Review: The New Nintendo 3DS XL

New, but improved?

On Thursday, I mentioned in the Nintendo Download that I would explain in this review where my review of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D is, and so here it is.

Basically, I’ve never really played Majora’s Mask before in any form (various reasons), and as a newcomer, I want to be able to give the game the full attention it deserves. Part of that includes playing it on the New Nintendo 3DS XL, so I’m going to need a little bit more time (though I’ll try to have some other reviews up soon in the meantime).

I’ve had both the game and the system for several weeks now, so why not just play them together sooner? Funny story, that…


Knowing that review copies of games were going to shift to predominantly digital at some point (because why wouldn’t they? Faster, saves money, etc.), something I did early on in the lifespan of the Nintendo 3DS line of consoles was ditch the meager 2GB SD Card the system came with and invested in a 32GB version. It was a good move that served me well. However, what I did not anticipate was Nintendo releasing an iteration of the console which did not use SD Cards, but rather the microSD Card format. So while they were kind enough to upgrade the included memory option to 4GB with XL systems, that still wasn’t going to do a lot for the 17GB of data I’d already put into this whole thing– including Majora’s Mask 3D, which I’d downloaded before learning that Nintendo hadn’t yet turned on the ability to do system transfers.

Throw in looking for a good price on a microSD Card the same memory size or greater than what I already owned and learning that not only is it easy to mistake a third-party seller for themselves, but that their third-parties ship out of other countries… let’s just say things have taken a while.

Speaking of taking a while (how’s that for a segue?), I’m getting the worst part of the New Nintendo 3DS XL experience out of the way right up front. Besides the hoop-jumping for those of us who had the foresight to upgrade our SD Cards but not the foresight to go with microSD in the process, there is of course the matter of the system transfer process itself.

There are a few different ways to go about part of the process, I have to admit that despite having done this before with both the Wii to Wii U and the Nintendo 3DS to Nintendo 3DS XL, the process still makes me nervous as all hell that somewhere, something will go wrong. And the longer it takes, the worse that feeling is. For the record, doing everything necessary took at least an hour, maybe a bit more, with much of that being copying data back and forth from SD Card to PC and PC to microSD.

(Oh, and you’ll need a #0 Phillips-head screwdriver to remove the back of the system to access the microSD Card slot this time around. Flathead works too, as I learned, but I was worried I’d strip the screws. They don’t come all the way out, though, and you kind of need to pop the back off once they’re loosened.)

Everything is looking good so far, though. So on to the system!


To be frank, I had some concerns, and not just with the name. Seriously, I get that the word “New” might sound fancy and exotic in Japan, but in predominantly English-speaking countries, it just seems to sow confusion. Personally, I didn’t have a problem with the name “Wii U,” but the market has apparently spoken on that front, and this just seems like it can only get worse…

…but I digress. As I said, I had some concerns, primarily with the form factor of the device. The basic design is much like the Nintendo 3DS handhelds which came before it, sporting two screens, an inward-facing camera, speakers on either side of the larger top screen, and a Super NES-like button layout which adds a Circle Pad for analog-styled control above the Dpad. But for all the similarities, there are many differences as well.

The most immediate difference is the small nub above the face buttons. People have wanted a second Circle Pad on the Nintendo 3DS without having to use the Circle Pad Pro for years, and this… is something of a compromise. As stated, it’s not a second stick or Circle Pad, but a nub– much like you’d find to control mouse movements on some laptops, and so you don’t really move it so much as move your thumb along it.

The nub works well enough, I suppose; it even works with Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and its demo version, where you can use it to perform Smash Attacks, just as on the console versions. It might just take more time getting used to it not being as clicky as what I normally have at hand, or it might simply be the placement, but using it for that purpose just didn’t quite feel “right” to me. That said, the task of using it to adjust the camera in Majora’s Mask 3D feels just as good as one would want or expect.

Another change to the face buttons are the Start and Select buttons. Whereas they previously occupied either side of the Home button beneath the bottom screen, they’re now moved off to the right-hand side, beneath the A-B-X-Y buttons. It’s not a bad change, though I still find myself reaching beneath the touch screen whenever I need to pause.

Two new buttons have been added to the configuration as well: A ZL and ZR button, each situated inwardly respective of their accompanying L and R shoulder buttons. I was at first worried about being able to reach these, particularly as I have some rather small hands (as I’ve been told by others, usually followed by a mildly-embarrassing comparison to drive the point home). Fortunately, reaching ZL and ZR has so far posed no problems, as I was able to use them easily and without accidentally hitting the L or R buttons while testing them out by throwing fools around in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS.

