To buy or not to buy

The latest Nintendo Direct had its usual mix of game trailers and release details, but they were a distant priority behind the big opening act on each regional broadcast: announcement of 3DS XL. A remodelled 3DS had been rumoured and debated almost from the moment that the original hit stores, simply because Nintendo has a long history of iterating on its handheld systems. It’s worked for the company before, so no reason to stop now.

With the system hitting Europe in just over a month and North America not long after, let’s look at the positives and negatives of 3DS XL.

The positives of 3DS XL

The positives of the super-sized handheld are, as should be expected of a new iteration, fairly substantial. From a business perspective, surely the area that concerns Nintendo the most, it could be an intelligent and smart move to release the system now. The DSi XL earned a loyal following among gamers or all types, perhaps with a focus on those relatively new to gaming, due to its comfortable grip and easy viewing on larger screens. Some consumers may look at 3DS and find it too small, and most owners who’ve enjoyed titles such as Kid Icarus: Uprising too much know all about the horrors of hand cramp: the 3D screen itself can also feel small in titles with a grander scale or zoomed out perspective, such as Rayman Origins.

It’s also notable that the XL will be competitively priced, coming in comfortably below the price of the original system despite its larger dimensions: $199 in North America and the beginnings of price wars in the UK mean that, ultimately, the larger version will only be a relatively small increase in cost on the current-day smaller model. From the perspective of attracting new consumers, there are also some cleverly timed game releases on the way. In the UK we’ll have New Art Academy and Freakyforms Deluxe: Your Creations, Alive! on launch day, while there’s the small matter of New Super Mario Bros. 2 to tie-in with the North American release. When you add those titles to a game catalogue that is already shaping up well, there’s plenty of incentive for gamers to take the plunge.

What about existing 3DS owners? Many of us will have seen images and videos of the new system and will be asking ourselves whether it’s worth switching to the bigger model. One big improvement, beyond the potential of a rather large stereoscopic 3D screen, is the improved battery life. The battery is one of the biggest weaknesses of the original model, with the flashing red light of doom often appearing just as you’re getting into a game. The new system will apparently offer between 3.5 and 6.5 hours of 3D gameplay, depending on screen settings, and 6-10 hours of DS gaming. Not actually huge improvements, but any increase in battery life is welcome.

One extra bonus, for new and old 3DS gamers, will be the 4GB SD card, double the size of the card included with the original model. With Nintendo’s eShop improving gradually, and the imminent arrival of downloadable retail titles, that extra space should be helpful.

The negatives of 3DS XL

Of course, a new iteration of 3DS isn’t all roses in the garden, with some problems and gripes to address that may, ultimately, detract from potential sales. Let’s start with the big one.

There’s no second Circle Pad. This has caused quite a lot of debate on this site and elsewhere, as some gamers see a new system without, from their perspective, a vital extra control method. It’s clear that Nintendo has made a decision that it’s not interested in providing this control option, and it was potentially cheaper to develop the existing control set-up into a bigger casing. Whatever the reasons, the touch screen and gyroscope capabilities will continue to provide control options typically associated with a second Circle Pad. It’s an endless debate, though it does make the ill-fated Circle Pad Pro seem like a peripheral oddity destined to fall into obscurity: unless we get a Circle Pad Pro XL, of course.

The actual size of the system will bring its own concerns. Though slightly smaller than a DSi XL, it’ll still be a bigger and significantly heavier handheld than the original 3DS. A weight of 336g, compared to 235g, is a fairly major leap, and that does call into question whether functions such as StreetPass will be quite as well used with the XL. Incentives for taking your handheld out and about weren’t prominent with the DSi remodel, but you’ll need a bag to carry this console around, or enormous clown pockets.

Another question that will only be answered with hands-on experience surrounds the 3DS screen, and whether blowing up the standard 3DS resolution to a larger area will have a detrimental impact on visuals. The 3D effect and graphical fidelity may end up looking wonderful, but it’s an area yet to be clarified.

Branding introduces another potential issue. The name ‘3DS’ already confused consumers on the street that aren’t necessarily gaming enthusiasts, with some believing it was another upgrade of DS and not a new system. Now consumers will see a 3DS XL on shelves as well, and those still confused about branding will wonder whether they should just get a cheaper DSi XL instead. It may seem like an unlikely concern to a community like ours, but it’s a very real problem in the retail environment.

So, those are some positives and negatives around 3DS XL. Later this week we’ll look at the timing of the release and ask, why now? Until then, let us know what you consider to be the pros and cons of the new version in the comments below.