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Nintendo 3DS XL Review

In Short
The 3DS XL should have been the system Nintendo released on Day One...

I, Jason Nimer, do hereby swear that I will not spend this entire review bemoaning the lack of a second circle pad on Nintendo's new 3DS XL handheld. You're welcome, rational readers. With Nintendo's somewhat-unexpected announcement of the first revision to their flagship 3DS handheld, a lot of folks have conveniently sidestepped all the good news in favor of a chorus of whines over the company's valid and understandable decision to not completely revise the device (not to mention its growing library of games) by adding a second circle pad. I know why Nintendo stuck to their guns, and only a little research (or existing knowledge) is capable of granting even the most inexplicably outraged the same understanding. So, yeah; this opening paragraph will be the only place I'll mention the circle pad controversy for the rest of this review (except at the very end). Again, you're welcome.

You probably know or remember that the 3DS didn't exactly take the world by storm when it came out the spring before last. The launch lineup, well, for lack of a better word, sucked, the price was way out of bounds, the system's miniscule battery life all but ensured no one could play for more than an hour or two at a time and with Apple dominating the handheld games market, interest and sales were pretty low. A few calculated moves by Nintendo slowly but surely turned things around; the price was dropped in conjunction with a program to give early adopters a bunch of free classic NES and GBA titles and the retail scene picked up ' big time ' with games like Resident Evil: Revelations, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, Super Mario 3D Land and, my current pick for best 3DS game yet, Kid Icarus: Uprising. And all this was done before Sony released its amazing but struggling PlayStation Vita handheld, one that is currently wallowing in its own version of the post-launch 3DS slump.

The 3DS brand is now thriving, and the 3DS XL will probably only serve to further boost the handheld's profile by all but eliminating the need for the original model's existence. If you remember getting your hands on a DS Lite after playing with the launch DS model for months, the elation you felt then will be mirrored by picking up this super-sized new device. The XL is an improvement on every level; it rectifies the complaints heaped on the original model and addresses some beefs you may not even know you had.

Beyond just the size upgrade, the XL fixes any and all design problems the launch 3DS had. The start, select and home buttons are now actual buttons, rather than invisible dots under a thin piece of plastic (a HUGE problem for serious Punch-Out!! players, as start was and is permanently mapped as super punch in the 3DS Virtual Console release). The circle and d-pad placement feels better in your hands and alleviates some of the cramping I discovered and suffered through with the original model, and the same can be said of the four face buttons. The screens are, of course, a ton bigger and the 3D slider can be clicked into place at the bottom of the spectrum, taking care of frantic, accidental adjustments in the system's 3D visuals. Really the only issue I could see being taken with this new design is the size it so proudly boasts; those with tiny pockets or hands might feel as though the system is too big to be a portable one. Don't' worry; those of you not qualified to be in that older Burger King commercial, the one where the guy's hands were too small to hold his sandwich, will be just fine with this new size. The best way to describe what has been fiddled with for this new handheld is to simply say this: the XL takes everything wrong with the launch 3DS and makes it right.

Before we move on, I'd like to delve a little deeper into the XL's new screens. Every ad you've seen has bragged on how they are 90 percent bigger than the 3DS', but bigger isn't always better. I know I had reservations of how existing games would look when blown up to twice their normal size, but a few minutes with the XL put those fears to bed. Graphically intense games like Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Kingdom Hearts 3D and Resident Evil: Revelations look as sharp as ever; the new screens will not only impress you, you'll also wonder how you ever managed to enjoy these games on the launch 3DS' now-itty bitty displays. Predictably, though, regular DS games still look a little washed out from a color standpoint, a big complaint for those who originally replaced their DS Lites and DSi's with the 3DS. The problem isn't made any better or worse by the 3DS XL, but I know I'll be playing Pokemon White 2 on my old DSi XL later this fall. As a last point on the new screens, the launch 3DS had a bad habit of scratching its own screens because of an imperfect, protruding piece of plastic that got fussy when the system was closed. This, like so much else, has been fixed with the XL redesign.

The biggest boon for the XL audience, however, is the battery life. The first 3DS' three to five hour battery limited the system's usefulness, especially to those who used it for online multiplayer. The system was even notorious for sputtering out when in sleep mode, a necessity for gathering Street and Spot Passes. Time spent either waiting for the handheld to charge or playing while connected to a wall outlet are not happy memories, but the XL manages to fix things nicely. A three hour Kingdom Hearts session and about an hour of Kid Icarus multiplayer only dented the fully charged battery down to about 75 percent; that kind of use would require about two full battery charges on the original 3DS. Just like before, certain things (full 3D, online play) drain the XL's juice more quickly than others (offline single player, no 3D), but there is a whole lot more juice to go around.

If you are a 3DS owner and want to upgrade, never fear; all that stuff you accomplished on your original handheld can be easily transferred to your new XL. And I mean everything; your Ambassador games, your purchases, your photos, your music, even your Mii stuff, such as lobby population, puzzle progress and Find Mii winnings. This takes away the anxiety of having to start everything from scratch, but it isn't perfect. To do a full system transfer, you'll need two things: a WiFi connection and about 40 minutes of your life, depending on how much crap is stored on your 3DS memory and/or SD card. This ultimately means that if you had hopes of trading your launch handheld for a new one and transferring everything before leaving the store, you're out of luck. You'll probably need to tackle this easy but touchy transfer at home, meaning you'll need the full $200 to get your XL. My advice? Scrape together the cash and after you've transferred at home, take your existing 3DS back and use the credit for the outstanding New Super Mario Bros. 2. That's what I did, and I couldn't be more delighted.

If I've got one complaint with the 3DS XL (aside from the washed out DS color palatte), it's this: Americans got the short end of the stick when it comes to system colors. We've only got two choices ' red and blue ' for our new system, whereas other territories have black and a few others to choose from. An eye-destroyingly bright yellow Pikachu edition was also just announced in Japan, and Americans are still stuck with blah red and blue. Does this oversight hurt the 3DS XL's score? No. Should it be a contributing factor in deciding whether or not to purchase one? No way. Am I possibly just a little sore that we may never see a Kid Icarus special edition 3DS? Probably. I'm a huge sucker for special edition consoles, so let's get some of those to gamers in the U.S.A.!

The bottom line is that the 3DS XL should have been the system Nintendo released on Day One, much like how the DS Lite should have replaced the original DS right from the get-go. Everything about this new device is leaps-and-bounds better than the original rig, and the system transfer option means that existing 3DS players can upgrade with no worries whatsoever. No, the 3DS XL doesn't incorporate a second circle pad, but no one should have expected it to, nor should they have been disappointed when it didn't. With the 3DS XL now on shelves and the library of great games growing by the day, you now have absolutely no reason not to own Nintendo's amazing handheld.

Final Rating:

Bigger is better...
Bigger is better...

Transmitted: 5/25/2018 10:23:32 PM