Sunday, 13 January 2013

Nintendo 3DS XL First Impressions

   I’m not going to bore you by listing of the specific spec’s of the 3DS XL as they are well known by now and anyone wanting to know these just needs to use a search engine, but I thought as I have recently bought the system I would do an overview and give my initial impressions of it.

   The system comes packaged in a small unassuming box with less fanfare splashed across it than a supermarkets own brand of cheap biscuits, and I was surprised that it didn’t have better design work on it to be honest, but then its what’s inside that really counts. Included in the box with the system is a 4GB SDHC memory card which comes installed in the SD card slot and a pack of AR cards to use with the AR Games software on the system. There were two things however that immediately struck me before I even opened the box. Firstly the notice that the 3DS XL does not come packaged with an AC adapter to power and charge it, as these are sold separately. I have to say this is poor form on Nintendo’s part and is a small blight on what is an amazing system as it should come packaged with a power supply no arguments about it.

   When I was initially looking at buying the system I wasn’t sure if my DS or DSi XL charger would work with it, and its fortunate that I already owned these systems and had chargers for them as I discovered later on that my DS Lite charger should work with the 3DS XL. But at the outset it looked to me as if I would have to spend £169 on the system, plus another £20 for Nintendo’s official cradle and charger kit in one shop I happened to look in, plus extra for any games on top of that. So what initially looked to be a very competitive price point next to Sony’s PS Vita actually turned out to be less competitive than I first thought, even after shopping around a bit, though the PS Vita was always priced higher no matter where I looked, the price gap didn’t seem that huge after all. It was lucky I heard via the grapevine that DS chargers would work with the 3DS XL, though I wasn’t one hundred per cent sure, so I just bought the system and tried my luck. But if I didn’t own a DS/DSi XL, the added cost of a charger, even a cheap third party one would have put me off buying a 3DS XL, as the thought of forking out for a new games system that doesn’t come bundled with a mains AC charger as standard, like it should do, is a hard concept to fathom let alone stomach.

   Next thing that struck me was the information notice on the back about the systems backwards compatibility; it is backwards compatible with DS and DSi software but not GBA (Game Boy Advance) games. Also if like me you own DS imports, then it warns that some imports may not work on the 3DS so don’t get rid of those DS/DSi systems just yet. I tested Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor and Sands of Destruction, both NTSC American games, and both worked no problem. I did have a small problem playing the DS version of Lego Lord of the Rings on the 3DS XL though, as I reached the end of one section the game went to auto save and then froze up. I thought I had lost my progress up until that point as I had to reboot the system, but turns out it did save my progress even though it locked up, so again, I wouldn’t go discarding your DS/DSi just yet as the backwards compatibility might not be perfect for all DS games.

   With all that said and done it’s on to the system itself. The 3DS XL is a really well made high quality handheld gaming device, its not cheap at £169, but rest assured the end result is that its made to a high standard and looks the part rather than feeling cheap and tacky. At the top of the console there are the left and right shoulder buttons, the game card slot, mains adaptor socket and an infrared transceiver bar. On the XL’s left side, just below the left shoulder button is the volume slider, which is a really curious and silly place to put it as on many occasions now i have accidently moved the volume slider while playing a game, and I’m sure I'm not alone in this, it stands to reason that it would have been far better located next to the headphones jack at the bottom left of the console. On the right of the XL is the stylus holder, SD card slot, wireless on/off slider, and at the top outer surface of the clamshell are two (outer) cameras allowing for the capture of 2D/3D photos and videos.

