Old 'n' busted; new hotness
I’ve already written—eloquently—about my minor addiction to hardware iterations. I can’t turn a good form factor down, which is why I was already wringing my hands over the coming 3DS XL. Site director Neal Ronaghan had the unit shipped to my house, knowing he’d be in town for its arrival, and we planned on doing some epic video comparisons and whatnot. That didn’t really pan out, but you can expect a detailed photo-essay by yours truly alongside this review. Part of the reason the video thing didn’t really come together is that there honestly wasn’t much to do. The unit isn’t really exciting on its own—it’s exciting when compared to its forebearer, which seems like a hollow shell of a system now. The 3DS XL is what I was hoping the 3DS would be from the get-go. We went through the same transition between the DS Phat and the DS Lite. If you haven’t been convinced to toss your old 3DS in favor of this newer, sexier, bigger version, do read on; perhaps I can sway you.
The 3DS XL is bigger, sleeker, and more practical than what I’ll refer to as the 3DS Taco. The first thing you notice upon sliding open the unit's surprisingly snug box—which is smaller than the 3DS Taco’s box—is that the XL is the size of a netbook. It is ridiculously large. The upper screen is roughly the size of the PlayStation Vita’s screen. The box says the XL’s screens are 90 percent bigger than the Taco’s, and I believe it. Once you play Kid Icarus: Uprising on the 3DS XL, you will have a difficult time going back (now I just need the CCP 2.0). Best of all, it still fits in most of my pants’ pockets—though it is quite weighty.
While the outer clamshell of the XL is not wholly matte-ified, the outer surface of the joint is, and the interior of the system is. This makes me extremely happy, as I despise fingerprint smudges to my core. The XL’s face buttons feel similar, overall, to the Taco’s, but I note that the D-pad doesn’t feel as loose. The shoulder buttons are a bit larger, with rounded outer edges. Hopefully, they’re sturdier than the Taco’s shoulder buttons, which in my case warranted a repair. The Circle Pad has changed subtly; the pad itself is a bit thicker and deeper, better fitting the contours of my thumb. It’s notably more resistant, too, which is either a consequence of the unit being so new or an actual “feature,” one I’ll have to get used to. I’m not thrilled about the Start, Select, and Home buttons—they’re actual buttons now, sure, but they don’t have much click to them. They feel like the Taco’s menu buttons without the strip across all three.
One potential problem is that the lower screen’s raised frame is at the same height as the Circle Pad, and right edge of the Circle Pad rests below the left edge of the top screen. Whether this will cause grease stains on the screen or not remains to be seen. With the matte finish, however, I imagine we won’t see many instances of perpetual vertical grease lines on the top screen anytime soon. The 3D slider is no longer loosely affixed to the system, and has a smooth slide upwards. You actually have to click it to or from the “off” position, which means you won’t accidentally turn the 3D on when the system is in your pocket. The volume and Wi-Fi sliders are also more robust. If you like lanyards, the 3DS XL has lanyard slots on both front corners. Overall, this system is just better designed than its ancestor.
There are two things that really bug me, though. First, the stylus; I don’t care that its position has been moved (it now slots into the right side of the unit), but I’m more concerned with its cheapness. Unlike the silver, extendable stylus that came with the Taco, this one is basically a DS Lite stylus, but bigger (and retains the 3DS stylus’ nib). The construction of the stylus wouldn’t bother me had I not just gotten used to a far superior version on the 3DS Taco. The other, more pressing issue is the SD card door. Every time I open it up, I feel like it’s going to snap right off. The Taco’s SD door had a very flexible piece of plastic as a “joint,” but this one is less resistant to bending, which worries me. The SD card itself now sits considerably deeper in the system, so I hope you have fingernails.
The system transfer was a cinch. You can only do five system transfers, and each one has to be at least seven days apart, which is interesting. You’ll lose ALL the data on the old 3DS, which goes back to its factory default. Most of the data stored on your Taco’s SD card will be moved to system memory before the transfer. Paradoxically, the only thing that did NOT move over was my extra content on Swapnote, so I have to keep my 2GB card until I figure out how to move it over. Actually, while Swapnote and Nintendo Zone now come pre-loaded on the 3DS XL, Swapnote is actually deleted during the transfer and your old system’s “version” comes over on the SD card. It’s very strange. If I take my 2GB card out, Swapnote disappears from the XL’s menu. However, if you format the 4GB card that comes inserted in the 3DS XL, then just move everything from the 2GB card over to it via PC, that solves the problem. Thanks to everyone on Twitter who helped me figure that one out!
The system transfer even retained my folder system, which is pretty awesome.
Going into this adventure, I was worried that the XL’s screen—which is same resolution as the Taco’s screen—would make some games look bad when stretched out to fit a larger area. I’m happy to report that’s not really the case at all. Most 3DS titles actually look better, like Kid Icarus: Uprising and Super Mario 3D Land. Any 3DS or Virtual Console games you’ve brought over look perfectly fine, too. Even DSiWare games are fine—though I always play them in their native resolution, as the Flying Spaghetti Monster intended. The only things that look notably worse on the XL are Swapnote, which does not stretch well, and any photos you take with the camera, for the same reason. Interestingly, I find the 3D effect enhanced slightly on the XL. When I cranked the slider all the way up on Revelations and boosted its power in-game, I felt like my eyes were on fire, whereas I never got that feeling on the Taco. But with larger screens comes a noticeably smaller sweet spot, which is understandable.
I love this thing, and I wholly recommend it to anyone with even half a mind to replace their 3DS Taco or buy a 3DS for the first time. It’s tough to see the Taco as anything more than a beta product once you’ve wrapped your hands around the sizable girth of the XL. Virtually every aspect of its design is streets ahead of its predecessor. Thumbs up!