Years ago, I mastered the art of playing Nintendo 3DS -- finding and holding my head in the perfect position to peer through the console's 3D parallax barrier display and drink in its stereoscopic worlds. I'm so proud of this skill that I even use it to inflate my ego: yes, I am the best at looking at screens. Yesterday, that ego was destroyed. I used Nintendo's New 3DS XL to play Super Smash Bros. on a train ride so nauseatingly bumpy that my talents were useless. And it worked perfectly anyhow.
The New Nintendo 3DS is the latest version of Nintendo's best-selling dual-screen handheld. Remember when they added a camera and called it the DSi? Remember when they added a 3D screen and called it the 3DS? It's just like that, except with a name that doesn't clue you in on what's actually "New." So, what is new? Quite a bit. Nintendo's latest revision packs in a redesigned chassis, a brighter screen, two new shoulder buttons, wireless (but limited) file transfer capabilities, an upgraded CPU, NFC support for toy figurines, a second analogue stick (more on that shortly) and infrared head tracking.
It's that last feature that crushed my ego and made my bumpy train ride so enjoyable. Nintendo calls it Super-Stable 3D; it's a head tracking system that actively adjusts the console's 3D display to meet your eyes. It's super effective -- the tracking-assisted view looks so natural, that I didn't even notice I still had 3D on until my commute was half-over. The flaws I had accepted and associated with the 3DS' stereoscopic gimmick were just... gone. I tried turning it off for a moment, and the train's swaying motion turned my 3D display into a strobing, nauseating mess. I'm never turning it off again.
I instantly fell in love with the console's improved 3D effect, but it still plays second fiddle to what I consider to be the New 3DS XL's best feature: more processing power. I know, nothing sounds more dull than a CPU update, but trust me: it's fantastic. Lagging menus, slow downloads and painfully long load times (*cough* Super Smash Bros. *cough*) are now a thing of the past -- for once, my 3DS doesn't feel technically inferior to my smartphone. More importantly, however, New Nintendo 3DS exclusive games are on the way. Want to play Xenoblade Chronicles 3D? You'll need to upgrade.
Although I'm among a rare few who never really felt the 3DS needed another analogue stick, even I have to admit the New 3DS XL's C-stick is a nice touch. It's less a joystick than a pencil-eraser nub that can control the camera in games like Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate and the upcoming 3D remake of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Basically, it works with games designed for it and games designed for the Circle Pad Pro (the 3DS' original dual-analogue accessory). Oh, and that old accessory's ZL and ZR shoulder buttons made the jump to the native hardware too -- more buttons I never really felt the 3DS was missing. Still, if more games start to make use of them in the future, I'm all for it.
As much as I love the New 3DS XL's major revisions, some of Nintendo's minor tweaks rub me the wrong way. Like the power button on the front edge. Rub it up against something and you risk powering down a 3DS that's happily running a game in sleep mode. (I tested.) I play a lot of long RPGs, and I'm worried about maybe losing some major progress that way.
The new hardware also swapped out the full-sized SD card for microSD instead. Storage is cheap, but I have to admit that I'm a little put-off that I can't just use the high-capacity SD card I bought for my original 3DS XL. Stranger still is the fact that the New 3DS XL doesn't come with a charger -- you're expected to ditch your old system's SD card, but keep its AC adaptor. Isn't that weird? That's weird.
Two hours later, my train reached its final destination. (No pun intended.) And despite my misgivings, I disembarked a little smitten. The New 3DS XL isn't perfect, but at first blush the high points definitely make up for the lows. I think it's time to find a microSD card, fill it up with games, and see if yet another Nintendo handheld can become the centrepiece of my life.
Pictures: Sean Hollister