Review: Nintendo 3DS XL

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…

3ds xl

From Game Boy to 3DS, the DS range has evolved continuously.

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.

But the DSi XL passed me by. It was too big, too unwieldy, and surely those pixels, already hardly HD at 256 x 192, would look massive? Well, here we are, with the XL version of the Nintendo 3DS – itself just over a year old – about to hit the shelves, and after having played with it for a day I’m kicking myself: the bigger the better, and the 3DS XL is absolutely a worthy upgrade over the 3DS. And despite my preconceptions of the previous XL model, this doesn’t feel like it’s for my granny at all.

3ds xl

90% bigger screens, claims the bold red arrow on the box.

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.

  • Released 27th July 2012
  • Available for around £180
  • Features much bigger screens, better build construction
  • You’ll need your old 3DS and a Wi-fi connection to copy over content
  • You’ll also need a power adapter

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.

Glasses-free 3D isn’t a gimmick. Nintendo’s first party games use the technology better than most, and games like Super Mario Land 3D are actually much better for it. And whilst some games run better in 2D than they do in 3D (Tecmo’s Dead or Alive is a good example) in the hands of developers with plenty of resources and time, the 3DS is capable of some impressive looking graphics. For me, the 3DS XL just accentuates the good looking games, which is surely a good thing.

3ds xl

The elephant in the room, of course, is the fact that the elephant isn’t actually included in the box.

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.

Other positive changes of note: the XL comes with a 4GB SD card, has little plastic nodules on the top hinge that sit against the bottom so the dreaded screen scratching issue is a thing of the past, and uses the same AC power input as the 3DS. The negative: it doesn’t come with an AC adapter. I’m still trying to get my head around this one, and wondering how it’s not going to turn into one hell of a PR nightmare for Nintendo, but there it is. If you’ve got a 3DS you can obviously use the one you have (although the XL doesn’t fit into the cradle) but otherwise: you’ll have to buy one.

In Conclusion:

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.

In short, apart from a couple of issues, the 3DS XL is better than the 3DS in (almost) every way I can think of. Let’s just hope I can upgrade for £40 again this time.



  1. I pressed Ctrl-0 and reloaded the page twice before I realised why the text at the top looked too big… :(

    • OK.

    • Anyway, having now actually read the review, it sounds really good.
      My 3DS purchase is still probably a year away (phone & a laptop to come first) but the XL is definitely the one I’d get if I get have the opportunity.
      Unless another has been released…

      A couple of questions- in that picture of it next to the Vita, it doesn’t seem much bigger than it at all- does it fit in pockets too? That’d be great, but not a deal-breaker.
      And how’s the battery life?

      • I wanted to avoid comparison shots as they’re all over the web, eg:

      • Thanks for the reply and a good review to read.

        Looks like it’d fit in a jacket pocket, perfect. I’ll be on the lookout for a deal on one of them, I miss playing Pokemon on my old DSi…

  2. Pretty much as waste of money. Nintendo WILL come out with a 3DS that has a 2nd analogue stick its just a matter of time.

    • but that’ll be a small one, maybe called the 3ds pro, then they’ll release a bigger one later on, the 3ds xl pro maybe.

      • I think that was the point of the top third – they’re constantly updating these things. :)

      • Dude, you seriously should change your nasty avatar. It’s triggering my PTSD with its chick-on-chick grossness. Grr.

        Anyways, they literally cannot fix their 3DS line without killing it off and replacing it with a handheld that doesn’t suck. The screen resolution is horrendous, the control inputs are awful and the hardware is hilariously underpowered and energy-inefficient as heck. I’m a Nintendo fan, but the 3DS is a complete and utter joke. Their hardware engineers are clearly idiots and the higher-ups need to stop cutting as many corners as possible and think of the end-user experience instead.

  3. no charger?

    i know they want to make a profit on the hardware but seriously, no freaking charger?

    you may say it’s ok if you’re upgrading, and maybe if you’re buying it and keeping your old 3ds it will be, but many people who are upgrading will be trading their old 3ds in towards this one.
    and i imagine the store will want the charger for the old 3ds as part of the trade.

    this and the lack of a second stick, and the lame excuse they made for leaving it out, well that’s greed, pure and simple.
    what about the next incarnation of the 3ds? you have to buy the second screen as a separate add on?
    buttons sold separately?

    i’m exaggerating for effect.

    • Yeah, it’s bonkers.

      Also of concern is how GAME etc will be doing trade-ins, without the chance to copy over all the data and downloaded games.

    • Well, I was considering getting one for my daughter.
      I may rethink now, not including a charger is dumb to say the least. I think £180 for a handheld console is a touch steep as is, but then an adapter and the second stick…heading into Vita price territory.

  4. Is that Dream Drop Distance in the first screenshot at the top?

    • Yeah. Or at least a demo of it. :)

  5. Nice review, like the new format :)

  6. There’s always something about Nintendo Hardware that just shouts quality and this small laptop is no exception. ;)

  7. I don’t really play my 3DS much anymore just like all handhelds bar the Vita so this review hasn’t swayed me.

    No power supply is retarded imo. People who have a 3DS won’t want this as well as it’s the same thing so when they sell there 3DS they will still have to buy a power charger.

    As for people who don’t have a 3DS well like the reviews says this is gonna turn into a PR shitfest. Power chargers should be the most basic addition.

    Oh look mummy the powers gone oh how can I get more?

    • yeah, just6 wait till christmas, all the kids playing their new 3ds xl, then after a few hours play they all die.
      the consoles that is, not the kids.

      nintendo are just asking for trouble with this move.
      somebody should set up a pool, on which tabloid does a piece on it first, the star, the sun or the mail. ^_^

  8. I’m sure the retailers will bundle a charger or a least mention it at point of sale so it may not be the disaster some reckon it will be, still seems like an odd and somewhat stingy decision to leave it out though.
    I actually expected the 3D to work better with the larger screen so i’m surprised. Also the enlarged pixels mean the larger screen isn’t going to distract me from the Vita’s native resolution – or at least the latter’s potential.
    For me, the whole thing that makes a handheld a viable proposition is the second stick. It’s not important for every game but it’s the gameplay that it enables which is important to me.
    Good review but not the handheld for me.

  9. Fugly

  10. there’s one question i do have.

    is there some kind of user account system for this machine?

    because on the wii it seems your purchases are tied to the console not your account, so if the machine breaks down you lose anything you bought.
    i’ve never had of the DSi models so i don’t know how it works there.
    that’s what has put me off ever buying downloadable games on the wii, and there are some i would like to get.

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