Launching in the UK this week on the 28th, there comes the obvious questions with a hardware upgrade: what are the differences, and is worth the extra investment?
XL by name, XL by nature. It's essentially just that, a bigger version of the existing console. There's a few notable alterations, headlined by the the new top screen which at 4.88 by 4.18 inches is 90% bigger than the original 3DS. A few new curves, remodelled buttons and perhaps surprisingly given that bigger screen - a longer battery life, with Nintendo pegging 3 - 6.5 hours for 3DS titles, and 5 - 8 hours for DS titles. With the bigger body comes extra weight as well: 100g heavier than the 3DS.
It comes pre-loaded with a 4 gig SD card (double the size of the original), but the 3DS XL's box lacks both an AC Adaptor and charging cradle - the reason, according to Nintendo, to keep the price of the unit down. While any DS/3DS adaptor will do, it worth's noting if you're planning to trade-in your 3DS for an XL.
It's still pricer than the original with a £174.99 RRP, but the flip-side for 3DS first-time adopters not concerned with the extra screen size is that it'll drive down the price of the original unit - now selling for £134.99.
We've had the Silver version in the office the past few days for review, though we'll have to take Nintendo at its word about the colour: to our eyes it's more a dull grey, and after the jazziness of the aqua blue 3DS looks fairly dull. Not aided by the fact our second thought - after "crikey its big" - was when clutched in the hand, the unit looks uncannily like a purse.
The grey finish up top is paralleled along the case's bottom, and the two bordered by a matte black finish the runs the length of the screen hinges and unit edges.
For our money the new curves work better than the rectangular build to the original, and proves an easier grip long term when resting in the palm of your hand.
There's now a series of rounded feet on the bottom of the unit, perhaps to stop scratches when it's sitting out of the cradle. The headphone socket's shifted slightly from the middle to the far left of the unit's bottom, and the power and charging light indicators at the bottom right now curve up and onto the interior's lower half.
There's a definite feeling of a downgrade when you flick open the XL shell. The interior is a wholly matte black finish (as opposed to the glossy black top half/coloured lower half of the 3DS). The glossy black worked much better in conjunction with the top screen in our eyes.
However, it follows the exact same aesthetic as the Game Boy SP, and as a result it's harder to get fingerprints on the insides of the machine. The speakers either side of the top screen have a nine-holed output as opposed to the original's five, though to our ears added little to the audio.
However, all of this you'll only notice once you've managed to stop staring at the new top screen. It's the biggest screen Nintendo's planted onto any of its handhelds, and as we'll see in our games test later, its the major hook of the redesign.
The Power button's been changed from a raised square to a circle embedded in the casing, while the the trio of buttons underneath the bottom screen have lost their casing overcoat and now act like mini-space bars.
3DS/XL size comparisons
The XL looks thinner, even if it's the same thickness of the 3DS, likely as the top screen's lost a couple of millimetres of thickness. But obviously the 155 x 173mm dimensions when open (versus 135 x 138mm) makes for a chunkier space filler. Closed you can still fit it in your back and side jean pockets - but just don't expect to be able to bend or sit.
XL Play test: Games
We took a selection of the current 3DS catalogue - a cross-section of the available genres - and hammered through 'em to see if the XL offered any improvements to the current 3DS model.
The Top Screen
Going XL is akin to changing from 4:3 to a widescreen TV for the first time, the difference is that big.
It impacts massively on those games with wide open worlds: these titles are finally allowed to breathe. Ridge Racer's Redstone Thunder Road dazzles with its canyon rivers stretching off into the far distance, and similarly you get to appreciate Mario Kart 7's courses size and their trackside details.
Kid Icarus's flight levels become a lot more cinematic, and you can appreciate the detail of the stages in Resident Evil: Revelations, which in larger scale looks a lot closer to its home console brethren.
Pride of place though went to Ocarina of Time: the iconic title opening drew newly appreciative gasps, and the lick of paint Hyrule's been given for the re-release really shines out.
Mario Land oddly didn't have the same effect: the bright primary colours lacking the extra detail to make a difference (its the same bright hue - just more of it), but the 3D makes everything leap out of the screen more - we found ourselves involuntarily moving our head in Starfox 64 as an Arwing soared past in a cutscene. The flip side is the larger screen cause a larger headache when you move out of the sweet spot and the image fractures in two.
