"Should I Buy a New Nintendo 3DS?"

"Should I Buy a New Nintendo 3DS?"

Which 3DS model is right for you?

Updated: Nintendo has announced a February 13 launch date for the New 3DS console — but in America, it's only shipping in the XL model. Most likely we'll see the standard New 3DS eventually here, but probably further down the road. While I prefer and recommend the smaller New 3DS to the XL, all the perks of the standard model (except the convenient size and interchangeable faceplates) hold true for the XL.

The New 3DS has been available in Japan for a couple of months now, and last week Nintendo of Europe sent out early units to select Club Nintendo members in advance of the system's European release, like tiny Silver Surfers capable of playing Mario Kart 7. Supposedly, GameStop and other U.S. retailers have begun receiving promotional and point-of-sale materials for the system, too. Now that the holiday shopping season is over and Nintendo has wrung the last of its possible dollars from the original and XL 3DS models, the arrival of the New 3DS in America seems inevitable; the safe money appears to be February 13.

All of this is well and good, but it doesn't address the most important question about the New 3DS: Is it worth the money?

Of course, this depends in part on exactly how much money we're talking about here. European models appear to be selling at €170 for the standard New 3DS and €200 for the New XL — the same price as the older models, which suggests they'll sell for $170 and $200 in the U.S. In both the U.S. and Europe, the standard 3DS has pretty much vanished from the supply chain, and most retailers have a seemingly permanent $30/€30 markdown on the XL.

So, the system will mostly likely sell for a reasonable price when it launches in the U.S. [Update: It's selling for $199.] The issue isn't really price, though; it's value. Most people interested in a New 3DS at launch will be dyed-in-the-wool Nintendo fans who already own a 3DS or 3DS XL. Does it really make sense to drop another $200 for a system that largely duplicates the functions of a system you already own?

If this were simply a cosmetic upgrade, we could just roll our eyes and say, "As if, Nintendo!" But the New 3DS is packing quite a bit under its hood to give it an edge over its base-model predecessor. The New 3DS offers more memory, a beefier processor, improved 3D visuals, and a built-in right analog stick (well, analog nub) to go along with its fancy new design.

It also has a couple of really awkwardly placed secondary shoulder buttons. There's always some goofy design decision, or else it wouldn't be Nintendo.

Nintendo has already promised new games that will specifically take advantage of the improved hardware, including a port of the most impressive adventure to ever appear on Nintendo Wii, Xenoblade Chronicles. No way that thing is running on a standard 3DS, which means it's a pretty hefty stick-and-carrot to entice you into an upgrade. And Monster Hunter 4 is due soon, a game begging to make use of that right thumb nub. We wouldn't be surprised to see certain games run in an enhanced mode on New 3DS, also. Majora's Mask 3D, perhaps? Paralleling the original N64 release's need for the RAM Pak expansion? [Update: Majora's Mask will incorporate right-stick camera controls for the first time on New 3DS.]

I've spent the past couple of months playing around with a Japanese New 3DS, mostly bumbling through Final Fantasy Explorers (it's fun!), and on the whole I've been impressed with the system — even if Explorers doesn't include 3D visualization, mooting one of the New 3DS's most interesting features. While I wouldn't presume to tell anyone how to spend their money, I can at least offer advice based on my own experience, depending on the perspective from which you're considering investing in a New 3DS.

I don't own any 3DS. Should I get a New 3DS?

Absolutely, yes. For an extra $30 or whatever, you'll be treating yourself to a system capable of running all upcoming 3DS/New 3DS software along with an absolutely massive library of 3DS and DS games. An old-timey 3DS is fine for kids or more casual game fans, but if you're serious enough about this venture that you're reading a site like USgamer, you're serious enough to make a modest extra investment.

Plus, faceplates mean that (in theory) you obsessive types don't have to keep buying limited edition systems to freshen up your 3DS's looks. [Update: Sorry, Americans!]

I own an original model 3DS or a 2DS. How about me?

