked to max feels any less gimmicky. It’s still more a special effect that strikes me as running counter to Nintendo’s “no frills” design philosophy. And the 3DS XL doesn’t solve the 3DS’s most serious flaw: Move your head even a fraction to the left or right (from centered and perpendicular) and the screen image darkens or doubles as you expose the “seams” in the autostereoscopic field.

For games that don’t require you tilt the handheld, you can make do for shorter sessions (though you’ll eventually tire of having to hold the system perfectly steady). But for motion-sensing games that require you move the handheld rapidly, keeping your eyes aligned is a challenge unto itself — to the point that you might as well turn 3D off entirely. The good news: That’s even easier than before. Unlike the 3DS, the 3DS XL includes a switch to lock 3D off, so you can pull the 3D “depth” down to minimum, then over a fixed threshold into the “off” position. And with 3D disabled, you’ll get much better battery life.

Speaking of, you’d think that given the 3DS XL’s size, we’d get a better battery in the bargain, but even Nintendo’s official 3DS XL rating is glum: 3.5 to 6.5 hours versus the 3DS’s three to six hours — a meager 30 minute uptick. In my tests, running Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D nonstop with 3D fully engaged, I managed to squeeze a paltry three hours and 45 minutes of battery life from the handheld. That’s a shame, because the larger screens really do make you want to play this thing longer since you’re worrying about eyestrain less.

Why didn’t Nintendo include a second thumb nub? It’s hard to say. There’s certainly space for one here, just below the face buttons (or above, if you moved those face buttons down an inch). I’d venture it’s because almost nothing supports it at this point. I count eight games that work with the Circle Pad Pro — the bulky undercarriage that adds a righthand analog nub to the standard 3DS.

Those who don’t find the second nub’s absence troubling seem to be missing this point: If, as Nintendo president Satoru Iwata claims, the purview of dedicated gaming handhelds is a “richer” experience — especially where the games literally pivot on 3D graphics — the twin-analog-stick control approach’s ability to navigate 3D-space is unsurpassed. Take a game like Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, where the camera auto-swivels to track your movement, Mario 64-style: I’ve always wanted independent camera controls in these games, say I accidentally slash past an enemy who then disappears from view, or the camera’s bopping around erratically because I’m in a cramped spot, say a house or dungeon. And that’s to say nothing of the limitations it imposes on modern first- or third-person games.

Maybe you’ve heard Nintendo plans to offer an XL-sized Circle Pad Pro later this year, but it’s hard to see the sense — you really don’t want to make something that already weighs 336 grams any bigger. (By comparison, the regular 3DS weighs 235 grams, the PS Vita with Wi-Fi weighs 260 grams and an iPhone 4S weighs just 140 grams.) It’ll also be supremely annoying if we have to buy the 3DS all over again in a year or two, say Nintendo decides to reboot the system DS Lite-style and make that its — pun intended — doubling-down point.

Still, if you have $200 to burn, don’t already own a 3DS or have yet to play the platform’s better-than-average fare like Mario Kart 7, Super Mario 3D Land, Kid Icarus: Uprising or Resident Evil: Revelations, then spring for the 3DS XL. It’s officially the 3DS to beat.

MORE: The 3D Hype Bubble Is Now Completely Busted

18 comments
KevinKHChan
KevinKHChan

I guess its a dumb question to ask, but I want to hear it from people who owned both. I personally play the DS Lite for Pokemon and a few other smaller titles. I feel there are some buttons on their way out on the DS Lite, so I am really wondering if the jump to the XL is really worth it, My local shops are having their Boxing Day sale with these going at $129.99. Tempting, I know.

Opinions?

AprilRossWatkins
AprilRossWatkins

So if my kids already have DSi XL's is it worth buying these new 3DS XL's?  Are there enough perks and features?  Grandpa wants to buy them these for Christmas and want to make sure it is worth his money to upgrade them or will they not even notice the difference?  Thanks everyone!!

whydub
whydub

@AprilRossWatkins if they have DSi XLs it's definitely a significant upgrade. The 3DS XL is an entirely different console with much more power, features, and most importantly, a new library of games, while still being able to play the regular DS titles your kids are playing with their DSi XLs. Your kids' DSi's can't play 3DS games, and fewer and fewer regular DS games are being created nowadays.

 Not to mention the 3D feature, but I'm somewhat indifferent about that.

Jeff Hoffman
Jeff Hoffman

I don't know about you guys, but I really don't understand the ranting about the lack of the second circle pad. These are the reasons why:

1. The second circle pad would require a significant amount of space underneath where it would be. Normally that would be okay, but in this case it is not because the battery is in that location. To add the second circle pad, either the battery would need to be smaller and thus worse battery life, or the system would have to be a bit bigger. The 3DS XL is slightly smaller than the PS Vita, which fits in my pocket fairly easily, so portability isn't a problem for me, but if it was bigger, then there might be issues.

