Nintendo's released a jumbo version of its 3DS handheld, just as it did with its earlier DS system. While there's nothing particularly wrong with the 3DS, it hasn't proved especially popular, so Nintendo is hoping to give its no-glasses 3D console a shot in the arm with the 3DS XL. Has it succeeded or are you better off with the petite option?
The Nintendo 3DS XL costs £180 and will be released in the UK on 28 July.
Design and gaming
Let's start with the obvious -- the 3DS XL is much bigger than its predecessor. Happily, it's almost exactly as thick, though it measures just under 2cm taller than the regular 3DS.
Although notably larger in terms of the space it takes up, the 3DS XL isn't much chunkier than the 3DS, which was slightly too large to comfortably fit in a pocket. As such, handbags, rucksacks and satchels are how you'll be transporting this gargantuan gaming gadget.
Nintendo's taken the opportunity to bring the design of the 3DS XL into line with the upcoming Wii U. The previous pointy corners have been filed down, leaving the system looking rounded and smooth and making the 3DS XL comfortable to hold.
There is one downside to the enlargement process though, and that's the console putting on a few pounds. The 3DS XL tips the scales at 336g compared to the 3DS's 235g -- a significant increase. Even the gigantic PlayStation Vita weighs less, at 279g.
You'll detect that heft while you're gaming, with the upper screen starting to feel like something you're constantly holding up. The extra lumber becomes noticeable after a while as your mitts start to tire. It's a shame Nintendo hasn't been able to make the 3DS XL lighter. The just-too-heavy-to-be-comfortable weight risks dragging your attention away from the game.
You may also notice that larger top section proving inconvenient if you're gaming on the go -- I tried the 3DS XL on the busy London Underground but found the upper portion poked out just a little too much to make playing practical.
Nintendo hasn't added any extra control options despite some fans calling for a second analogue stick, a la the PlayStation Vita. The lack of dual controls is no major loss though, as introducing a second analogue stick would mean some games would only work on the larger system and vice-versa. It's better to keep things simple and ensure 3DS games play identically on both consoles.
Just like the 3DS, the controls here are comfortable enough. While the Circle Pad still isn't as responsive as I'd like, the basic buttons are as satisfying and robust-feeling as you'd expect from the company that built the NES.
With identical controls, what you're really buying into with the 3DS XL is the larger display. So how does it measure up?
Well, it's 4.9 inches on the diagonal, making it significantly larger than the 3DS's 3-inch display. The screen itself is bright and clear, with games like Super Mario 3D Land firing a raft of colours directly into your eye sockets.
While the mammoth display certainly makes an impact, I found it hard to enjoy the extra space. That's because while the display itself is bigger, Nintendo hasn't increased the pixel resolution.
As a result, lots of on-screen objects look more than a little blocky, with every jagged edge writ large on the 3DS XL's enormo-panel. The 3DS never delivered eye-popping in-game visuals, but at least those graphical imperfections went unnoticed on the more compact screen.
Again, had Nintendo altered the resolution for this system, it would run into trouble with games being split across devices, with only some titles designed to take advantage of the extra pixels. For exactly that reason, I'm not convinced Nintendo would have been wise to ramp up the resolution. But there's no avoiding the fact that the 3DS XL's monster display makes a big deal out of jagged lines and blocky on-screen models.
I can't see a younger audience being too bothered about the chunky visuals, but if you're a discerning grown-up gamer, it's something to be aware of.
It no longer feels like such a big deal but the 3DS's headline feature was -- to start with -- its ability to play 3D games without requiring dorky glasses. This feat is achieved with a parallax barrier within the upper-screen that fires two different images from one display, each aimed at one of your eyes. Align your peepers correctly and a stereoscopic vision is your reward.
As with the 3DS, the 3D on the XL works well, producing a clear effect that has real depth. Mercifully, there's still a slider on the right to adjust the effect or turn it off completely at any time. You need to hold your head in exactly the right place to produce the stereoscopic view though.
I'm not sure if the 3DS XL's 'sweet-spot', in which the effect works, is smaller than that of the 3DS but it's certainly not larger. Waggle your head or the console even a little and everything goes flat and blurry. It's not ideal for swaying trains or bumpy car rides.
Software, online and StreetPass
Navigating Nintendo's chunky menu system is -- for the most part -- a breeze. Icons are clear and the big Home button makes it easy to return to a familiar point if you get confused.
While the interface is always charming and backed by signature Nintendo music, there are some elements of this platform that need work. Setting up a Wi-Fi connection, for example, is more hassle than it should be. While trying to play one online game, I was told that I needed to update my software, though there was no way of knowing how to do so. Nor was there the option to jump straight into the Nintendo eShop and find the right download.
Don't expect young kids or your gran to figure it out -- at one point I had to start Googling to find out how to update a game. Meanwhile, pressing the Home button often does nothing and makes you wait for loading screens or holds you up in certain menus. Finally, the low-resolution screens and clunky interface mean the built-in web browser isn't much use.
As for online play, you could get lucky and enjoy a thrilling match against rival 3DS owners from around the globe. Based on my experience with this system and other Nintendo online efforts, I wouldn't count on it. The headache-inducing Friend Codes that plague the Wii are thanfully absent, but I've experienced too many error messages and too much lag to make online play a selling point for the 3DS, or its larger cousin.
Being able to play rivals around the globe, quickly and easily, is expected of any modern console, so it's disappointing that the house of Mario doesn't fare better in this area.
StreetPass is probably the most appealing thing the XL has to offer in terms of unique features. Stroll past another console while yours is in sleep mode and the two consoles can swap information. There are games that make use of this feature -- the pre-loaded StreetPass mini-games that see you collecting puzzle pieces and assembling challengers to fight ghosts are plenty of fun.
Nintendo has beefed up the battery with this console. It claims you'll get between 3.5 and 6 hours of gaming when playing 3DS games. You can expect a solid few hours of gaming with the 3D turned on and the wireless active. While this souped-up battery may be an improvement, it's far from inspiring.
If you're going on holiday, for example, you'll need to charge the system every day you want to use it. A lengthy plane trip will likely prove too much for the XL's power reserves. Dialling down the brightness and 3D and switching off the wireless features may help you squeeze a little more life from the system.
While we're pow-wowing on power, be aware there's no charger in the box. An almost unbelievable move on Nintendo's part, it thinks that selling chargers separately will keep the price of the 3DS XL down. 3DS chargers are compatible, but I'd wager most people considering the XL won't own the earlier model. Of those who do, many will have mislaid their power cables.
You'll probably need to shell out on a new charger -- something to bear in mind, especially if you're buying the 3DS XL as a gift and want to avoid birthday tears.
The Nintendo 3DS XL is available for pre-order for a fraction less than £180, which is low compared to the 3DS's initial price (over £200). However, the petite model is now £120, which is substantially cheaper.
I'd hoped that the XL would be cheaper than it is as I suspect many shoppers will be put off, or will at least hold out for a price drop. Anyone considering making the purchase should also be aware that 3DS games can be pricey -- expect new titles to set you back about £30 a pop. There is a 4GB SD card included though, so at least you won't need to splash out there.
This jumbo 3DS console is just that -- a super-sized edition of the existing Nintendo handheld. The bigger screen is the main attraction, but as it's considerably heavier and doesn't offer a sharper picture, there's not much here to persuade 3DS owners to upgrade.
If you're a first-time buyer, you'd be well advised to examine the original model, which is lighter, more portable and now substantially cheaper. If you're buying the system for a game-addled youngster, also consider the iPod touch, which is currently on sale for £141 and offers a bounty of free (or very cheap) downloadable games.