You should at least strongly consider upgrading. If you're happy with the system you have now, great! Go with that feeling. But the base model New 3DS represents a pretty significant improvement over the base model 3DS or 2DS — enough to merit serious consideration.

For starters, the New 3DS has a considerably larger screen than the original 3DS — roughly 25% larger. Despite the devices being roughly the same size in the hand, the screens occupy more real estate on the face of the system and make games quite a bit easier to see. In fact, I would say the base New 3DS has the best visual density of any Nintendo handheld to date. It strikes a perfect balance between being large enough to let you see visual detail without squinting, yet dense enough that it doesn't suffer the pixelated effect of the New 3DS. Meanwhile, the form factor remains compact enough that it slips easily into a pocket. And you can customize the system with interchangeable face plates.

Alternately, if you're interested in moving up to the big deluxe apartment in the sky of the XL form factor, you should still jump over to New 3DS at this point. The New 3DS XL is more or less indistinguishable from the original in terms of screen quality and form factor, but the New version contains all the internal goodies that you'll want.

In short, this amounts to several perks. More RAM and processing power, which has a huge impact on the operating system — opening and closing big, complex games like Smash Bros. is far, far faster on New 3DS than the old model, for instance. Total forward compatibility with New 3DS-specific games like Xenoblade Chronicles. Better 3D head-tracking — the system's cameras can track your current viewing angle and shift the 3D effect to match, meaning you have to work hard to "break" the 3D illusion. There's that right thumb nub, which works with any game that supported the Circle Pad Pro. And a few more minor tweaks that improve the overall quality of the experience, like Wii U-style NFC compatibility on the bottom screen (you know, for Amiibos).

We probably won't get the great Japanese Super Famicom-style face buttons, but we do get the analog nub.

I own a 3DS XL. Worth it?

Ah. Well, that one's trickier. The New 3DS XL packs all those new under-the-hood additions, but otherwise it doesn't offer any substantial improvements over the standard XL. The screens may be slightly better, but it's a toss up. Battery life is reportedly identical. Besides the right nub and the hidden Micro SD card slot, the form factor is largely indistinguishable from the original XL. Even the plastics are largely the same. The New XL doesn't include niceties like interchangeable faceplates, resized screens, or anything similar.

Which isn't to say you shouldn't buy a New XL, but it's not a slam dunk upgrade. In short, you can afford to wait... unless, by some miracle, the XL shows up in stores tomorrow with Xenoblade Chronicles in tow. Barring some extreme circumstance like that, you'll probably want to wait to upgrade... unless, of course, you're a hardcore Monster Hunter fan. In which case you'll want to upgrade as soon as Monster Hunter 4 shows up. The cost of the upgrade is almost worth not having to lug around a Circle Pad Pro.

Another option presents itself, though, and this is the one I'm considering for myself: Downgrade as you upgrade. The bigger screens of the New 3DS don't feel nearly as cramped and hard-to-read as the screens on the original 3DS/2DS. Between its more compact form factor, the better screens, and the luxe faceplates, the New 3DS almost makes the New XL moot. Messing around with the import New 3DS makes me wish I could play my American games on it, and the overall improvements and convenience it offers over the XL are quite tempting. [Update: Obviously, this advice is useless for American consumers at the moment. However, you Europeans should take heed!]

In summary

If you're looking to make your debut in the world of 3DS gaming, get a New 3DS. Don't get an outdated model just to save a few bucks.

If your old model is feeling dated or limited, consider getting a New 3DS — if not now, then whenever you're ready.

If you're considering upgrading to New 3DS out of obligation, or if you resent the idea of having to spend more money for an incremental upgrade, hang on to your cash for the time being. Maybe forever. Wait until an indisputable reason to upgrade comes along, whether that's a game that desperately needs an analog nub or only runs on New 3DS. And if that reason never comes, remember that the stock 3DS plays a heck of a lot of great games already.

And whatever your choice, skip the New 3DS XL. The smaller, superior New 3DS is where it's at. [Update: Or... not.]

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