It’s been just over one year since the New Nintendo 3DS XL launched in North America on February 13, 2015. It made quite the splash with four different color choices on day one. Gamers could choose from the following glossy editions: New Red, New Black, Majora’s Mask Edition (Gold), and Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate Edition (Silver). To enhance the system’s launch, Nintendo and Capcom released The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D and Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate on the same day. Both games were aimed at the hardcore, which is the same crowd the new handheld was targeting. They both took advantage of the many enhancements that the New 3DS XL had to offer.
While the screens were the same size as those found on the regular Nintendo 3DS XL, there were a bunch of improvements to the hardware, including:
- C-Stick – An extra nub-like stick that served as a second analog input. Most game would use it to manipulate the in-game camera. Worked well for both Majora’s Mask and Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate.
- Two Extra Should Buttons (ZR & ZL) – Allowed for more functionality in games since new commands could be mapped to these two extra buttons.
- Face Track 3D – Allowed for Super Stable 3D on the top screen. The 3D effect wouldn’t break as easily if the system were moved around. The camera facing the player would track the gamer’s eyes to give the best possible 3D effect without breaking immersion.
- Built-in amiibo Support – NFC technology was placed in the bottom touchscreen so amiibos could be tapped to the handheld and used. Older models of the 3DS would need a special accessory that would transmit the data to the system.
- 4 GB micro SD – The system changed over form standard size SD cards to micro ones.
- Faster Process Power – The handheld features faster chips and increased RAM, which could make games load quicker and even allow for slightly better graphics. It also meant that games could be built specifically for the device, however they wouldn’t work on older models.
- Faster Downloads & Improved Web Surfing – eShop downloads were made faster and for those few people who like to surf the web on a 3DS, the pages loaded much quicker.
All of these enhancements could be had for the same price of a regular 3DS XL at $199.99 – although the New 3DS XL systems would not be packaged with an AC adaptor (more on that in a bit). All in all, not a bad upgrade for no major additional cost to the customer. But, would it be enough to convince existing owners to upgrade or new users to jump in?
I’m one of the faithful who always has to have the latest and greatest Nintendo stuff. So, it’s not a surprise that I was excited to get a New 3DS XL. One of my biggest complaints from the original models was that the 3D would often distract instead of enhance my experience, so I’d end up turning it off. Just the idea of stable 3D was enough to convince me to upgrade. The other enhancements were nice, especially the C-Stick, which worked wonderful in Majora’s Mask.
It really did feel like a re-launch of the system with four different colors available and two new, highly sought-after games for the hardcore audience. Thanks to the extra horsepower of the New 3DS, it was announced that Xenoblade Chronicles 3D would release in April, giving hope that future title announcements would follow. I knew it would still probably be a year or two until Nintendo put out a successor to the New 3DS, so I thought this gap stop measure would allow for more exclusive and graphically superior games to make their way to the new portable. Unfortunately, that hasn’t yet happened, and with the NX on the horizon it doesn’t like it will.
There were numerous issues with the launch that really rubbed people the wrong way, which I think contributed to overall lower sales than there should have been. First up, was the lack of an AC adaptor in the box. Nintendo assumed that many people buying the new handheld would have extra adaptors lying around from previous 3DS and DSi models. While this may have been the case for a subset of users, the removal didn’t sit well with many gamers out there, including myself. Most people would want to sell their older models to upgrade, and that would require the AC adaptor to go with it. Many people I know wanted to hand down their older systems to family members, but that would still make someone buy an AC adaptor. Sure, this might be common practice among electronic companies in Japan, but in the U.S. it’s unheard of to ship a device that requires charging without a power cord. Granted, it’s only $10 or so to buy one, but it’s an added cost that soured some potential customers, and no doubt surprised countless others once they got home and discovered no way to charge it.
The next big issue was that everywhere else in the world the regular sized New Nintendo 3DS was available as an option. Not so in the U.S. where the decision was made that we like our handhelds bigger. While that may be the case for many users, I was one of many that coveted the smaller one. There were numerous reasons for this. First, the size was easier to put in a pocket and carry around, whereas the XL can be rather unwieldy in that respect.
