When we reviewed the original Nintendo 3DS in March 2011 we thought that the lack of decent launch titles and limited battery life were its two biggest woes. But its believable, glasses-free 3D display - well, for some viewers, but not all - was an interesting prospect.
Enter the Nintendo 3DS XL, a supersized version of the original handheld with a new, larger 4.88-inch screen.
Although its launch may not coincide with any brand new, killer game titles, the 3DS gaming landscape is much healthier than it has been, thanks to the likes of Zelda, Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7.
Is this supersized 3DS the latest Nintendo champion - and, indeed, one that’s worth buying - or is the 3DS XL another questionable decision from the company?
So what’s new?
The Nintendo 3DS XL is like an enlarged, design-tweaked version of the 3DS (comparison shots available in our hands-on first look). It hasn’t beefed up its processing power and, therefore, will handle games in much the same way as the original 3DS.
The obvious sell - and the clue’s in the product name - is its large screen size. The top screen is now 90 per cent larger at a diagonal 4.88-inches in size, while the lower screen measures 4.18-inches, but the resolution of both screens echoes those of the original 3DS.
And that means no high definition to be found here. The 800 x 240 pixel resolution of the main screen (320 x 420 pixels for the lower touchscreen) isn’t going to outdo the likes of the Playstation Vita, or even many current smartphones. But we don’t see that as a problem: 3DS games are only rendered at a particular resolution so additional definition at this new scale, nice though it might sound in theory, was never going to make any sense. Original DS games, for example, are output at a different aspect ratio and so play with black borders on any 3DS screen.
Ignore the resolution; the 3DS XL’s screen is decent to play on, it’s bright and that larger size makes it all the more appealing.
Glasses-free 3D concept
For anyone new to the 3DS concept, the device uses autostereoscopic technology for glasses-free 3D. The strength of the effect is controlled via a slider to the side of the screen, or it can be clicked into the off position for "normal 2D" viewing.
Which brings us to the concept of 3D as a whole. It’s not going to be for everyone. Actually, we don’t think it’s going to be for all that many. It’s not that the 3D looks bad - and the 3DS XL has a pretty decent "sweet spot" to keep the effect in play for the user - it’s just the occasional crosstalk when moving the device around, the potential headache-inducing sensation it will give to some, and the fact that 3D just won’t work for all our brains which amount to potential problems.
However, some will disagree and think the 3D element is the XL’s biggest draw. But if the 3D doesn’t get you excited then that’s little bother: 2D is just a click away and it's the games are at the core of what makes the 3DS (and XL) a decent handheld.
It’s taken time but the 3DS XL has an array of games that make it worthy of purchase.
We here at Pocket-Lint are suckers for classic Ninty titles, and that’s exactly what’s on offer. The likes of Super Mario Land 3D, for example, has all the classic elements of Mario wrapped into a Nintendo-64-style 3D world. It’s fun stuff and players of classic Nintendo consoles will see plenty of homage to the early Mario titles.
Nintendo does rest on its laurels though. The likes of Star Fox 64 3D and Zelda: Ocarina Of Time 3D are both more-or-less-direct rips of their respective N64 titles (yes UK gamers, remember that absurd "Lylat Wars" European title?). That could be called lazy, and yet these games - which, by the way, are pushing 15 years old - are quality and worthy of a new audience.
Third-party developers aren’t shying away either, with the likes of Resident Evil: Revelations heading up the field.
The 3DS XL’s larger design benefits from a smaller outer bezel around the main screen than the original 3DS, although we’d still like to see a more styled design with even less plasticky bezel on display.
Otherwise the layout is much the same: the analogue circle pad and d-pad sit to the left side, while the X, Y, B, A buttons are nestled together to the righthand side. It's a comfortable format that feels instinctive and isn't too wide for play.
Below the lower screen are the Select, Home and Start buttons - though the lack of paint means the debossed lettering is hard to see in low light.
Wi-Fi, a 3.5mm headphone jack, included stylus, dual rear cameras and one front camera, an SD card slot (with included 4GB card), stereo speakers and a volume slider top off the features.
However there’s one major omission: the 3DS XL doesn’t include a power charger in the box. Yep, you read that right. As the XL has been touted as an "upgrade" device Nintendo didn’t see it necessary to include one. There are warnings in many languages on the box but, in our view, this is a massive oversight that makes absolutely no sense for first-time buyers. Fortunately it’s only about £7 for an official power supply, not the kind of prices that Apple charges for its power cables. It’s the principle, and we think it’s unacceptable to not have a charger in the box.
Handheld gaming devices are up in the air at the moment: the smartphone and tablet world has turned gaming on its head in recent years, while the release of the Playstation Vita had the potential to really shake things up.
But irrelevant of those points the only way to play the likes of Super Mario Land 3D is via a Nintendo 3DS (whether the XL or original version).
It’s the spate of new games that really makes the 3DS XL a fun handheld console. It may not have the charm or iconic design of the original Gameboy from all those years ago, but the 3DS XL makes more sense than the original 3DS ever did, thanks to the available content. There’s not tonnes of it, granted, but there’s enough to warrant its £180 price tag.
The beefed-up battery life will also serve up to around six hours of gameplay, which is significantly more than we found with the original 3DS. The larger screen, despite no resolution increase, is also a far improved feature - the added real estate just makes sense for avid gamers or, indeed, those who can't see so well.
The main problem? The lack of a power supply in the box. Bonkers exclusion if you ask us. Just make sure you add one to your shopping list if you’re a 3DS first timer.