Posted Mon Jan 26, 2015 at 01:00 PM PST by Brian Hoss
Even 'Monster Hunter' feels leveled up with the New 3DS XL.
In less than three weeks, Nintendo will unleash their new handheld system, the awkwardly titled New 3DS XL, on the North America (the same day as Europe). As the 3DS part of the title suggests, it is indeed part of the 3DS handheld family, but with a shortlist of important updates, the system is an upgrade on paper. As a technical upgrade, there is only one announced game that is exclusive to the new system, 'Xenoblade Chronicles X,' and that means all other announced and existing 3DS games work on the old and new 3DS systems. That ought to mean that current 3DS owners should feel comfortable not upgrading, but as with countless other upgrade paths, things can change once the user gets hands-on.
Nintendo elected to bring the New 3DS XL to PAX South along with upcoming titles 'The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D,' 'Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate,' and 'Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.' and on Friday I was able to enjoy some press time with the new system before hordes of PAX attendees packed Nintendo's booth for three straight days. As part of this session, I was able to play through all three sections of the 'The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D' demo, and good news for fans, Nintendo has plans for this demo to be released to all at some point in the future. (At minimum, it was promised as a kiosk demo for GameStop and the like, but it should be downloadable at some point in February as well.)
When the 3DS was introduced in 2011, Nintendo had hoped that it's passive 3D capability would be a sensation along the lines of a must-have feature. The reality is that even among the most dedicated 3DS fans, the feature is quickly turned off and hardly ever turned on again. There is a slider that allows the user to turn on and adjust the 3D effect for any game, but the problem is that the effect requires the user be in a very specific sweet spot in terms of aligning eyes towards the screen. For many users, staying in this sweet spot in so distracting, it quickly becomes not worth bothering with. In contrast, the New 3DS XL, which contains sensors that track the relative location of the user's head, increases the 3D sweet spot so drastically that the user now needs to actively try to get off kilter with the 3D effect.
This new 3D set-up isn't a cure-all, and anyone trying to peak to at another player's 3D screen is going to find the familiar misaligned mess. In those situations, where other players are trying to watch you play, it's as easy as ever to use the slider to turn the 3D off. The difference now though is that when going back to solo play (or else not caring about who's trying to watch,) it's well worth sliding the 3D effect back on. To be clear, the 3D effect at max is a little much for my taste, especially during a 'Majora's Mask 3D' cutscene when a character might be almost filling a screen, and as a result, I found the 3D effect to be best around 80%. Again, this is easy enough to adjust, but it does feel so strange to actually enjoy the 3D effect and not have to worry about tilting my head or some such normal movement.
Nintendo has long had a stubborn stance when it come to the dual analog design embraced by so many controller standards. The reveal of the New 3DS for Japan last year seemed almost like the ultimate exhibition of this stubbornness. Finally, no more odd peripherals like the Circle Pad Pro, and instead the 3DS would have a second stick built-in. There was just one stubborn problem. The right of the New 3DS does not feature a clone of the familiar left side 3DS nub, rather, there is a smaller eraser like nub.
Looking at New 3DS XL's C stick nub, and it's clearly smaller in diameter than the nearby X and Y buttons. At the same time though, the C stick nub is both taller and softer than those action buttons. Realizing that, it can be easy to just think of the new C stick as similar to the eraser head mouse that sticks out of the middle of certain notebook/laptop keyboards. But while there is some similarity, there are some very crucial differences. The C stick nub is meant to used with a thumb, and using it feels natural and precise in a way that can only be believed in actual use. I played through the entire 'The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3DS' demo, and I basically forgot about the game's crucial Z targeting as it was so natural to manually shift the view.
The C stick nub makes camera movement feel modern, but really, when running around town, the game does a great job of moving the camera in a smart way on its own (which should please non New 3DS owners). Fighting a boss in a 3D arena is a different story. Dodge-rolling around as Link feels awesome using the new C stick. While I expect many hardcore players will use Z targeting at will ('Dark Souls' style), I found that I only used Z targeting simply for the sake of seeing how the well the new Z buttons work.
Using the C stick in 'Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate' is a little different story. The game was built with the idea of free camera control in mind, and thus, the new C stick in the game works just as well an any standard camera control in a third person action title. The new Z buttons can be used for shortcut commands, which is welcome, but didn't lend itself well to a demonstration session.
I explained earlier that the head tracking was a game-changer in terms of the 3D effect, but what is more stunning is how much faster the system works. In addition to the upcoming games, 'Mario Kart 7' and 'Super Smash Bros.' was on-hand, and the differences was night and day. If you've ever, upgraded a hard drive and been impressed by faster loading times, you can expect to be floored by the New 3DS XL. It's honestly more like using an emulator, and there is only the barest hint of load screen at times when you expect at least a few seconds. Both 'The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D' and 'Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate' exhibited negligible load times when moving between environments. (As an aside, due to time constraints, the 'Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.' demo was only a video of the game in action. That video has only raised my interest in the game.)
Without being able to test out battery life or worry about the memory card slot or even see the amiibo reader in action, the blazing load times are the kind of thing that frequent 3DS users can't ignore. The difference is along the lines of skipping commercials, and I'd have a sideways look for anyway who said they didn't mind the comparatively long loading times of the original 3DS hardware.
On paper the New 3DS XL might not appear to be an obvious threat to the original 3DS, but in case it isn't yet clear, I've got no doubt that the added features are well worth the upgrade. And frankly, while I enjoyed using the system and marveling at those upgrades, it was impossible to ignore a lingering wonder of how better games could be if they were designed exclusively for the New 3DS XL. A texture resolution upgrade alone would help new titles feel new, and the extra horsepower ought to be an asset when it comes to fighting a boss or heading into home base for whatever game. (The built-in amiibo reader may be enough for many users.) Even without something as important as the AC adapter included, the new system is poised to be a massive hit. Ultimately, that means that fans will benefit from upgrading sooner rather than later, and that a whole line of New 3DS exclusive games are just around the corner.
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