The 3DS XL, for those who are unaware, is Nintendo’s first revision of the 3DS hardware. Nintendo is no stranger to releasing new versions of its handhelds during the course of their lifetimes. The original Gameboy evolved into the Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Light. The Game Boy Advance was followed by the Game Boy Advance SP and the Game Boy Micro. The DS ramped this process up considerably, coming out with the DS Lite, DSi, and DSi XL.
The surprising thing here is not the fact that Nintendo is releasing a new model of 3DS – it’s the fact that the 3DS XL’s existence is almost entirely superfluous. Sure, it’ll no doubt do good business for the big N, but for the rest of us, it’s kind of a slap in the face. Here’s why.
Let me begin by stating the obvious – bigger does not necessarily mean better. The 3DS XL is big. Really big. In fact, it’s exactly the same size as the DSi XL before it. It’s so big that it really kind of defeats the purpose of being a handheld. Unless you wear nothing but cargo pants, chances are, it’s not going to fit into any regular pocket the way the current 3DS model does. People complained that the Vita is too large to fit in your pockets, well, the 3DS XL is even wider, though not as long.
As for the increase in screen size, Nintendo is boasting that the new screens are 90% larger than they are on the current model. That’d be all well and good except for two things – the increased size is not coming with an increase in resolution. So how will existing 3DS games look on the new screens? Stretched out and pixelated, the way DS games look on the current 3DS? Nintendo hasn’t specified, probably because that is exactly the case.
The other caveat to larger screens? The autostereoscopic 3D effect that gives the 3DS its namesake will likely be greatly hindered. See, the reason glasses-free 3D hasn’t really taken off in a larger format like TVs is because the smaller the screen, the better it works. It’s entirely dependent on where the player’s eyes are focused, and with the current 3DS, the entire top screen fits nicely into the center of your field of vision. Larger screens could throw off this effect, allowing more screen space to show up in your peripheral vision instead.
In fact, the only legitimate upgrade included in the 3DS XL is a longer battery life, boasting 3 – 6½ hours while playing 3DS software, and 5 – 8 hours playing DS software. The one feature most people wanted is the one thing conspicuously absent from the design – a second analog stick.
The addition of a second analog stick is something so sorely missed that the current 3DS even has its own peripheral specifically for that purpose – the ugly, awkward, Circle Pad Pro. Lacking a second stick wouldn’t bother me quite as much if I wasn’t so sure that Nintendo’s reasons for excluding it are unsavory at best. Consider this – they’ll need to release a new, larger Circle Pad add on to fit the 3DS XL, which, of course, is more money out of the player’s pocket.
Consider this as well – the DS didn’t receive any major upgrades until the DSi, the third version of the hardware. The DS Lite was nice, sure, but it didn’t come with extra features. The DSi added a camera, the e-Shop, and more, barely a year after the DS Lite came out, but that didn’t stop the DS Lite from selling like hotcakes, and the DSi sold similarly well when it came out. If history is any indication, the 3DS XL is only the first of a handful of hardware revisions, and major additions probably won’t be made until the inevitable follow up. But it doesn’t matter to Nintendo – they withheld the major upgrades on purpose so that people will have to throw even more money at them in the future.
These incremental upgrades have already proven to be a successful business model for Nintendo, as well as companies like Apple. No one can argue that it’s bad business for them, but it’s bad for us, the consumers, yet we are the ones validating this business model in the first place. If more people could take a critical look at the “upgrades” they’re offered with new hardware, rather than blindly buying the latest thing when there is nothing wrong with the current thing, it might force companies to release true and significant upgrades instead. As it stands now, we’re being nickeled and dimed, only those nickels and dimes add up to $199.99.
Don’t we deserve better?