Another change which concerned me was how bottom-oriented so much of the rest of the system’s features are. The power button is now moved to the bottom, as is the game card slot, and the stylus holder. The headphone jack remains at the bottom as well, though it’s now more centered. My concern was that things would be prone to falling out, or the power button would be too easy to accidentally press, but so far, all those fears are unfounded: The stylus fits snugly into mine, with no rattling when shaken, and it’s recessed a bit, as are the game card and the power button. It seems that pressing it would have to be a rather deliberate action, at least from my experience.


One more change to the layout is that there is no longer a WiFi switch, and the volume slider is now on the left side of the top screen, opposite the 3D slider. That seems like a perfect segue into how games play on this thing.

So far, everything just seems better in terms of performance. The sound seems louder and clearer than on my non-New Nintendo 3DS XL, and games load up much, much faster. Know that bit of lag from loading up the Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS demo? It’s practically nonexistent here.

That brings us to one of the biggest new features of the New Nintendo 3DS XL, one that’s not apparent from just looking at it: The Face-tracking 3D.

The idea behind this feature is that with the other Nintendo 3DS handhelds, you had to keep the system in just the right place and not move your head too much, or else the entire effect– and your view of the screen– would basically fall apart. With Face-tracking 3D, however, you’re afforded a limited degree of movement that follows you and keeps you from losing the 3D perspective. Having to keep everything just so is precisely why I only occasionally turned the 3D on when playing games, primarily for a time as part of a review or during a big scene, and then right back off again.

My first experience with it was at the preview event, and to be frank, my experience there left me extremely worried. I don’t know what the problem was, but it did not seem to work well for me at all– truth be told, it felt like it was screwing with my eyes and/or my mind pretty heavily when I tried to use it. Hell, I was damn near terrified that either this thing wasn’t working right, or worse, that I wasn’t working right.

Fortunately, it appears my fears were for naught, and I think I may know why. Trying it on my own unit in the comfort of my own home, the feature works like a dream– it’s everything I hoped for, and I don’t think I’ve even turned the 3D off since I started using the machine. I might even revisit some older games again whenever I get the chance, just to get a better feel for them in 3D.

The reason I think I had a problem came during the setup process. Unlike the previous versions, this one actually had a test/display to gauge where I was holding the system and seemed to calibrate the tracking accordingly. Near as I can tell, the demo unit– for whatever reason– wasn’t reading me correctly, thus leading to the lasering of my brain.


These are the big impressions I’ve taken away from the New Nintendo 3DS XL. There are still some features I’ve not been able or had the opportunity to make use of, such as amiibo scanning or wireless data sharing between the system and my PC. On the whole, though, it does feel like a significant improvement over the previous model– not a next generation-level leap, but more like it’s filled in some notable gaps in their structure and smoothed over some of the rough edges. More than the Nintendo DS Lite to the DSi, closer to the Game Boy Advance to the GBA SP, really, though still more significant.

Speaking of smoothing things over, there is one other thing to point out, and that is the shell of the system itself. Looking at the pictures above in this article, one might get the impression that the New Nintendo 3DS XL has some sort of matte finish, but that is definitely not the case. The outside is very polished and smooth, more so than the Nintendo 3DS XL and closer to the original Nintendo 3DS in that regard. It attracts fingerprints just as much, too. The inside, at least, is somewhat comparable to the Nintendo 3DS XL in terms of texture/feel.

All told, recommendations vary depending on where you’re at. If you’re with an original Nintendo 3DS or even a 2DS and were looking to upgrade to an XL anyway, I personally think the $30 (a little more if you don’t have an AC adapter for it, as it’s not included) difference is worthwhile. If you’re already sporting a Nintendo 3DS XL or that size (the original XL and New version are nigh if not completely identical in that regard) is uncomfortable for you, then of course it’s more difficult to recommend. And if you’re new to the whole Nintendo 3DS game and the size isn’t a problem for you, then this is definitely the one to go with.

It’s worth noting that in the future, there will be games made exclusively for the New Nintendo 3DS XL model, starting with Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, and whether further releases prove worth the upgrade alone remains to be seen.

For now, though, this is by and large the definitive Nintendo 3DS.

NewN3DSXL_blackpkgThe New Nintendo 3DS XL was released for the Wii U on February 13th, 2015 at a price of $229.99.

A review sample was provided by Nintendo of Canada.


About the author

David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at)