Monday, August 17, 2015

The Good, The Bad, and the 3D

Me, in 2014: "What? ANOTHER 3DS?! I'm not buying this crap!"
Me, in 2015: "Great, I just bought this crap."

In my defense, it was irresistibly cheap thanks to that K-Mart sale mentioned in my last post. At $200, I never would have considered a New 3DS, but at half the price... well, I had to give it a shot. So I went to the Wal-Mart in Nogales yesterday, and managed to wrangle one out of the electronics clerk and his manager. It didn't take much persuasion, really; just a screencap of the deal on K-Mart's web site. Fifteen minutes later, I had the system in my shopping cart and a hundred less dollars in my bank account. Did I need another 3DS eight months after buying a 3DS XL from Target? No, but nobody's ever accused me of making wise fiscal decisions.

So hey, let's share a few pictures! First, here's the receipt just to prove it was a fair and honest catch, and not one of those illegal hunts where I lured the 3DS out of a wildlife sanctuary in Africa.


I probably blacked out too much of this receipt. Better than not blacking out enough when you're posting it on the internet, I say.

With that out of the way, here's the box.


You may notice a tiny disclaimer hidden under all that big promotional text... "AC Adapter Sold Separately." We'll get back to that in a moment.


And here's the system itself, in all its overly shiny glory. Honestly, I liked the shell of my old 3DS XL better, but it's what's on the inside that counts. And let's examine that in detail...

WHAT'S GOOD

"You cannot hide from me, Dave."
(image from Abelmon007 on Flickr)
 One of the headlining features of the New 3DS is "super stable 3D." An eerie red light at the top of the system tracks your head's movement, and adjusts the 3D effect accordingly. As a result, the 3D that was practically useless in the 3DS XL is uncannily reliable here. You can break the effect with extreme movement, but the moment you stop, it snaps back into focus. This pays huge dividends in 3D-dependent games like Kirby Triple Deluxe and Mario Kart 7. Kirby's game is great no matter how you play it, but the airtight 3D breathes new life into the otherwise lackluster Mario Kart 7, adding a much-needed level of immersion to the experience.

Faster. Relatively.
(image from Imadhis
on Blogspot)
 Nintendo stuck a jalapeno in the tailpipe of the 3DS processor, doubling both its speed and the number of available cores. There's also twice the RAM, with 256MB for the processor and 10MB for the video chip. It doesn't add up to much when you compare it to the average smartphone or its competitor the Playstation Vita, but it does appreciably boost the system's performance. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Super Smash Bros. 3DS. Basic functions of the 3DS had to be erased and reloaded to make the game fit in the tight confines of previous 3DS systems, resulting in a lengthy wait before the game starts and after it ends. On the New 3DS, exiting to the main menu takes all of three seconds, because the operating system stays put, rather than being temporarily deleted to make room for the game. You can even post directly to Miiverse as you play, rather than the clumsy process of taking snapshots and uploading them from an album later.

 Native support for Amiibos. Yay, I guess? Look, I only have one of these things, and I have no intention of removing it from its package. (Yes, I'm one of those nerds.) But hey, if you've got Amiibos and appreciate what they bring to the gaming experience, the New 3DS can use them without the need for extra hardware. Me, I'm just gonna wait a few years, until people start dumping them in garage sales for a couple of bucks each.

WHAT'S BAD

 The auto brightness feature is horrible. In Nintendo's defense, it's horrible everywhere. This feature has been nothing but obnoxious in every tech device I've ever owned, turning down the backlight at seemingly random intervals. I thought my system was defective until I poked around in the options screen and found the accursed auto brightness setting hidden there. Stop trying to make this a thing, tech companies. It just doesn't work.

 There's a plate on the back of the system that houses not only the battery, but a micro SD card as well. If you want access to either (and you probably will want to replace the modest 4GB card inserted by default), you'll have to remove it, and believe me when I say that it's not as convenient as the trap door in previous DS systems. There are two screws instead of just one, along with clips that make the plate frustratingly tough to pry loose. Oh, but it gets better!