   The two screens on the 3DS XL are not that much different from the ones on the DSi XL, better resolution and more pixels aside of course. The bottom screen is the same size as the DSi XL’s, the top is the same height but width wise is about 2cm longer, so while the DSi XL has two big screens of equal proportions, the 3DS XL only has a wider top screen. I like the fact that the top screen is wider, and although the bottom one is still pretty big in itself as well as being centrally aligned with the above screen, I do personally feel that both on the 3DS console should have been made the same width as each other, preferably that of the wider top screen, as this wouldn’t make the system all that much bigger. The clarity and crispness of both screens however are pin sharp and both deliver much more of a visual punch on everything from the home menu, games, through to video. The top screen is the main viewing screen, all videos will be viewed on it and games will utilise it as standard while the bottom one is used for secondary usage such as options, maps and other stuff. The only things I have found with this system, and this is something I found with the DSi XL as well, is that the screens have a glossy reflective surface, more so with the 3DS XL and this can cause some to get eyestrain much in the same vein as staring at a very reflective glossy computer monitor. The touchscreen will also become very scratched over time as well as becoming plastered in fingerprints, so it’s best to buy a screen protector as soon as possible.

   While on the subject of the 3DS XL screens I guess this is a perfect time to talk about the 3D feature incorporated into the system, something of which was used as a big selling point by Nintendo when the original system first launched. The bottom screen is just a bog standard touchscreen and does not have 3D implemented on it, only the top screen with the 3D adjustment slider next to it delivers the 3D feature. There are some things I would like to make the readers mindful of about the 3D feature. Firstly the 3D can and should be calibrated by using the calibration option in the settings menu; this will help adjust the 3D to a comfortable level that makes it work properly for you. As you calibrate the 3D you will adjust the 3D slider to increase or decrease the strength of the 3D, but this can still be done afterwards during gameplay if you find the strength or depth not to you liking. Lastly the 3DS XL as well as the 3DS for that matter comes with a warning that vision damage may be caused to children using the 3D feature on the system aged six and under, and therefor Nintendo recommends that only children aged over the age of six should use this feature. They also recommend locking this feature out using the parental controls which is a good idea. Once done every video, game and application will ask the user if they want to start it in 2D or 3D, if 3D is selected it will be locked out and a pin code will have to be entered that was set up within parental controls, so in short only a 2D experience will be available.

   This part is purely my opinion of course and my experience of the 3D feature on the system and I’m fully aware as I’m sure a lot of people are that 3D works differently for everyone, as it works for some better than others. I have tried the 3D feature, on the XL and the normal 3DS, and I have tried using it on different types of games as well as using the calibration option and adjusting the 3D slider to various strengths, and for me personally it just doesn’t work. That’s not to say the 3D doesn’t work, it just doesn’t work for me personally. For me the whole 3D thing is and has always been very much a non starter, whether it be 3D films or 3D games, glasses or non silly looking glasses, it just doesn’t work on me as all I get to see is a double blurry image. I have never been fussed about it either as I would much rather see a big push towards holograms and holographic technology as I find it much more of an interesting area of technology not yet fully explored. But I suspect 3D doesn’t work for me however because of two things, one being the fact I am short sighted and wear glasses, the other is that my eyesight is better in one eye than the other. These things are the likely causes why 3D does not work for me, and viewing any kind of 3D media gives me headaches and makes me feel cross-eyed in the extreme, but I have to say I’m not bothered by this fact, nor do I feel like I am missing out by not using the 3D feature. The main selling point of the 3DS is its increased power and graphical capability’s that allows for bigger more expansive and better looking games. The 3D element to the portable console is a cool additional feature that users can make use of, but is in no way part and parcel of the system that has to be used, and is certainly not the main selling point of the 3DS itself, so for me it will remain permanently switched off. 

   The system comes with some pre-installed software to get your hand on, none of which are particularly anything breath-taking, but a nice surprise all the same. The two main games are Face Raiders and AR Games, while the other free software titles are Nintendo Letter Box, Mii Maker, Mii Plaza, Nintendo 3DS Camera, Nintendo 3DS Sound. I also got Super Mario 3D Land for free via a download code via the Nintendo eShop, which I promptly downloaded to the SD Card. I’m not entirely sure whether this is a limited time offer or not, but I was only able to use the download code between the beginning and end of January, outside of this timeframe I would loose the chance of a free game so I didn’t hang about. If it wasn’t for deciding to register the XL with Club Nintendo to see what all that was about I honestly wouldn’t have known about the free game offer, and I only decided to check out Club Nintendo on a whim. To get your free game you have to register your 3DS XL and complete a survey, and then you will be given the option of choosing a game out of a selection of five, Professor Layton and Mario being the most notable of the games on offer. There was absolutely no advertising in the supermarket where I bought my 3DS XL about the free game offer, and I was not told about it by the cashier upon purchase of the system, that’s if he even knew about the offer which I highly doubt. There is also no mention of this offer on the box or in the manual, so I could have completely missed out on this entirely. It would surly be in Nintendo’s best interest to advertise this offer or any other future offer quite vigorously, on the system box, and at point of sale as this would encourage sales if anything, especially over holiday periods, but as it stands customers like myself have been left to stumble across this particular offer for themselves.

