Published Feb 23, 2015The Wii U may be losing the now-gen console war (though seriously, you guys, it's a pretty good machine with really good games) but Nintendo has never given ground in the handheld theatre, where the House That Mario Built has dominated since it created the market with the iconic Game Boy. Even the much-feared iPhone incursion has yet to do the double-screen device much damage, and the PS Vita has proven to be no threat despite being higher-end hardware. But if Apple has taught the tech world anything, it's to pray at the altar of iteration. And so, after the DS, DS Lite, DSi, DSi XL, 3DS, 3DS XL and 2DS (phew!), we now get the New Nintendo 3DS XL.
First off, Nintendo deserves props for making all of them backwards compatible, so the N3DSXL still plays the oldest DS games, albeit not in auto-stereoscopic three dimensions. Speaking of, while I've always been impressed with the technical achievement of glasses-free 3D, I've more often turned that feature off since it was introduced four years ago. The handheld needed to be held at a specific angle and distance in order for it to work, which felt unduly restricting, especially during long play sessions or bumpy bus rides.
This issue has been largely addressed in the new edition, which now features a facial tracking camera that can tell where you're looking and from how far away in order adjust the 3D display accordingly. While not perfect, the sweet spot has been dramatically enlarged. Plus, as someone who was still rocking a non-XL, the increased screen size makes this new face-tracking "Super Stable 3D" even more impressive and, when paired with the right game, it really does feel futuristic. (However, the frustratingly complicated data transfer between old and new models, necessary to access previously purchased downloadable game, feels positively primitive. Just let us use our profile on all our DSes.)
The guts are also new, with faster processors improving the performance of current and older titles, though there are no new ones taking advantage of the extra juice until April's Xenoblade Chronicles. The controls have been lightly refined, most notably with a tiny second thumb c-stick and another pair of shoulder buttons (which are hard to reach for smaller hands). The screens, however, were not upgraded at all, leaving it far behind the PS Vita's eye-popping resolution. But Nintendo has never cared much about graphics, and the new device does arrive with an unbeatable back catalogue of mostly first-party games.
If this is your first DS, or you've been waiting to upgrade to either 3D or XL, then this is unquestionably the best version available. If not, you may want to wait for NDSXL-specific software — after all, if this device in all its iterations has taught us anything, it's that it's not about the tech specs, but how they're used.