 The stylus doubles as a plastic crowbar for the plate, but it's not particularly good at either function. Using it for more than five minutes with Miiverse is bound to cause hand cramps thanks to its smaller size, and trying to pry open the plate with the tool on the other end is an exercise in futility. More than likely, you'll give up and just use your fingernail instead. Poor ergonomics seem to be a running theme with the New 3DS XL, and it doesn't end there!

 Buttons have been moved to new, less convenient locations. For instance, the power switch has been shrunken down and moved to the front of the clamshell case, where it's a total bitch to press. Start and select have been moved to the right, under the rosette of action keys and an awkwardly placed C-stick (more on this later). The home button retains its place at the bottom of the touch screen, but it's become a tiny, difficult to press oval. There are about a dozen ways that Nintendo could have planned the New 3DS XL button layout that would have been better than this.

 Oh, about that C-stick! It... functions, I guess, but it's stiff and not nearly as comfortable to use as the circle pad. It's not even as good as the analog nub on the PSP, and it doesn't come anywhere near the quality of the right analog stick on the Vita. Nintendo, you had years to get this right, and plenty of past examples from which to take inspiration. After we waited all this time for a second analog stick, THIS is what you give us? The stubby eraser from an old IBM laptop? Maybe they'll get it right with the New New 3DS. You know it's coming.

 There's no AC adapter in the package, as if this was optional equipment. Nintendo's got plenty of excuses for this ("Don't you have one from your last 3DS? Oh wait, you sold it to get this one..."), but they're selling withered technology for two hundred dollars. The cheapskates can cough up a charger. Hell, I got one with the smartphone I bought for forty dollars last year.

WHAT'S THE VERDICT?

It's clear from the design of the New 3DS XL that Nintendo doesn't put much stock in the adage "measure twice, cut once." It's got all kinds of puzzling ergonomic issues that could have been avoided with a small amount of forethought and common sense. It's actually less comfortable to use than the old 3DS XL thanks to the scrambled button layout and that dreadful stylus. The cartridge slot has been moved to the bottom corner of the system. The SD card slot is buried under a removable plate which serves no logical purpose but to irritate the player. It's like a 3DS from Bizarro World.

New and marginally improved!
(Image from, well, Nintendo)
Having said all that (and there's a lot of "all that" to say), the New 3DS XL does gently nudge Nintendo toward the future, feeling less sluggish and dated than its predecessors. It's doubtful there will be many exclusive titles to take advantage of the new hardware, but unlike the largely pointless DSi, that extra horsepower does improve the games and features that currently exist. The internet browser has improved (although there was no place for that to go but up...) and you'll spend less time on the Miiverse boot screen and more time actually drawing.

All that's gravy, but the sole deciding factor in your purchase of the New 3DS XL should be the 3D. Is this feature important to you? If it is, run out and get one yesterday, because it's never been better. It makes a big difference in games like Yu Suzuki's arcade hits Space Harrier and Galaxy Force II, which throw hundreds of monsters and explosions in the player's face. However, if the illusion of depth doesn't matter much to you, skip this minor upgrade and wait for the true successor to the 3DS, which will probably arrive in a couple of years. There are too few improvements and too many annoyances to make the New 3DS XL worth your time.

2 comments:

  1. I'm glad the Start and Select buttons are back where they were on the DS Lite and DSi, but it just wouldn't be a new Nintendo handheld iteration without them fucking something up, huh? There's really no excuse for a tiny C-stick nub or a convoluted process to switch memory cards on what's supposed to be the BIGGER version of the 3DS.

    Oh well. I've got a puny ol' regular 3DS and I'd like more breathing room for the stylus and touch controls, Miiverse for SSB4 and MH4U, and portable Xenoblade, so I'll probably end up buying one before the year's out.

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    Replies
    1. It's always SOMETHING, isn't it?

      Keep your old telescoping stylus, you're going to want it around. The one offered in the New 3DS XL sucks and sucks HARD.

      As for Xenoblade, I'm probably just gonna stick with the Wii version, whenever it's offered as a digital download in the states. Graphics are supposed to be a key part of the experience and it doesn't sound like the New 3DS version delivers in that respect.

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