   At the moment I only have two games for the system, Super Mario 3D Land and Rayman Origins, but I have downloaded the Resident Evil: Revelations and Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion demos. All demos are limited to a set amount of playthroughs so once your allocation is up for a certain game, then that’s your lot. I cant say what Rayman is like because I haven’t got around to playing it yet, but I have at least tried the first bunch of levels in Super Mario 3D Land, and I have to say that making the games levels truly 3D as opposed to traditional side-scrolling 2D platformer has made the game seem so much more interesting to play as well as making it highly addictive to. Graphics wise there is not much to shout about with Mario and Rayman other than they both look really great, same for Epic Mickey really, which was a game that had such a slow start to it I might add. But Resident Evil: Revelations at least gave me a snapshot of just what to expect out of the 3DS graphics and power wise, and I have to say I was very impressed by just how detailed and pin sharp everything looked. The graphics seemed to me on a par with later PS2 or equivalent, and I was more than pleased as its amazing just how graphically advanced handheld gaming systems such as the 3DS have become these days. The system still has a long life ahead of it so anyone wishing to get one can expect some real treats in the very immediate future. 

   I wanted a 3DS since its release, but not for the 3D feature, but for it being a more powerful system that would have bigger and better games on it, the 3D for me was never a real selling hook that would draw me in, and it shouldn’t be for anyone else. The 3D feature is a nice addition, but that’s all it is, an additional feature, the real draw of the system should be the bigger, better looking games the system will accumulate. The lack of a second analog stick (well its actually an analog slider, or circle pad as Nintendo call it) has been quite a contentious issue for the system since its initial release, and I’ll admit that I to have always thought Nintendo missed a trick and messed up by not adding another to the system. But to be honest, now I have played on one and a bunch of its games, I now think that it’s not really needed, as the 3DS was never to be a system for developers and publishers to clog its library up with FPS games. A second circle pad is not needed, and I can say this after playing on one, and it’s only through playing games on the system will you realise this. Take Resident Evil: Revelations as a perfect example, as some would have you believe its better with the second circle pad peripheral and is a must for the game, but this simply isn’t the case, playing with one circle pad is perfectly fine, perhaps even better as its like the tank controls of the first classic RE game of old.

   I was over the moon when Nintendo released the 3DS XL with its bigger screens as this was a revision I was waiting for, and I'm very pleased with the system overall, and at the moment there has never been a better time to pick one up as it has a lot going for it. There are a few niggles here and there, but certainly no show stoppers. The lack of a charger included with the system is a poor decision as is the lack of promotional advertising making potential customers aware of the free game download. The growth of the 3DS library of games is growing, albeit very slowly, and the release line up seems to be very quiet at the moment, but it should now pick up a bit of pace with the release of the Wii U. Its sad but a true fact that the 3DS library offers more variety and has far more games as well as looking far healthier at the moment than Sony’s PS Vita, good for 3DS owners, not so for PS Vita owners. Hopefully Sony will turn things around soon instead of releasing the system and then letting it die on its arse, but only time will tell.

   It’s a perfect time to get a 3DS or 3DS XL when all is said and done, the future looks bright for the system even with the onslaught of the smartphone gaming market, as some like me still prefer a gaming device to be just that rather than a do everything machine, and the 3DS XL is one hell of a handheld gaming device.


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