Article written by Alex C.
Published on 21/07/2012 at 11:00 PM.
New hardware is new hardware, even when it’s a refresh of an existing piece of technology, and that’s always exciting. In the 3DS XL’s case, it’s a refresh of something barely a year old – is this too soon or is there a real reason to update the current machine? We got our review model ahead of the European launch next week, and like with most questions there’s an easy way to find out the answer…
When the DSi XL was announced I dismissed it as something for – and I mean this in the nicest possible way – the elderly. That’s not a slight on Nintendo’s marketing teams, in fact, I’m pretty sure that targeting the silver gamer was up there amongst kids and non-gamers as potential buyers of a system that was desperately trying to cater for pretty much everyone. Few can argue that there was tremendous success, too, the Nintendo DS massively popular.
I like Nintendo. I always have done and regardless of any missteps or falters, I probably always will. There’s a certain simple charm that their first party games exude – bright colours, honed mechanics and rewarding gameplay – and whilst some think that Mario’s been spread too thinly and Zelda’s all too regular, these mainstays of my childhood can’t come often enough.
So when I bought my original Nintendo DS (an expensive American import due to a delayed European release) I had found the natural extension of the Game Boy brand, even if Nintendo were all too quick to drop the connection, and I was a happy gamer. Launching with an updated version of one of my all time favourite games (Super Mario 64) and boasting what was then a luxurious and untested input method (the touch screen) the DS satisfied me for years, and still does.
When the Lite version came around, I upgraded without question. Back then my disposal income was considerably greater, but I’d fooled the local high street gaming retailer into taking my import and walked away with a tweaked model that still looks the part today – for about £40 difference. To me, that was a no-brainer: it was lighter, a little smaller, far more aesthetically pleasing and could last for about 16 hours. But that was just the start of Nintendo’s upgrading of the DS, and – yes – I bought a DSi too. You could say I’m a bit of a fan of the DS range.
So, the 3DS XL. The box claims it’s 90% bigger, and it shows. Opening up the clam shell case reveals what feels like a huge top screen – it really is so much more substantial that I needed to grab my original 3DS just to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. The quality of the screen might remain the same, but the fact that it’s just so much bigger seems to make colours pop more and everything just looks so much richer, like the way PSP games do on the Vita. There’s no fancy top of the range OLED on offer, and it doesn’t match up with the New iPad’s incredible display, but this is streets ahead of the previous model.
With the boosted screen size comes an odd quandary, though: the resolution remains the same, so the pixels are bigger, and there are visible horizontal lines between them. To some this may feel like an odd thing to say, but I personally don’t mind this at all. I’m the sort of gamer that always switches off any pixel smoothing on emulators, or even on the Vita when playing a PSP game – I prefer the raw pixels regardless, and I’ll happily take the 3DS XL’s relatively low but native resolution games over upscaled Vita games any day of the week.
So, 3DS games look great, and assuming you start up a regular DS game in the 1:1 pixel mode (hold down Start on boot) those games look great too, especially given the larger screen. Upscaling looks the same to me as it did on the first 3DS, so I’ve avoided it with everything from Game Boy downloads to the latest Professor Layton on DS, although naturally the choice is yours. You might find that you notice the 3DS’s aliasing a little more with 3DS games – it’s much more pronounced in Kingdom Hearts, for example – but again, I’m perfectly happy with this.
What is slightly disappointing is the lack of improvements made to the 3D viewing angles. I’d hoped that Nintendo would have found a way to increase the angle that the 3D effect worked at but if anything it actually feels a tiny bit smaller. Vertical head movement does little, as with the 3DS, but almost any kind of horizontal movement immediately destroys the 3D effect and when exaggerated creates the same mildly disturbing strobing sensation. It’s not ideal, but it looks like the platform holder couldn’t find a way to fix this, and probably won’t ever do.
The model we got for review was the silver one. The shiny plastic casing feels sturdy but cheap, with a tinny tap to it that belies its rock solid construction. The XL really is a much better produced bit of technology – it doesn’t creak when twisted, or wobble when shaken, and opening up the clam shell reveals a number of pleasant surprises.
First up is the considerable snap that greets the first pre-set viewing position. There are three, the first at about 110 degrees, the second at about 160 (and the most natural) and the last one flat, at 180 degrees. Each position clicks into place satisfyingly, with much less wobble than the 3DS, and a fair amount of effort is required to coax into another, or close shut. There’s still a little bit of give, but it’s much better than before.
Likewise, this solid feeling continues through to the beefier sliders for volume and 3D, the latter of which now clicking into place when fully off, meaning you won’t accidentally change into 3D mode or – indeed – revert back to traditional 2D with the 3D effect turned down low. The volume control is still needlessly vague and unpredictable, and never quite loud enough, but the on-board speakers sound just a tad more rounded and capable.
The buttons and d-pad feel largely the same as on the 3DS, but they were great in the first place and didn’t need much attention. The analog pad is still slightly too slippery though, and the divot not nearly deep enough. The review model seemed to stick a little on the horizontal, too, meaning precise Mario Kart 7 manoeuvres were a little tricky – this might just be a sign of a new console waiting to get worn in, but it’s perhaps worth mentioning. The bottom strip of buttons has been modified – they’re at least proper buttons now and much better, although there’s a certain sense of lifelessness to them, like you can’t always tell when they’ve been pressed.
It’s also worth pointing out that the touchscreen feels better, and doesn’t carry the sensation that you’re pushing two bits of material together. It’s stronger, feels more lively (despite still being resistive rather than capacitive) and thus you’ll need to use the stylus less. The unit itself is more rounded, too, meaning that it’s more comfortable for longer periods of time and you’re much less likely to walk away with blisters from the squared edges seen on the 3DS.
The lack of a power adapter is a bizarre decision that will confuse the casual buyer and – if it’s not handled well on the high street at point of sale – create some real problems; I can’t think of anything like this in the past and I’m struggling to see why this was done – it’s not like the XL runs off replaceable batteries either. But this is the situation and nothing will change that. It’s really the only downside (if you ignore the lack of a second analog stick) on what is otherwise a brilliant example of how to update hardware.
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