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TGS: New 3DS Feels Great, But Will Nintendo's Gamble Pay Off?

A hands-on demo generates good feelings about the hardware and questions about its long-term prospects.

Preview by Jeremy Parish, .

The rumors were true: Even though Nintendo never attends Tokyo Game Show and never shows off hardware or software early, a limited supply of New 3DS hardware units were available for public use. The rub? They only appeared in the single most crowded booth on the show floor.

Capcom was showing off the upcoming Monster Hunter 4G (the revamped Monster Hunter 4 on which the U.S. release, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, is based) on New 3DS and New 3DS LL (XL in the U.S.) units. But every year, the line to play Monster Hunter is always the longest at the show, sometimes running as many as four hours. This year, Capcom expected such massive crowds (even with dozens of units available for the 15-minute demo sessions) that they started handing out tickets to prospective players stamped with a time. Rather than wait for hours on end, fans could simply grab a ticket and come back at the appropriate time... at least until the tickets ran out, anyway.

The New 3DS is all its glory.

In other words, playing a New 3DS early required me to structure my entire second morning of TGS around the need to beat the crowds to Capcom's booth. But it worked out, and I spent a short while with Nintendo's new handheld. I wasn't allowed to take pictures, unfortunately, and the booth attendants politely chastised me every time I examined the hardware itself rather than playing the game, but the experience proved to be solid nevertheless.

First, let there be no question that the New 3DS XL is outwardly almost identical to the standard XL. The dimensions feel exactly the same in the hands, though the New XL may be slightly thinner; then again, that could simply be an impression given by the tapered edges on the hardware. Like Apple, Nintendo has figured out that rounded edges on hardware can fool the hands into telling your brain the device you're holding is slimmer than it actually is.

While the two systems share similar dimensions, though, the New XL gives a very different tactile sensation than the existing unit. Whereas standard XLs tend to have a matte, slightly textured finish, the XL's plastics have a smooth, glossy consistency that reminds me of the DS Lite more than anything else. The plastics are thinner - the DS Lite had a sort of sandwiched layered plastic form - but the feel is very similar.

More importantly, though, the New 3DS has much greater physical functionality. Much ado has been made of the system's second analog slider, but the New 3DS also incorporates secondary shoulder buttons. These come in a slightly strange arrangement; rather than being stacked one over the other as on a console controller, they instead appear in line with one another along the edge of the system. The standard L and R buttons remain the same as ever, but the ZL and ZR buttons are small squarish objects directly between the old shoulder buttons.

Look at those nostalgia buttons.

The placement of these new buttons has necessitated some more dramatic configuration changes to the console. Both the cartridge slot and the stylus slot have been relocated to the bottom edge of the system, interestingly enough. Given the tendency of styluses to become loose in their slots after extensive use, this seems a bit like playing with fire - those styli are just begging to become lost - but maybe Nintendo has worked an engineering miracle. The exterior of the system is otherwise smooth; my surreptitious examinations between booth attendant scoldings didn't manage to reveal the location of the memory card slot... but since the system now works off Micro SD cards, maybe it was simply so small it escaped my notice.

The layout of the system's face has also changed subtly. The Home button is now a single oval button beneath the bottom screen, and the Start and Select buttons have shifted over to the right side of the unit, exactly like on the later DS family members. Of course, the big addition is the aforementioned right stick, which is only about three or four years too late. It's actually less a stick than one of those "mouse nubs" that appeared on Lenovo or ThinkPad laptop systems, a small rubberized knob that doesn't move. Unlike the 3DS Slide Pad, it has almost zero give - and yet it's extremely sensitive and precise. Monster Hunter 4 uses it for controlling the game camera, and it fulfills that task perfectly. I don't know that I'd want to use it for more intense purposes, though, like directing fire in a twin-stick shooter.

The camera nub reminds me, spiritually, of the right stick on the GameCube controller. It suggests that Nintendo remains reluctant to adopt other people's standard features. This is ridiculous, of course, given that the Wii U Game Pad finally showed Nintendo giving in to necessity and incorporating a full right analog stick, but then again they also stuck a full LCD screen in the Game Pad. Nintendo just doesn't seem to be comfortable unless it's doing things its own weird way.

Deck your new 3DS out in fabulous colors!