Second, it served as a middle ground for screen size – not quite as small as the original 3DS (1.2 times bigger), but not as huge as the XL. This meant the games would be displayed closer to the proper resolution with a higher pixel density.
Third, and one of the most important, was the aesthetics of the handheld itself. Instead of a glossy body it featured a matte design, which in my opinion is way better, especially for portables. On top of that, it featured the very awesome Super Famicom colored B, A, Y, and X buttons. The biggest differentiator was the custom cover plates that could be bought and attached to the front and back of the unit. Over the past year there have been some amazing designs and it really allowed for a personalization of the handheld to distinguish it from everyone else’s.
Fourth, the pricing of the normal-sized New 3DS in other territories was obviously lower than the XL. It was priced around $169 at the start and went even lower in other countries. This could have been an amazing opportunity to have a mid-tier price point in the U.S. for those that don’t want to drop $200 on a handheld, but still want the 3D effect that the $99 2DS can’t provide.
Nintendo of America passed on releasing it over here back in February due to fears of market confusion. I think it stemmed from retailers refusing to carry the extra styles plus the lack of retail shelf space for the cover plates. Nintendo’s retail dominance had shrunk from the lofty days of the original DS and Wii, so getting retailers on board for this new initiative was probably a non-starter.
Luckily, we would eventually see the release of the smaller sized New 3DS on September 25, 2015. However, instead of coming in at the expected $169 or lower price point, Nintendo insisted on making it a bundle that retailed for $219 – $20 more than the 3DS XL! It came bundled with Animal Crossing Happy Home Designer and 2 cover plates, but it was a very niche item, especially at that price. It didn’t help matters that we only got the white New 3DS, unlike other territories that saw the release of both a black and a white version. In fact, the upcoming Pokémon bundle that will be out later this month is also only available in white. This is very puzzling as President and COO of Nintendo of America, Reggie Fils-amié, has said in the past that the white models of handhelds typically don’t sell well.
It’s also unfortunate that cover plates for the 3DS aren’t available at retailers. Again, this could be because they don’t want to carry them, but right now customers are forced to use Nintendo’s online store or import from Japan or Europe. It’s obvious that NOA doesn’t consider this model to be a priority and has thrown up enough roadblocks to ensure it won’t succeed. Still, at least it was made available and I’m grateful for that.
The move to micro SD cards was also a bit of a hassle, especially for those that have a lot of digital content. It required me to buy a 32 GB micro SD card right away just so I could transfer my data from my original 3DS to the new one. In the past it was as easy as taking out the old SD card and putting it in the new system. This is yet another hidden cost for some people that may not be apparent at first glance.
Once Xenoblade Chronicles 3D made its way to retail in April, I wondered what other games would be announced for the New 3DS that would take advantage of the new system’s horsepower. I thought maybe something would be announced that summer at E3, but nope. It quickly became obvious that Nintendo had no plans to release any additional New 3DS-only software to the platform. In some ways this made sense as it would split the market and the sales would obviously suffer. The writing was on the wall with prior hardware upgrades. If you recall, both GBA SP and DSi didn’t see any first party retail games exclusively for their revisions. So, while I can still be disappointed that there will most likely never be a game released that really wows me by taking advantage of the new chips, I’m not exactly shocked.
Even with all of the issues surrounding the launch of the New 3DS, I can still say it’s a great system. It completely replaced the older model so people new to the 3DS family are rewarded for waiting. It’s a harder case to make that existing owners should upgrade. It all boils down to whether you like the 3D effect, but are bothered by crosstalk on the older models, or if you own the very first 3DS and desire bigger screens. In either of those cases, the New 3DS is totally worth the money to upgrade, especially if you can snag one on sale or in a special bundle. For everyone else, you’ll be fine rocking your original models.
With the NX on the horizon, it’s obvious the New 3DS will never live up to its full potential. The extra horsepower and extra buttons are often overlooked, even by the new releases coming out now. That being said, at just one year old, my New 3DS has gotten a ton of playtime and I don’t leave home without it. Despite the launch hurdles, I’m happy with the incremental upgrades it provides. Are you? Let me know in the comments.