There was also a few headaches as there's now much more to take in. Pushed to full, the 3D in Tekken made our head spin (though returning to it and Dead or Alive later had our eyes adjusting in time). Surprisingly Metal Gear Solid's jungle environments became one muddy mess of greenery. The screen's resize doesn't come with a resolution upgrade and as a result you'll notice jagged edges all the more.
The XL stretches DS games event further on the dual screens (though not completely filling the space). As a result colours and text look dull and muddy, though as with the 3DS there's an option to play the games in their native resolution by holding Start and Select when booting the game up from the main menu (though with the result that they get lost in the middle of the bigger set of screens.)
The Bottom Screen
Another element benefiting from the increased size if the system's front menu, with the boxed icons now given space to stretch, and the upper sub-menus standing out more. As a result, you'll find yourself exploring and playing around a lot more with the eShop and Notifications. The web browser still won't become your default however.
There's extra space below the left D-Pad, enough to rest the thumb joint on rather than it hanging in free space. The new D-Pad feels clicky rather than spongy. While it's exactly the same build and shape of the original - because the centre cross is buried deeper into the casing, the four points feel more noticeable.
It makes for really big noticeable improvement when playing 2D platformers and fighting games - both Tekken and Dead or Alive really benefited from the change.
We've lost the extendable metallic stylus from the rear of the 3DS: it's now on the right side (same as the DS) and is a full length plastic version. While that certainly looks (and feels) like a drop in quality, the housing move is a welcome one as its much more natural and easier to pull the stylus out, and with the depression more pronounced for easier grabbing, there's no more fiddling at the back end. As a result, we've tended to use the Stylus a lot more than resort to finger touch.
The Volume button is bigger and more a replica of the wireless button on the right of the unit, though the mechanism is a slider rather than a spring-loaded system.
The 3D slider now feels a lot firmer and precise than before.
SD Card Slot
In line with the new curvature of the unit's sides, the slot is now a curved drawer, with a single thick and bendable plastic attached rather than the original's two-pronged approach, and this drawer extends out a little bit further.
Select, Home and Start
It's a springy space bar-like alteration for the trio of buttons below the lower screen. While the original's didn't feel quite solid either, at least their housing under the unit's casing gave the lower part a flush look. The XL's may be more pronounced, the byproduct is a cheap look, and the spongy feel doesn't feel as firm.
The first wave of XL comes in three varieties: along with the grey/silver version, there's a blue and red version as well. All have the same matte finish in the machine's interior.
In the Box
You're getting your chosen unit, AR cards, quick start guides in multiple languages and a weighty tomb of a 300 page plus instruction manual, which is the main weight to the box.
Circle Pad Pro
The resize means the original extra stick add-on won't work, but a XL version will be available at some point in the near future.
Over the past few days the XL has reinvigorated our penchant for playing the 3DS games, and it's much more than the opportunity to play around with a new gadget.
We've found renewed enjoyment of much-loved titles, and even those that have gathered dust now click because we can see so much more of the game world on the bigger screen. And that combined with the D-Pad has also brought much-needed precision and detail to the fighting genre.
In short, 3DS gaming's become a daily addition to our lives again, and as long as the games keep coming, that'll remain the case for some time to come. While the body's bigger and the battery's still not powerful enough to entertain along the entirety of long-haul trips, the XL gives you a significantly better gameplay experience in the long run.
If you're new to the 3DS, then the XL is the best first purchase of this line of console; same goes if you're able to afford the cost of an upgrade with a 3DS trade-in. Unless you're a collector, your standard 3DS won't ever get a look in again - the system may lack the sheen of the original, but Nintendo's consoles have always been about the experience on them rather an Apple-like design. And once you see that screen, you'll see your handheld gaming in a whole new way.
Final Note: Buying a Nintendo 3DS XL
Okay, so you may be convinced to go for an XL. Couple of things to note. One, if you're trading in your 3DS to upgrade, it's best to check with your local GAME, GameStation, HMV or other retailer beforehand about transferring your system data between old and new: while most stores should be fine with this, it's entirely up to the individual outlet - and don't forget you'll only be able to do this in stores that have wi-fi.
Watch: Hands-On with the XL