Finally, the last improvement for the New 3DS comes from its massively improved screens. While the resolution of the system doesn't appear to have changed, the quality of the main screen takes a huge step up from the existing XL. Everything is brighter, with crisper edges and sharper contrast. Blacks are deeper, colors more saturated. The 3D visual effect is greatly improved, too, creating an impressive shadowbox effect that makes Monster Hunter look more like an interactive diorama than it does on a standard XL. And finally, the angle of viewing works much better, with less ghosting and stereo visual "garbage" when the 3D slider is maxed out.

These across-the-board improvements, along with the system's under-the-hood tweaks (such as increased RAM), make the New 3DS an undeniable improvement over the original. And yet, it also poses a major risk for Nintendo: Its existence promises to fragment the 3DS market. The 2DS was a gamble enough, with its confusing nomenclature, but ultimately its changes never went beyond strictly cosmetic. The New 3DS, on the other hand, brings with it actual issues of compatibility; it will be powerful enough to handle Wii ports like Xenoblade Chronicles that simply can't happen on the standard 3DS. To play New 3DS is to want to own New 3DS, but not everyone will be able to afford an upgrade, especially an incremental upgrade that still trails well behind mobile platforms in terms of horsepower. Either publishers will go all-in and leave standard 3DS owners feeling as though they've been left behind, or else publishers will be afraid to limit themselves to the smaller New 3DS market and the system will prove to be pointless.

Of course, this isn't the first time Nintendo has updated a platform in this fashion. The New 3DS shares the same relationship with 3DS that Game Boy Color did with Game Boy. And while Game Boy Color proved a success, that likely had everything to do with the lack of alternatives on the market - not exactly an edge Nintendo can count on these days. And GBC ultimately served as a stopgap between Game Boy and Game Boy Advance, a time-killer while the company waited for the right time to launch GBA. It's hard not to see New 3DS as something similar - perhaps a placeholder while the company runs out the clock on Wii U and launches that hybrid portable/console system everyone assumes will be the company's next major hardware initiative. But who knows?

The New 3DS XL.

In any case, U.S. consumers won't have to worry about whether or not to upgrade to New 3DS any time soon; the system reportedly won't launch outside Japan until next year. By then, we should have a better sense of uptake for the platform based on its performance in Japan, as well as a clearer picture of what kind of developer support we should see for the console.

As for me, well, I've had my first taste of the system, and now I'm going to be jonesing for my next fix. I wonder how that Monster Hunter line is looking right about now?

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Comments 18

  • Avatar for drdoctor #1 drdoctor 3 years ago
    It's like the DSi all over again. Remember that the DSi had an improved processor? How many games made use of that??

    Most 3DS and Vita games still are far superior to the freeware garbage found in the iOS / android store though--looks better too despite the "better hardware" of mobiles. That's the benefit of dedicated hardware toward gaming--as well as a less throwaway mentality of mobile games.
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #2 Captain-Gonru 3 years ago
    I'm just glad I didn't pick up that 3DSXL I've been putting off.
    I would guess most games will opt for locking certain out for older 3DSs (much like we've already heard about Smash Bros.). Fingers crossed, though.
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  • Avatar for mobichan #3 mobichan 3 years ago
    @drdoctor I would say it isn't the mentality of the games, but the mentality of the audience. There are a few games I play daily on my phone (some for over a year now) and they are a nice diversion while I am out and about. They are well designed to hold my attention for a long time. Sure there are lots of other games with no meat to them, but that doesn't mean you should dismiss the whole store.

    As for the DSi comparison, I totally agree. Unless Nintendo makes some killer app, it is doubtful that this wont just end up being the Monster Hunter player's system or a collectible variant of the hardware line. I was pretty upset when I got my 3DS and found out that Flipnote studio was cancelled. Seems like the one thing the DSi had that I missed out on.
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  • Avatar for docexe #4 docexe 3 years ago
    Given how sales of the other models had slowed down, especially in Japan, a new iteration of the 3DS was coming. But the added horsepower and the resulting fragmentation of the market are certainly concerns. Not to mention that Nintendo still doesn’t have a proper unified account system. So, it remains to be seen how successful this iteration will be.

    At the very least I hope they come with a better name for the International markets rather than New 3DS.

    I also wonder, given that Monster Hunter 4G doesn’t come in America and Europe until 2015, will the release of that game tie with the release of this new model?
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #5 nadiaoxford 3 years ago
    Not going to lie, the prospect of handheld Xenoblade makes it worthwhile for me. Alas, I am but one woman.
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  • Avatar for GohanGVO #6 GohanGVO 3 years ago
    The microSD card is located behind the panel of the lower part of the system. If you do a Google image search for "new 3ds microsd" then you'll see it. :)

    Anyway, my most hopeful addition that the New 3DS line brings is technical improvements to already released games. I was taken aback somewhat by the non-60FPS nature of games like Super Mario 3D Land and Luigi's Mansion 2, especially since Nintendo typically strives to hit that mark. The system, for me, will be an instant purchase if Nintendo commits to making use of the improved hardware in that way.
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  • Avatar for metalangel #7 metalangel 3 years ago
    Thanks for the very detailed and relatable description.

