It got off to a slow start in terms of game releases, but the Nintendo 3DS has become on of my favorite video game platforms lately. From Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars to Super Mario 3D Land to Pokemon X and Y, I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment from the dual-screened handheld.

But I’ve stuck with the same 3DS since the system launched back in 2011, when I was reviewing games for my college newspaper. I never upgraded to the larger 3DS XL, and my wife got the 2DS, so I’ve been ready for a change.

Enter the New 3DS XL, Nintendo’s “half step” toward a new gaming system. It’s not just sleeker and better looking, it also boasts a faster processor, better 3D and new control options. Was it worth it for me to wait this long to get another 3DS?

Super-stable 3D

To be blunt: This is how the 3DS should have been from the beginning.

I’ve often appreciated the 3DS’ signature feature, but I usually ended up turning it off whenever I would spend any significant chunk of time with a game. With older models of the 3DS (aside from the 2DS, which… is only in 2D), in order to get the much-bragged-about glasses-free 3D effect you had to hold the 3DS in a very specific “sweet spot.” Move away from that spot and you lose the effect, which can be extremely distracting when playing a game.

The New 3DS XL solves that by adding a face tracking camera to the front of the system that watches your movements and adjusts the 3D effect accordingly. While it’s still not perfect (you might lose the effect every now and then for a split second), the improvement is staggering. Now you can easily move and tilt the system quite a bit without losing the image.

I was personally even able to play a mini-game in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D in which I moved the 3DS to aim my bow, twisting my torso around like a crazy person, and once I marveled at the fact that the 3D kept up with me.

The 3D went from a nice novelty to something I very rarely turn off, so props to Nintendo for making that experience so much better.

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on a launch 3DS with a Circle Pad Pro attached, compared to Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate on the New 3DS XL.

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on a launch 3DS with a Circle Pad Pro attached, compared to Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate on the New 3DS XL.

Britton Peele

The C-Stick

The C-stick on the New 3DS is essentially a pointing stick — one of those little nubs you might have seen on a laptop keyboard that works like a makeshift mouse/trackball. It doesn’t move the same way as an analog stick or the 3DS’s existing Circle Pad, but it senses pressure in all directions and moves accordingly.

Functionally, it’s great for camera control in games like Majora’s Mask and Monster Hunter. It’s not as quick or as precise as a mouse or even an analog stick, but it gets the job done and feels surprisingly natural to use. Even though the original version Majora’s Mask didn’t have much in the way of camera control I find myself constantly using the C-stick to shift my view. It’s a wonderful addition and it’s a shame the original 3DS didn’t have it, because its usability will be limited by how many games end up supporting the feature (which, at the moment, is a significant minority of the overall 3DS library).

It’s not as lovable when it tries to emulate other “second analog stick” functions, however. A good example of this is 2012′s Resident Evil: Revelations, a game I enjoyed quite a bit when it came out. While not a requirement, I played a lot of that game with the Circle Pad Pro attachment, which made for a more comfortable and enjoyable (though admittedly less portable) gameplay experience.

Aiming and shooting at zombies with the second Circle Pad felt great. Aiming with the C-stick, though, just doesn’t feel right. Not only was I having trouble aiming my shots (something I had little problem with in the game’s other control schemes), I also kept encountering an issue where the analog movement of the C-stick would sort of lose momentum.

Think of the right analog stick of a console controller. When playing a first-person shooter like Call of Duty, as long as you’re tilting the stick to the right you will continue to turn right. Around and around and around. With the C-stick I would hold to the right the same way, but rather than spin forever my aiming reticle would slow down and eventually stop. I assume this has something to do my natural inclination (as a common user of console controllers) is to stop applying pressure to the stick when I start turning at the speed I want, which is not how the C-stick functions.

Still, shooters on the 3DS are few and far between, and I’ve found the C-stick to be a worthwhile addition when playing games like Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance and the demo for Codename S.T.E.A.M.

The faster CPU

This feature of the New 3DS is a bit weird, because in terms of actual games it changes nothing. With the exception of Xenoblade Chronicles 3D there are no games announced that will be exclusive to the New 3DS because of this hardware improvement, and no current games run better because of it.

That said, the fast CPU in the New 3DS does make a noticeable and worthwhile difference in the speed of system itself. This means that navigating menus, downloading things from the eShop and starting up games happens much faster than they did in previous 3DS models. It’s probably not an addition worth upgrading for on its own, but it’s a nice thing to have.

Amiibo support

Somewhat against my better judgement, I’ve been collecting some amiibo figures. They’ll work in Super Smash Bros. for 3DS, but apparently they don’t work yet, so… This feature is one I haven’t been able to test at all.

I’m excited about their use in Codename S.T.E.A.M., though, so that’s something, right?

From left to right: The original launch 3DS, the 2DS, the New 3DS XL.

From left to right: The original launch 3DS, the 2DS, the New 3DS XL.

Britton Peele

So do you need one?

If you’ve never owned a 3DS before and have been interested in checking out its exclusive games, then yes. Now is absolutely the time. Note, however, that the New 3DS XL does not come with a power cable, so you’ll need to buy one separately. The extra cost sucks, but Nintendo is betting that at this point, most people are upgrading from older 3DS models. If you have a power cable from any Nintendo handheld since the DSi, you’re good to go.

If you’re totally happy with your current 3DS, maybe don’t upgrade. Don’t get me wrong, the New 3DS is undoubtedly an improvement, but it can feel a bit like upgrading from an iPhone 5 to an iPhone 5S. It’s faster and has a couple neat, exclusive tricks, but it the older model still does everything you need it to do. Spending the extra money isn’t a requirement, and Nintendo will almost certainly have something brand new in a few years that will demand your attention (and money).

If you’re like me, though, and you’ve loved your current 3DS long enough and are ready for something new, then I think the New 3DS XL is great. Having it has encouraged me to go back to some great 3DS games that I didn’t finish the first time around (I’m looking at you, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney), and playing newer games like Majora’s Mask 3D has been a better experience because of the new hardware. My old 3DS and Circle Pad Pro have found their way to the Drawer of Outdated Electronics, and may never be seen again.

Nintendo sent us a New 3DS XL and a download code for The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D for the purpose of review.

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