Nintendo 3DS XL Review

Platform: Nintendo 3DS XL
Publisher: Nintendo
Medium: Hardware

Nintendo is certainly no stranger to portable hardware revisions at this point, so the idea that the 3DS was going to be revised in some manner wasn?t particularly surprising. The guessing game came from whatthat revision would be, with a lot of folks thinking that the next model would include the second slide pad currently provided by the Circle Pad Pro. Others assumed a slightly slimmer version of the current unit, perhaps with an improved battery life. But I?m not sure that most people, myself included, were expecting Nintendo to go bigger right from the get go.

But bigger they went, with the 3DS XL which was announced just a month and a half ago during a Nintendo Direct broadcast. Now the official release date for North America is ramping up, scheduled to hit a store shelf near you on August 19th. Nintendo sent a unit over to Gaming-Age for us to review and check out, and after spending about five days or so manhandling this thing, it feels like Nintendo really made the right decision with this particular unit.Let?s start with the cosmetic side. The North American units are coming in two colors, Red and Blue. The unit we received is the Blue one, with that particular color being featured on the outside shell, while the interior side is all black along with the hinge portion of the exterior. The blue color is matte, but not without a bit of shine, an almost metallic look to the color. Not going glossy here means you won?t be picking up massive amounts of fingerprints every time you pick up your system, which to me is a big plus.

The rest of the exterior is roughly the same as the original 3DS, featuring the same 3D camera functionality on the outside of the top half, the same L and R buttons that give off a nice little click when pressed in, an SD card slot on the right side of the system, and the charging port on the back hinge. The stylus position is now on the right, and the stylus included is just a black, plastic stylus with no extender like the original 3DS. You?ve also got access to the volume slider on the left side of the unit, and the 3D slider is still on the top right half, along with the wireless on/off slider. The headphone jack is still on the bottom, but the position is now off to the left instead of center, which is a great change as well.

When you first open the unit, you?ll notice right away that the top screen feels more in place than the original 3DS, which always seemed a bit floppy. There?s very little give to the top screen if you shake it, and it also has a two position click when opening, which helps make the hardware feel more solid overall.

I?m not the biggest fan of the interior black color scheme, I wish the entire unit was blue or red throughout, but I?m glad the glossy aspect of the top screen is completely removed around the border in favor of the matte black, which again removes annoying fingerprints from everything.

The space between the slide pad and the d-pad on the left side give enough room between the two to keep you from accidentally hitting one or another, even if you?re someone with large hands like me. And the d-pad on this unit feels really solid, which I tested out a bit via Virtual Console titles and Street Fighter IV. It also gives a nice, audible click when pressed in for all directions, and doesn?t feel mushy in the slightest. The slide pad feels identical to the one in the original 3DS model, which was fine to begin with.

The face buttons on the right side also feel solid and seem to be spaced out enough to keep you from mashing the wrong one or a combination of two on accident. There?s also a nice little click when pressed in, which also keeps them from feeling mushy too.

Besides the controls, the bottom row of buttons below the bottom screen, which before resembled more of a bar, is now divided into literal buttons for Select, Home, and Start. I find myself preferring this change, and it makes them far easier to press in than the melded together bar of the original 3DS. The power button is also located along the bottom to the right of these three buttons, and I could never see that particular placement being any real issue here.

And then, of course, there?s the reason anyone will care about the system, which is the screens themselves. Nintendo states they?re 90% bigger than the original, which certainly seems about right when comparing the XL to the original 3DS side by side. It?s no overstatement when I say the screens on this thing look massive, but thankfully that increased size isn?t at the expense of any visual quality. 3DS games look absolutely fantastic to me, and running a gamut of games from my personal library, like Super Mario 3D Land, Kingdom Hearts 3D, Street Fighter IV and so on, made me seriously love the display quality of this unit.

Even Virtual Console games, including the GBA Ambassador games look gorgeous on that top screen. You can adjust the screen size for a 1:1 ratio, or let it stay blown up to the increased size, and either way looks pretty great. DS titles, likewise, seem to lack the blurriness found on the original 3DS, so there?s been some definite improvement there. Whether it?s a 2D style game like the Castlevania titles from Konami, or the 3D titles like Capcom?s Okamiden, the display for original DS games is definitely a step above the original 3DS.

And of course, just having everything blown up is a pretty big plus. You never realize how small the screens are on the 3DS until you pick up the XL, but once you do it?ll be hard to go back. And the improved battery life is a huge plus here, as the 3DS was notoriously short on battery both while being played and also while in standby mode. There?s a increase here that?ll keep you playing longer without needing to be plugged in on a near constant basis.

Are you losing a bit of portability with this thing? Yeah, it?s definitely larger, but Nintendo has still kept the overall profile of the system as slim as the original 3DS, which is great. It won?t fit as comfortably in your pocket, but the rounded edges of this redesign are also more comfortable over an extended play period than the original, and while you might not be carrying it around in your pocket as much, I suspect you?ll still find yourself playing this more than the original unit.

So is it a buy? Definitely! Even as a previous 3DS owner I?d say that this is a significant enough upgrade to make it worth checking out, and if you?ve been waiting to jump on board the 3DS train, this unit is likely to be THE revision for the next couple years, and marks a definite improvement in screen quality, size, battery life, and overall look in comparison to the first model. I?d say it?s well worth the asking price, and something you should give serious consideration to picking up come August 19th.

Grade: A