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A new look at the Nintendo 3DS

Two years since its release, CVG compiles the most comprehensive analysis of the handheld yet

For a company with a remarkable history of sure-fire handheld success stories, the 3DS roller-coaster ride may have left Nintendo feeling a little uneasy.

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Nintendo's 3D handheld has had to fight its way through a lengthy barren release period, a deeply troubling early price drop, lower-than-expected sales in the west and the constant barrage of debate about whether mobiles have killed handhelds.

Yet the system has ultimately come out on top, with over 30 million units sold worldwide and a game library with few gaps in its repertoire. The achievement is hard to over estimate: This is the same market that has barely noticed Sony's PS Vita at all.

So, should you buy one?

This week sees in the two-year anniversary of the 3DS's launch, and to mark the occasion CVG has provided an extensive new look at the system, with a top-to-bottom analysis on every possible facet of the machine. Here's what we think...


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Similar articles: A second look at PS Vita


The standard 3DS isn't Nintendo's finest hardware design

Nintendo has always been known for the quality of its hardware - be that style, feel or durability. In our eyes, the original 3DS falls slightly short in terms of the first two categories.
The glossy outer finish on the handheld may initially look quite slick, but after just a short period of use it becomes a greasy fingerprint magnet. The top lid's subtle glittery finish also gives it more of a children's toy feel than any other handheld Nintendo has previously released. While this is less obvious with certain colours of 3DS - the Cosmos Black version looks decent - it's still the sort of unsatisfying pearlescent finish you wouldn't be surprised to see on the hood of a Barbie car.

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Inside, the controls aren't perfect either. The D-Pad is slightly mushy, the shoulder buttons are too small to be pressed without keeping your index fingers in a claw shape, and the bottom panel featuring the Select, Home and Start buttons never really feel satisfying to press. What's more, the sharp curves of the handheld tend to dig into your palms as you play, and the protruding join in the middle of the metal stylus can causes some mild discomfort/distraction.

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As for durability, the 3DS is still a relatively sturdy piece of kit, though early versions of the handheld had an annoying issue in which the bottom screen pressed into the top screen while the system was closed over, leading to two vertical marks (sometimes scratches, sometimes just smudges) on the top screen when it opens. This shouldn't happen with newer versions of the system, however.

While the above may make it seem like the 3DS is a disastrous piece of hardware, that's not really the case. It's certainly not Nintendo's best hardware design, but that's partly because the company has set such high standards in the past.


...The 3DS XL, on the other hand, is a joy to hold

Released fifteen months after the standard 3DS, the XL is an improvement in almost every aspect from the original, with Nintendo addressing all the complaints listed above.

The most obvious alteration is the size of the screens and subsequently the unit as a whole. Much like the DSi XL's massive screens almost transformed the look of DS games, the 3DS XL's 4.88" 4.18" and beauties (compared to 3.53" and 3.02" on the standard 3DS) make the games look gorgeous, exposing detail that was previously too small to notice.

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The bigger screens also make the 3D effect more prominent, taking what was once a fairly interesting if limited stereoscopic effect and giving it significant, satisfying depth. Games that use the 3D effect well, including Super Mario 3D Land and Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow - Mirror Of Fate, look stunning with the 3D slider up, making it clear exactly why Nintendo was so keen to promote the effect in the first place.

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What's more, the smooth surface and softer, round edges make it a treat to hold during longer play sessions. Fingerprints, meanwhile, are gone for good. Add to that the slightly larger and more comfortable D-Pad, the improved Start and Select buttons and the plastic, less annoying stylus and all those irritants that hampered the 3DS gaming are gone, resulting in what may just be Nintendo's finest handheld design to date.

It's worth bearing in mind that this quality does come at a price - the XL generally costs £30/$30 more than the standard 3DS - and it doesn't come with an AC adaptor in Europe (though it does in the US), so that's an extra £5-£20 (depending on where you buy) on top of the price. In our eyes, given the improvement in quality across the board, paying the premium is worth it.


The 3D effect is no longer relevant

It seems odd that a system boasting unique glasses-free 3D effects (a feature initially so important that it was incorporated into the system's name) has fallen far down the pecking order. In truth, Nintendo has made a smart decision by essentially putting a line under the 3D effects of its hardware.

When the 3DS first launched, most of the debate hinged on how impressive the 3D effect was, and reviews of launch titles like Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and Pilotwings Resort took time out to detail and rate the effect. These days when a new game is released, it's rare for a review to even acknowledge the 3D unless it does something particularly impressive or distracting.

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We've seen countless reports from gamers who claim to only ever play their 3DS games in 2D, and it's a decision we often advise, especially when playing on public transport.

While the 3D effect is still fairly impressive (especially on the 3DS XL, where the effect is exaggerated), it's only truly comfortable in a situation where the screen can be held steady, such as sitting on a couch or in bed. On a train or bus slight shakes can be enough to create a slight ghosting effect, which is a distraction.

Ultimately, the 3D effect is a case-by-case issue. Some games use the effect fantastically, to the extent that we'd recommend playing with the 3D slider as far up as is comfortable. Meanwhile, other games like Cubic Ninja and Hydroventure: Spin Cycle turn the effect off completely. The great news is that you have that choice.

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