    I now really don't care about it. The new stick is just one of those annoying pointing sticks? In a nice and high position so my thumb might get extra tired or cramped trying to reach it?

    This seems like a pointless upgrade for fear of dividing their userbase, but useful as a testbed for the next genuine iteration in hardware (a bit like the DSi testing things like DSiware for us to enjoy the eShop on the 3DS).
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  • Avatar for thewonps #8 thewonps 3 years ago
    Just so I'm totally clear, the c-stick nub doesn't actually move/rotate, right? You apply pressure in the direction you want to move and it registers that direction, but the nub itself stays physically stationary? Why do I feel dirty now?
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  • Avatar for thewonps #9 thewonps 3 years ago
    @nadiaoxford Your comment brings up a great point about the New 3DS. I know folks are worried about the market fragmenting, but as long as its only "core" games that utilize the new processor and the big-selling games remain compatible with all versions of the hardware, it's not going to be a problem, right? Then again, why would Nintendo not make another Pokemon game New 3DS only in order to boost sales? People might get upset but they're still going to buy it. Sigh, this topic gives me a headache sometimes.
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  • Avatar for pertusaria #10 pertusaria 2 years ago
    I am getting one of these when they come out in Europe (currently own a 2DS and was already on the verge of upgrading to something with 3D). It's just a question of whether I go for standard or XL (I have small hands).

    That said, I am concerned at Nintendo's continued marketing of the current 3DS XL during the Christmas period here, only to launch a new, improved model in... April or so? Not everyone stays up with the news enough to know what's around the corner, so there will be buyers who don't know that they could wait and possibly get something better. I can see why Nintendo needs healthy Christmas sales, but it feels a bit off. Altogether, it's a shame they couldn't have launched worldwide in November or early December.

    Edit - meant to say, thanks for the early sneak peek. I'd resigned myself to no further info until early- to mid-October.Edited September 2014 by pertusaria
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #11 nadiaoxford 2 years ago
    @thewonps I think Nintendo will hold off on making the next Pokemon game a New 3DS exclusive; Black and White were still DS games even though the 3DS was juuuust on the horizon at the time. That said, I think you're on to something. I could see the inevitable "sister" game(s) being a New 3DS exclusive or at least New 3DS optimized. Pokemon Crystal was only playable on the Game Boy Colour, if I'm not mistaken.

    I still adore my GBC, even if it felt like a waystation between GB and GBA. I didn't buy it for Pokemon, though; I bought it for its excellent Dragon Warrior III adaptation. Worth iiiiiiit~
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #12 LBD_Nytetrayn 2 years ago
    Hmm, now I'm wondering how the C-Stick (C-Nub?) will hold up in Super Smash Bros.
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #13 Stealth20k 2 years ago
    Fragment the market? I do not think it will at all. This is a DSI like upgrade.Edited 2 times. Last edited September 2014 by Stealth20k
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  • Avatar for vincentgoodwin88 #14 vincentgoodwin88 2 years ago
    The speculation I heard was that the New 3DS will be able to run Unity, making indie and mobile ports substantially easier.

    Personally, I would just be happy if Nintendo could get SNES and GBA VC games running on the New 3DS. That would be enough to get me to upgrade.
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  • Avatar for drdoctor #15 drdoctor 2 years ago
    @mobichan you're right. Have you ever played game Dev story? Great little cross between harvest Moon and the travails of a game developer... A gem of a game.
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  • Avatar for mobichan #16 mobichan 2 years ago
    @drdoctor Seen it, but I'm not much of a sim game guy. Besides, I live the game dev life everyday, so I don't need to experience it virtually. :P Love the pixel art in it though. SeGaGaGa on Dreamcast always looked cool to me too.
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  • Avatar for Hero-Protagonist #17 Hero-Protagonist 2 years ago
    ..I bought a Japanese 3dsLL about six months ago.

    ..Gosh darn you Nintendo.
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  • Avatar for dreamnaut #18 dreamnaut 2 years ago
    Hopefully they bring this over with the Super Famicom colored buttons. All in all, I'm looking forward to the upgrade.
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