2. Do you people not understand that the Circle Pad Pro also adds an L2 and R2 button? If the 3DS XL had the second circle pad, it wouldnt have the complete circle pad pro. In addition to having an increased size due to the second circle pad, it would also need to be bigger to fit the L2 and R2 buttons. The system would be quite clunky and big in this case.

3. Segregation of 3DS owners. I know it sounds stupid, me repeating something Nintendo has said, but personally I agree. If the 3DS XL had a second circle pad built in, the owners of the original 3DS would feel like they wasted their money since a better version came out just over a year after the original system came out. 3DS owners would flock to sell their 3DS and buy the XL, or they would be mad at Nintendo. The first would cause the original 3DS to quickly lower in price, causing Nintendo to lose money. The second would cause Nintendo to lose buyers, also causing them to lose money.

4. Putting it in would cause the XL to be even more expensive.

I think this was a smart choice. It keeps the XL at a decent size still, with a longer battery life, doesn't segregate 3DS owners, and keeps the system at a good price still. Tell me, would you sacrifice all of those things just to have a peripheral that is currently only used in a select couple games(4 for America, 3 additional games in Japan), and it isn't even required for the games? 

John
John

Aren't you a little old to be playing Zelda for 3 hours and 45 minutes and then complaining that it isn't enough time?

Steven McCall
Steven McCall

You are never too old to play Zelda all day :)

Wintre
Wintre

Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. 

When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.   -CS Lewis.

In simple terms: You are never too old to enjoy the things you love, and those that are more concerned about "being an adult" don't understand the concept of growing up.

Wintre
Wintre

Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. 

When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.   -CS Lewis.

In simple terms: You are never too old to enjoy the things you love, and those that are more concerned about "being an adult" don't understand the concept of growing up.

Random Nerds
Random Nerds

Allow me to answer on Matt's behalf... NO! :-)

Megajacob
Megajacob

your never old enough to play zelda

AnnieK13
AnnieK13

Completely disagree...the 3DS XL is so much more enjoyable to use than the original 3DS (yes I own both!). The screen is not only larger it is less reflective and that is huge if you play outside at all. Battery life is about doubled for me - I was lucky to get 2 hours out of the original launch 3DS but with the XL I have been getting more than four hours consistently which is slightly better than I get with my Vita.

Missing second thumb nub...couldn't care less. Never missed it on the original and see absolutely NO NEED for it now - I don't want to add anything that encourages more gad-awful FPS. 

3D - it is gimmicky, I'll give you that. It really does pop on the larger screen but I tend to turn it off as the viewing angle is very narrow and it bugs me. For me it adds nothing most of the time...though I will use when just watching the 3D videos on the video ap.

Right now I am enjoying Heroes of Ruin, which is incredibly fun despite mediocre reviews.

AnnieK13
AnnieK13

Completely disagree...the 3DS XL is so much more enjoyable to use than the original 3DS (yes I own both!). The screen is not only larger it is less reflective and that is huge if you play outside at all. Battery life is about doubled for me - I was lucky to get 2 hours out of the original launch 3DS but with the XL I have been getting more than four hours consistently which is slightly better than I get with my Vita.

Missing second thumb nub...couldn't care less. Never missed it on the original and see absolutely NO NEED for it now - I don't want to add anything that encourages more gad-awful FPS. 

3D - it is gimmicky, I'll give you that. It really does pop on the larger screen but I tend to turn it off as the viewing angle is very narrow and it bugs me. For me it adds nothing most of the time...though I will use when just watching the 3D videos on the video ap.

Right now I am enjoying Heroes of Ruin, which is incredibly fun despite mediocre reviews.

Chevelleman
Chevelleman

The reason Nintendo didn't include a second analog nub was it would effect the battery size. If you look at the 3DS's inside pics on ifixit.com, the nub require a lot of space inside and Nintendo didn't want to sacrifice the battery for that.

RestoreTheRoar
RestoreTheRoar

Unlike the 3DS, the XL includes a hardware switch to shut off 3d effect???

Um, the original also has that switch. Poor research :/

Matt Peckham
Matt Peckham

I think you're misunderstanding the article -- the new 3DS has a switch to *lock* 3D off, the old 3DS does not.

RestoreTheRoar
RestoreTheRoar

Ahh...I see that now. sorry for the research comment!

For what its worth, I (was surprised to find) the 3D viewing angle was much better on the XL. But I do agree, I shut it off completely for periods of time on games that require movement or are fast paced (Kid Icarus, Ocarina of Time).

That said, I believe it greatly enhances the visuals on games that allow for stable gameplay.

Nick Koons
Nick Koons

Do you think that the XL screens are pixelated compared to the original? That is my biggest pet-peeve in mobile tech!

Matt Peckham
Matt Peckham

Totally agree -- it's a much better experience, visually. I won't be going back (to my standard 3DS).