When Nintendo announced a Japan-only 3DS Direct, one phrase immediately came to mind — RPGs. Yet what happened was entirely unexpected. Not only was new 3DS hardware announced, but it's a substantial change that can — perceivably — extend the life of the portable a fair amount.
We've discussed, here in the office and briefly in our reaction video, that the 3DS has been a system that's reached a tipping point, where it needed a boost — perhaps through a revision — to give it a little more life. Nintendo's 'New' 3DS and 3DS LL — which is XL in the West — has truly surprised, however, in the sheer scale of what it's offering. When you combine all of the features together you're left with a fairly drastic overhaul, and one clearly designed to re-invigorate the platform and bring together key features that have been somewhat 'bolted on' to the original models.
It would be remiss of us, considering the name of the hardware, to start with anything other than the changes to the 3D effect. In recent times (recent years) Nintendo's essentially moved on from advertising the glasses-free 3D on the system, and after the original system's early troubles it's been largely absent from marketing. The new models may push that aspect again, simply due to the improved technology on display; there'll be a degree of head tracking from the camera, with Nintendo pitching the concept that the viewing angle is significantly enhanced. The new models will term this feature as the "Super-Stable 3D" function.
Beyond that improved 3D effect, it's in other changes that the new hardware will grab the most attention. The obvious addition is the "C-Stick", which will most commonly be considered as the second Circle Pad — internally we're referring to it as the 'Nintendo Nipple'. In essence it replaces the relatively rarely used Circle Pad Pro; due to its size it'll be used sparingly for quick camera adjustments, as an example. It's notable that, aside from rare examples such as Resident Evil Revelations, the second analogue Pad has typically been used for less frequent camera adjustments such as those in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. The reveal of the C-Stick was telling in two respects, then — it was showcased for Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate and also compared to the C-Stick on the GameCube controller, which is clearly tapping into the upcoming Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. It's a strange feature in the sense that it's been so in demand, yet won't necessarily be used often; some secondary usage in areas like the web browser was also shown. Ultimately its positioning, above the four face buttons, makes sense considering its size, though a full-size Circle Pad would fit more naturally underneath the face buttons.
The Circle Pad Pro replacement vibe is also included in the addition of new shoulder buttons, with ZL and ZR joining the original shoulder buttons in a setup not too dissimilar from the original Wii Classic Controller.
Then we have the amiibo focus of the new models, which is evident in the logo design for the 'New' part of the system's name. Perhaps aware that the concept of toys interacting with hardware would be less effective to market to 3DS owners required to purchase a separate portal — unlike the NFC-enabled GamePad with every Wii U — Nintendo has added an NFC reader to the new hardware. Positioned under the bottom screen it'll allow the figurines to be scanned quickly without the need for a peripheral; this is positive in the sense that Nintendo is clearly planning to push the amiibo product hard, integrating it more closely with the 3DS family to join the Wii U's equivalent features.
When you add these physical hardware features together, what you get is a system that's integrating various add-ons and customer demands into one cohesive piece of kit. In that respect it's all smart thinking by Nintendo — each feature on its own is relatively minor in terms of its practical impact, yet considered as a whole it produces a highly attractive system. There are some interesting stylistic choices, too — the smaller model will be cheaper yet have a substantial range of changeable faceplates, with a stylish Super NES-style design on the face buttons, too. The larger model won't use these plates but has the obvious benefit in size, yet the marketing will no doubt push the smaller model to younger gamers and enthusiasts. It seems likely that Nintendo's keen to bring the two models closer to parity in sales with these different benefits, rather than the clear gap between the original model and XL / LL. Both systems look attractive, but a quick straw poll in our office actually shows a clear preference for the smaller model, a marked change considering the wide adoption of the XL in that same group.
Another key benefit of the new model also brings us its one potential source of contention. It has a faster CPU, which will mean quicker downloads, loading of Miiverse and general use of the operating system. That's a big positive, yet it seems to be the case that the port of Xenoblade Chronicles coming to Japan appears to be exclusive to the New models. Utilising the greater CPU power is clearly vital for that game to work, then, but could be an issue in future. We'd suggest that the number of games exclusive to the new hardware will be minimal, as they have to be in order to make any business sense. Splitting the 3DS 'family' in that way is arguably acceptable with rare cases, but there'd be no sense in releasing a major new title that only works on the later hardware, therefore minimising sales. We suspect that Xenoblade Chronicles example will be a rarity, but it's something to watch with interest.
What these new models can ultimately do, however, is give the 3DS a vital boost to sustain some momentum in the next 2-3 years. The XL performed well when released in Fall 2012, and a similar bump will be anticipated this time — October in Japan, 2015 elsewhere. The effect should filter down, too; the new models look set to come in at reasonable pricing similar to the current systems, so we'd expect the original 3DS, 3DS XL and 2DS to drop prices accordingly. The family will surely be tiered sensibly in pricing, making the current models an attractive budget option for those less concerned by the 'New' extras.
More software must follow for the whole family of systems, of course, to accompany to boost in interest from the New models. There are exciting possibilities that there could be more occasional links between 3DS and Wii U, too, with the New systems matching the home console's controllers in terms of button and stick inputs — minus clickable sticks. Wireless transfers between the systems and PCs should be useful, while Micro-SDs modernise the storage a little more — even the basic screen is being advertised as an improvement (resolution is the same, though); it all points to a system that'll feel more capable and modern in its approach.
Certainly in the case of various members of the Nintendo Life team there's a real sense of optimism around the new hardware. Nintendo marketing teams will need to do a strong job of promoting the range and distinguishing it from what's come before — the company has form, though, courtesy of the DS family going from 'phat' to Lite, DSi to DSi XL, while the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance evolved a great deal. Like with any bold hardware move, of course, there are risks, but these models fulfil and exceed our expectations in terms of what we felt was needed as part of a 3DS 'refresh' to push the platform through to the end of its generation.
There's lots to take in, but what do you think of the New Nintendo 3DS systems? Let us know in the poll and comments below.
Are you excited about the New Nintendo 3DS? (735 votes)
Absolutely, I'm beyond hyped
I am, though I'm not super hyped
I'm not sure yet
Not really, but I may be persuaded
No, I'm not
I'm frustrated that there's even a hardware revision
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