New 3DS: Impressions after extensive time with the machine

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Nintendo has announced that New Nintendo 3DS XL is coming to North America and Europe on February 13, with New Nintendo 3DS coming to Europe – not the US – the same day. We’ve had lots of play-time with both the new machines so it’s time to give some impressions.

Just to be clear, this isn’t the full review – that will take the place of this article soon when we’re certain of everything. But it does have first-hand opinion of both the new machines, so you can consider yourself fully informed. Let’s-a go!

The New 3DS has a lovely weight to it, feeling like a sophisticated piece of technology. The New 3DS XL, however, is noticeably heavy to hold, especially for long periods of play. The finish of the Metallic Black version I’ve been using is undeniably gorgeous, but with so much thick, glossy plastic everywhere, it feels like it’s put on a few pounds (figuratively, of course).

The reality is that it’s actually 7 grams lighter than its 3DS XL predecessor, so really I shouldn’t have anything to complain about as I played one of those comfortably for months. Nonetheless, if such things are a consideration for you, it is worth bearing in mind it’s no Game Boy Micro.

The battery life, sadly, remains approximate to that of the original 3DS and 3DS XL. After an hour or so’s play on a train with a fully charged unit, I left the smaller system in sleep mode for two days. When I came back to it, it was dead.

It’s a common problem for existing 3DS units, but should have been fixed for the new hardware. There are juice-conserving options like screen brightness and a separate ‘power saving’ option (which I wasn’t using), but your best bet is probably to keep it charged when not in use. At least running it on full brightness with the sound up hasn’t made it die during gameplay yet. I’ll keep an eye on this for the full review.

The new right thumbstick is nothing like you’d expect. Do you remember some 1990s laptops had a small blue nub between the ‘G’ and ‘H’ keys that acted as a mouse? It’s like that. Made of what feels like firm rubber, it doesn’t really travel under your thumb as you use it, instead reacting to pressure in 360 degrees of directions.

It’s progressive, certainly, so you can move the camera slowly or quickly in Monster Hunter, for example, by pushing harder or more delicately in any given direction, but it’s a foreign feeling for a while. Its placement also takes a lot of getting used to – I found myself occasionally trying to push it as a button because it feels like one under your thumb. It’s certainly better than having no second stick, but an actual second circle pad would have been preferable – especially on the XL model where there’s arguably plenty of room.

The new screens are both bright and clear, although the colour scheme is noticeably warmer (more orange) than the old-style 3DS, which has a much bluer tinge. Obviously you only notice when comparing, but warmer colours are more inviting, so perhaps it’s meant to make the system more cosy? Mere speculation.

The system on the left up there is a Metallic Red 3DS (a later edition of the original 3DS’ design) and the one on the right is a New 3DS. But the New 3DS XL has a similarly warm tone to its colour palette. In fact, it’s arguably more vivid, as you’re about to see…

Again, you wouldn’t notice this unless you look at them side-by-side but, as you can see, there’s clearly a difference there. Just an observation. But don’t worry – at no point while playing the smaller model did I ever feel like its colours are washed out. The smaller unit’s screen is gorgeous.

Indeed, the smaller model’s screen seems to be exactly the right size, in my opinion, given the resolution of the games weighed against the modern need for every screen to be as big as possible. And that same trend could be one of the major complaints leveled against the New 3DS XL…

The New 3DS XL’s much larger top screen (4.88″) is noticeably low-res compared to other modern handheld devices like the PlayStation Vita, not to mention an iPhone’s Retina Display. The lower screen is slightly smaller at 4.18″ but the effect is very similar.

Personally, I find the pixellisation too much to view comfortably – a problem I had with the old 3DS XL. That said, some people who have difficulty reading small text will probably enjoy the huge screen.

No longer will you lilt your 3DS or move your head slightly to one side and lose the 3Ds effect. New 3DS uses the front-facing camera above the top screen to watch your face and see whether your position changes in front of the device. If you move your head to the left or right, it adjusts the projection of the stereoscopic imagery so that the 3D effect is maintained.

I tested it on a moving train, and didn’t notice any problems at all. It’s brilliant. And it’s also interesting to watch the screen from the side when someone else is playing, as you can see it adjusting to their position – and they don’t even realise.

The smaller of the new 3DSes (which isn’t being released in the US at present) allows you to change its faceplates. It’s a neat touch and the range available at launch should have most Nintendo fans covered. It does, of course, come with faceplates already attached, but they’re either black or white depending on which colour system you choose.

The top plate lifts off easily, but you’ll need a screwdriver to remove the one on the back. They do feel like they’ll break easily, so be careful if you change yours. The Mario one here that I have is very glossy, with pin-sharp artwork and a premium feel. You’ll probably want one – or more – if you live in a country that stocks the smaller machine.

Underneath the rear panel, which can be removed on both models, you’ll find the battery (a slightly disappointing 1740mAh) and a slot for the memory card, which is now a Micro SD. Don’t be tempted to remove the battery as it is likely to mess up all your Streetpass data as the clock won’t be powered any more.

The Micro SD card that comes with each model of the New 3DS is 4GB, which is a decent amount, but considering I’ve already accrued over 20GBs of downloadable games, a 32GB card is a good investment. The contents of your old SD card can be transferred via PC, or wirelessly (which will take a while depending on how much stuff you have). At least Nintendo appears to have lifted the ‘5 transfers ever’ restriction. You can now transfer from one 3DS to another again after waiting one week.

The Near-Field Communication for Nintendo’s Amiibo figurines is currently limited in terms of functionality, although it’ll almost certainly be fully operational by the time the system is released in the US and Europe.

Even so, there is an option on the Home menu (found in the top-left corner of the home screen) for Amiibo, but currently you can only register an Amiibo to your profile by holding it over the touch screen. I tested this with Pikachu and it works, but until the likes of Super Smash Brothers for 3DS gets updated or another game comes out, we’ll have to imagine it works like the Wii U version.

I am not giving a definitive verdict on the New Nintendo 3DS just yet because consoles need extensive time and playtesting to evaluate thoroughly, but impressions so far are very good. Both units feel like high quality pieces of technology, with sturdy, responsive controls and beautifully crisp screens (if a little low-res by today’s standards). They are arguably how 3DS should have been done first-time around.

3DS’ software release schedule may have slowed down over the past year, but it remains by far the best destination for gaming on-the-go. These new units look set to improve on that formula and have certainly rejuvenated my interest in the 3DS catalogue. I’ll have a definitive verdict soon. Watch this space. Oh, and as for which unit is my favourite at present, it’s the smaller version. Fingers crossed it gets a US release soon.

Our US readers will likely be very annoyed by the non-availability of the smaller New 3DS. Understandably so. But it still might get announced if demand is high enough. But maybe you prefer the XL anyway? Let everyone know in the comments!

And if you’re looking for more, check out The 25 best 3DS games and 10 bold Nintendo predictions for 2015.

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