The New Nintendo 3DS: Is the Upgrade Worth Buying?

After two months of commuting with the New Nintendo 3DS, does the upgrade feel worthwhile?

Nintendo has an uncanny knack of releasing new hardware to coincide with spare cash appearing in my bank account. The GameCube launched in a matter of weeks after my 16th Birthday, while the Game Boy Advance SP, Nintendo DS and Wii U all appeared within a month of promotions at various jobs, making it impossible to argue against buying them. With such considerate timing of their releases, it would be tremendously rude of me to shun the Kyoto outfit’s latest offerings, right?

Almost predictably, the New 3DS arrived a mere 3 weeks after a promotion at work that would require me to commute several times a week to London. Nintendo, you’re really just too thoughtful sometimes!

New Nintendo 3DS Photo 001

I already owned a Nintendo 3DS XL, so now £150 poorer and after several weeks of owning this version (using it both at home and on my travels), was purchasing the New 3DS worthwhile? Was it a good decision?

As an original 3DS owner (with ambassador status no-less), I had been itching for an increase in screen size. That 50% screen size increase feels, for me at least, to be the absolute sweet-spot between increased screen real-estate and keeping the unsightly jaggies to a minimum. I would urge anyone considering the upgrade to try out both sizes first, especially if the screen size versus resolution issue is going to decide your buying preference. A friend of mine has the New XL and Monster Hunter 4 is truly a sight to behold on that mammoth panel.

What tipped me towards the new model in the standard/smaller size was the portability. It’s far more pocket friendly than the XL. I was also drawn towards the SNES button colour scheme and those cover plates. Jesus, those cover plates! Nintendo seems to have struck real gold with the Amiibo craze at the moment and it looks as though the clip-on plates are heading for a similar degree of success, albeit with a slightly smaller market to sell to. Some of the particularly collectible ones, like the recently released Xenoblade Chronicles Monado cover, have sold out within minutes on the Nintendo store and now command a hefty price on eBay.

New Nintendo 3DS Majora's Mask Cover Plate 1

New Nintendo 3DS Majora's Mask Cover Plate 2

That’s enough about the window-dressing, what’s it like to play with?

In almost every area the New 3DS has been a more pleasant experience than the original model to use. It’s made of a lovely matt plastic that immediately feels more comfortable to hold, particularly with its rounded edges versus the harsh, angular nature of the original 3DS. I’ve clocked up about ten hours on Mario Kart 7, 2 hours in a single session, without experiencing the dreaded “DS Claw” once.

The control layout is generally very good with the new c-stick nicely placed with a minor recess in place on the hinge to allow your thumb room to travel a bit when applying pressure to it. At first I found this peculiar nub really strange to use but I now wouldn’t trade it for anything. It works perfectly for controlling a camera or activating the smash moves in Smash Bros. But it probably isn’t as good a fit for games requiring dual-stick FPS controls (much like it’s inspiration – the GameCube pad). The software library for the 3DS features very few of these games however, so it’s not likely to be an issue.

New Nintendo 3DS Photo 002

Other major improvements are that the volume slider has been moved to the top screen mirroring the 3DS slider. Both of these controls now allow you to click them into place when turning them down to zero which is a useful touch, particularly where you might want your volume to stay off in a silent coach for example. The screen can also be locked into two positions in the same way as the larger XL model does. I found this really useful when watching videos on the unit with it sat on my tray.

Where some of the button positioning goes wrong, though, is the new ZL and ZR buttons. Now, I understand the need to shoe-horn the contents of the ill-fated circle pad pro onto the system. It’s just that there really isn’t much room around the back of these handhelds to start adding multiple buttons. It won’t be an issue where their use is limited, but if you are regularly needing to use these additional buttons you’re going to get some pretty severe hand-cramp. Both of these are a mere footnote next to the truly contemptible power button though. The issue is that by putting it on the outside of the system, Nintendo have been forced to set it up so it can’t be turned on or off accidentally. In doing so, they’ve made it really fiddly to use when you genuinely do want to turn your system on or off. The little button is recessed just enough to make it difficult to press in. When you do, it’s hard to tell if it’s registered your press with a tactile click being hidden away behind a fair amount of “spongey” travel. It’s at its worst when turning off the system as it seems to have an intentional delay requiring you to hold in the button for a second or two before registering a shut-down request. It’s not the end of the world obviously, but after several weeks of of this it’s really started to annoy me and I often just snap the unit shut at the end of a journey rather than turning it off properly. One further annoyance is the cartridge slot. Don’t get me wrong, moving it to the front of the machine was a great move, but why oh why does the cartridge face down?! It’s a similar story with the stylus which has moved to the front – great move, but then been shrunk down making it fiddly to use – dick move.

New Nintendo 3DS Photo 003

Improved 3D Functionality!

The changes aren’t limited to new buttons and layout though, the New 3DS’ real party trick is its super-stable 3D feature that tracks your face to ensure the 3D effect isn’t broken. It’s a feature that works really well and has made 3D usable on public transport at last! I’ve been jostled and jolted while gaming on the way to work, but the 3D effect rarely breaks and, if it does, it quickly finds your position and adjusts itself. If you’re one of the large number of existing 3DS users who plays with the 3D off, you should really give these new units a look. The 3DS library features some incredibly well constructed 3D titles and you’re really missing out if you’ve been limited to playing them in 2D up to now.

The only areas of improvement that feel truly under-used are the ones that have been made under the bonnet. While there were lots of impressive videos at launch showing how much faster the new models booted or loaded up internet pages, it’s very rare that I’ve found myself doing anything other than playing games and for those, there’s little change. The system can swap between your in-game action and the home screen faster, but it’s not something many are likely to notice. The promise of more software on the horizon requiring the additional processing grunt is completely absent at this point so it’s very hard to recommend the upgrade on the grounds of software alone. The new HTML 5 browser compatibility does open up the opportunity to view YouTube videos in 3D, but I’ve found this to be very hit and miss with few videos set up to work with the 3DS properly. If the YouTube app is ever updated to cater for these properly, then maybe this will improve though.

New Nintendo 3DS Photo 004

To Buy, or Not to Buy? That Is the Question.

This brings us nicely to the overall problem here with what is unarguably an amazing piece of gaming technology. Existing users who maybe don’t game on their 3DS all that often or just don’t have any complaints about the existing hardware will probably come away from these new iterations disappointed by the lack of truly tangible benefits. It could be argued that Monster Hunter 4 really needs that C-stick to be properly playable, but aside from that there’s no killer-app that cannot be played without switching to the new hardware, even if Xenoblade Chronices 3D is a tempting proposition.

But if you’ve got an original 3DS or if you’re unhappy with the 3D effect of your XL, this is a purchase you should really be considering. If you game primarily on the 3DS then, again, you’ll get more than enough out of the upgrades to make it worthwhile.

If you’ve yet to discover the world of 3DS ownership though (and by God you really should, for my money it’s Nintendo’s greatest handheld of all time at this point) then the New 3DS really can’t be ignored.

Tom has been gaming now for just shy of 25 years which is both depressing (he's old*) and joyous (as he was around for some of the best games of all time). He currently scribbles his thoughts on gaming for GXP Blog while also being the less-talented half of Indie outfit, Farrago Games. *I prefer the term, "retro".

Posted on April 30, 2015 | Last modified: 13th September 2015