Console releases are few and far between, so we don’t often get a chance to review a whole machine. The New 3DS a mid-cycle re-releases of the original 3DS, much in the same way that the DS Lite and DSi were mid-cycle re-releases of the original Nintendo DS (or the Gameboy Micro a re-release of the Gameboy Advance. Or the Gameboy Pocket a re-release of the original Gameboy). I got the chance to play around with the new features of the New 3DS. Let’s find out what I discover.

New Nintendo 3DS - open screens

My original 3DS is one of the regular units, so it’s shocking to see just how big the XL version is. The New 3DS has a bunch of new features that set it apart from the original, some of them more obvious than others. The biggest changes are to the controller inputs. As you are doubtless aware, the New 3DS has three extra inputs: two extra shoulder buttons, and a right analogue stick (dubbed the C-Stick). These inputs were only previously available if you had bought a Circle Pad Pro for the 3DS. Furthermore, the power button has been moved from the inside of the lower half to the outside, next to the power indicator light. The game card and stylus slots have also been moved to the front. The Wireless toggle switch is now gone, and you have to toggle wireless from the system software. The Start and Select buttons have moved back to their original place on the DS—beneath the control buttons. And speaking of the control buttons, the ABXY buttons are now coloured in the familiar SNES fashion. The external memory card is now housed in the battery compartment beneath the console, and uses Micro SD cards instead of the standard SD cards that the original 3DS uses. The screen on the standard New 3DS is also slightly larger than the original (99mm vs 90mm). Finally, the volume slider has been moved to the side of the screen, opposite the 3D depth slider.

New Nintendo 3DS - console front

There’s one major cosmetic difference between the standard New 3DS and the New 3DS XL: the standard one now features exchangeable faceplates. The XL, aimed more toward an adult market, lacks this, sadly, because who doesn’t love a nice customized console? Switching cover plates is mostly simply, but getting the lower plate off requires finding a small screwdriver. Incidentally, this is also how you’re going to get around to changing the SD cards. And for some of the upcoming games, the 4GB card bundled with the console isn’t going to cut it (provided you download your games, of course—no problem exists if you buy game cards).

Cosmetics and control functionality aside, there are a great deal more significant features that have been changed under the hood of the handheld. By far the most apparent is the new stable 3D, which uses the inside camera to track your face and adjust the 3D in real time. Owners of the original 3DS will attest to how difficult it was to use a motion-sensitive game while using 3D. This problem has been eliminated, and the stable 3D works admirably. I tried it on a few titles, and found it to work far better than the original 3DS 3D. Keeping the 3D on is now far less of a hassle than before. Where you’ll run into trouble is when you have spectators, like I have in the form of my sons; the stable 3D then doesn’t know which face to track.

new3ds_faceplates

In addition to stable 3D, the New 3DS has more power in its CPU, more MHz in its graphics processor, and more RAM than there are coins in Super Mario Bros. (OK, not really. But still, the RAM is an upgrade from 128MB to 256MB). This will likely affect a handful of games in the future, although I’m not sure if some games adapt their visuals depending on whether they’re being played on a New 3DS or a standard one. One of the games that will definitely be New 3DS exclusive will be the upcoming Xenoblade Chronicles, a 3DS port of the original Wii title. Other titles remain fully backward compatible with the original 3DS. And lastly, the console features an NFC reader in the lower screen area so that you can tap your Amiibos to the New 3DS. Super Smash Bros. already supports this functionality, but other games will doubtless soon start including Amiibo support too.

The question I see bandied around a lot is whether this is a legitimate upgrade or a cash-grab, and my feeling is that it IS a legitimate upgrade, especially when you figure in the new stable 3D and the upgrade in CPU power and RAM. There’s no doubt that the system performs a heck of a lot better than the original 3DS. There are many videos of people firing up, say, Super Smash Bros. on both the old and New 3DS, and difference in startup times is so great it’s ridiculous. The extra power also affects the time it takes between pressing the Home button and actually seeing the Home Menu. In larger games, it took a good few seconds to suspend the game, but the New 3DS handles the transition almost immediately. If none of these things bug you and you’re perfectly happy with the 3DS you have, by the way, then the New 3DS isn’t for you. However, it’s absolutely perfect for new adopters of the little console and it’s essential if you even have a hope in hell of playing Monster Hunter 4 without a Circle Pad Pro. Even games like The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask benefits from the improvements in the handheld. For example, the C-Stick operates the game’s camera (as expected), but the Stable 3D makes aiming and firing Link’s bow a joy in 3D mode.

New Nintendo 3DS Home Menu Themed

There are disappointments with the New 3DS—it’s not the perfect console, after all. The relocation of the power button confuses me: its original location within the console when closed prevented accidental power offs that happened so often to me with my DS Lite. It’s still less easy to accidentally power off the console than the DS Lite, but its position on the outer body makes that more a possibility now. Furthermore, the stylus is now the standard, shorter stylus that was previously seen in the original DS Lite. In point of fact, the stylus is shorter than the DS Lite’s (DS Lite stylus: 87.5mm, 3DS stylus: 100mm, New 3DS XL stylus: 86mm, New 3DS stylus: 76.5mm). People with large hands (like me) will find the shorter stylus cramp-giving, sadly. Lastly, there has been no great increase in battery power. While you’re now able to get about an hour extra playtime, this in no way reflects the leaps and bounds made in battery technology.

The New 3DS is a brilliant addition to the handheld family, and the extra power is welcome to those of us who lack patience. The addition of changeable faceplates to the standard model is already huge, and the plates themselves aren’t so expensive that you’ll forego at least ONE makeover. Overall, I like it, small niggles aside.

New Nintendo 3DS with Amiibo

Do we recommend you get one? If you haven’t got a 3DS yet, then this definitely is the time to jump aboard, because the sheer number of amazing games on this system is already huge and growing—you’ll have one crazy backlog to get through if you want to play JUST the really good ones. If you already have one and have no intention of playing Xenoblade Chronicles (though WHY would you not?), or if the old model still suits your purposes, you don’t really need to upgrade yet. However, the upgrade is going to have to happen at some point, because more and more 3DS games are going to support the C-Stick and extra power. So even if you’re not actively going to upgrade soon, it’s probably best to at least think about saving up for it.

Detailed information:
Console: New Nintendo 3DS and New Nintendo 3DS XL
RRP: R2499 (standard) and R2999 (XL)
Availability: 13 February 2015