New Nintendo 3DS Review: A Half Step Forward

With Nintendo's New 3DS set to hit US retailers this Friday, Feb. 13, I finally decided to track down one of these bad boys and give the new piece of hardware a go. So, was it a revolutionary handheld gaming experience or did I walk away underwhelmed?

To be honest, I was just kind of “whelmed,” if that's a thing one can actually be. My game of choice was The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D, which also releases this Friday and allowed me to take most of those New 3DS features for a test drive.

What I find surprising is that, as recent as yesterday, I spoke with people who still had no idea Nintendo was releasing this latest piece of hardware. Keep in mind that some of these folks are what I would call core gamers, some of which are also big-time 3DS players. The conversation usually goes like this, which also serves to highlight Nintendo's horrible naming system for its portable consoles over the past decade.

“So are you thinking about getting the New 3DS?”

“There's a New 3DS? What's it called?”

“The 'New 3DS.'”

“Yeah, got that. What's it called?”

“No, that's what it's called. It's the 'New 3DS.'”

“Huh...So what's new about it?”

To answer that question: Quite a few things, actually. For starters, in case you missed the news, Nintendo is currently only planning on bringing the XL version of the console to North America, so tough luck for the time being if you wanted to keep a New 3DS in your pocket and not look like you are trying to steal a textbook. This new unit is actually a little bit bigger than the standard 3DS XL and, as a quick reminder, it won't be sold with a charging cord. Also, in order to swap out the memory card, you have to physically remove the back of the system. That's not too much of a deal breaker in my book. Just get the biggest memory card you can find (they're pretty cheap these days), install it before you ever boot the system up, and that should last you for a good long while.

Finally getting the New 3DS in my hands, it's obvious that the screen is a bit sharper than the standard unit. We're not talking about a huge change here, but it should come as a mark in the plus column for those who feel 3DS games are a bit too jaggy.

Since I actually like to play a few of my 3DS games in, you know, 3D, one of the first things I did was crank up the 3D slider and start moving my head around to test out the head-tracking technology. If you've ever played an OG 3DS and moved your head a little bit off center, or tilted the console during a particularly hectic round of Mario Kart, you know how quickly the 3D effect can go wonky, feeling like you've been forced to cross your eyes while taking a swift blow to the head. I was shocked by how well the New 3DS compensates for those movements, keeping the 3D effect pretty solid so long as you don't go too bonkers with the movement. It's not perfectly smooth, but the transition is infinitely more gentle on the eyes.

The New 3DS has a faster processor, but that's not something I could really test out. I never thought that the original 3DS was slow to begin with, so I couldn't tell whether or not the cutscenes seemed to load faster in Majora's Mask. Everything moves at a nice clip, and I doubt a couple of seconds of faster processing will be a deal breaker for anyone either way. Another thing I couldn't test out was the Amiibo support. For starters, I don't think any 3DS games currently available even have said support and, again, it's one of those things that I'm sure gets marked in the plus column for some folks, but won't sway my mind one way or the other.

That leaves only a couple of big differences that set the New 3DS apart from its predecessor, including a pair of new shoulder buttons and that thumb nub located just above the face buttons. The new shoulder buttons were easy enough to reach but, like the New 3DS itself, I'm starting to wonder if they were really necessary. I don't think I've ever played a 3DS game and thought, “this would be great if I could get a couple more input options,” and I have a hard time believing many developers felt that way, either. But, hey, they're there now if anyone wants to utilize them, so I'm not complaining.

Finally, there's that nub we were just talking about, which serves as a second analog stick of sorts. Before I even loaded up the game, I started messing around with the nub and, at first, I thought I was maybe dealing with a defective unit. It feels like it's made out of hard plastic, but the thing doesn't slide and, as you move your thumb across it, there's barely any give. Once I was allowed to move around the opening forest in Majora's Mask, though, I quickly discovered that Nintendo has some sort of black magic on its hands.

The nub works really well, even if it doesn't feel like it should be. Not being a proper analog stick and offering a limited range of motions, you shouldn't go in expecting the kind of finesse you get out of tackling, say, Call of Duty on a PS4. For moving a camera around, though, it worked beautifully, and I assume it'll be a big hit with games like the upcoming Monster Hunter 4 and Code Name S.T.E.A.M. I assume it will also serve as the C-stick in Smash Bros., so fans of that particular control scheme from console versions of the series should be excited to finally get it on their handheld, too.

All told, I'm in a weird place when it comes to the New 3DS. I still believe that it's a half step forward for Nintendo and they would have been better served waiting another year or two to bring out a proper follow-up to the 3DS. Given their history, I'm hesitant to invest in something like this “New” console because I'm mostly convinced an actual successor to the 3DS is only a year or two away.

I'm also concerned that some games will be exclusive to the new unit, which will only serve to confuse part of Nintendo's consumers and divide the rest. I don't complain when a new console comes out and it isn't backwards compatible with a previous generation. This is a unique situation though, as only a handful of games moving forward will be playable only on the New 3DS. It would be like finding out that a slightly improved version of the Xbox One was coming out next year and, by Christmas2016, a new Gears of War is going to drop that can only play on those newer consoles.

Despite all of that, I expect the New 3DS will sell like hotcakes for one reason and one reason alone: That second thumb stick. All of the other improvements are nice frills, but nothing to get too excited about. Again, this is why I'm so “meh” on the whole thing. It's nice, but it doesn't feel like enough to warrant a new console. That second stick, though, is a long overdo addition to the 3DS, and I can see it making existing games more comfortable to play and actually providing a huge relief for developers who have had to design around its absence for years now.

If that's all you've ever wanted out of a New 3DS, then you're probably going to be a happy camper come Friday.

Ryan Winslett

Staff Writer for CinemaBlend.