Update: Now that the Nintendo Switch is out the future of the Nintendo 3DS is uncertain. Nintendo has said that it's not dropping support for the handheld anytime soon, but we'd be surprised if it didn't overwhelmingly focus on its new hardware going forward. Regardless, the 3DS's library of games isn't going anywhere, and it now represents a great budget option to Nintendo's newer hardware.
Original review continues below:
For all the stuff it does well, Nintendo doesn't do itself many favours when it comes to naming conventions. After the messy and confused messaging of the Wii U and the perhaps even more confusing 2DS, it's now gone and named its latest 3DS the New Nintendo 3DS.
To add to the confusion, there are two different models, a standard New 3DS and the New 3DS XL. Why the distinction? The New 3DS proper comes with interchangeable faceplates, while the New 3DS XL sports a larger screen.
Just looking at them, though, you wouldn't be able to tell much difference between these and their prior form. It's less of a problem for the serious gamers and Nintendo nuts, but for the parents who are out to buy their kid a birthday present… well, you can see the problem.
But the New 3DS really is new. The alterations might not immediately strike you - many are under the hood - but the handheld has undergone a number of beneficial tweaks. From the addition of the right-stick near the face buttons and more powerful internals to the interchangeable faceplates, there are plenty of worthwhile tweaks that justify the upgrade.
I've never had a problem with the design of the 3DS and, clearly, neither has Nintendo. The clamshell shape is as familiar as ever, although it has been bumped up a smidge in size to accommodate a slightly larger display.
As an added bonus, Nintendo has granted the power of interchangeable faceplates to this smaller model. Nintendo sent me a rather eye-catching Luigi one to try but you'll have a vast range to choose from (Japan already has 40) if you fancy some added customisation. Why this is absent on the XL is a bit of a mystery to me - again, I imagine it comes down to market research.
The system itself also comes in a number of styles and colours – there's the classic Red/Black and Blue/Black combinations, but Nintendo has also announced or already launched Pokemon-themed versions, Lime Green, Pink and Galaxy-themed iterations of the handheld as well.
Open it up and, again, it's a familiar sight. As a nice little touch, the face buttons now replicate the colours of those on the SNES controller. But the biggy is the one we've been waiting on for far too long - a second analogue stick.
Don't be fooled by that puny-looking grey nib that's sprouted on the right hand side - it's a fully-fledged C-stick capable of 360 degree movement. It feels stiff but it's surprisingly sensitive. During my time playing Majora's Mask it worked wonderfully for controlling the in-game camera. Much of that is down to the placement that makes thumb-jumping between face buttons and analogue stick super easy.
To go with your new analogue stick is a pair of added shoulder buttons, putting the much-berated Circle Pad Pro accessory out of a job. Thank goodness, it was ugly as sin. Meanwhile, the new ZL and ZR buttons sit side by side with the old shoulder pressers, making Nintendo's handheld finally feel complete.
But there's more; the wireless button is now gone, the start and select buttons both rest below the fact buttons, the volume slider sits on the left-hand side of the top screen, and the power button has shifted to the bottom right of the device. That last one is perhaps my only niggle with the new aesthetic as it makes turning the console on and off a tad more awkward than it should be.
Switching up the design isn't the only reason for changing the faceplates on the New 3DS - both the battery and MicroSD card lie beneath. The fact you need a screwdriver to change an SD card in 2015 is, in my eyes, a design flaw - especially when you consider how quickly those cards fill up.
But that's not the strangest decision Nintendo has made on the New 3DS. No, the strangest decision was to not include a charger with the console. I guess the assumption is that most buyers will be upgraders from an older 3DS, but what about everyone else?
These days it's assumed that any gadget not running on AA batteries is going to come with some sort of charger in the box, and I think there are going to be a lot more disappointed people than Nintendo anticipates.
If I'm ordering the new features in terms of importance, the next on the list is the tremendously better 3D effect. The 3DS of yesterday demanded you kept your head in a 'sweet spot' to get the benefit of an extra dimension - now the 3D follows you around.
Thanks to the console's new front-facing camera, the 3DS will follow your head and adjust the parallax to meet the angle of your focus. Much like when the 3DS and its stereoscopic function showed up in 2011, this new 3D feature is something you really have to see to understand. But I can tell you now, it makes a phenomenal difference; finally, I have a reason to push that 3D slider back up again.
That said, there's still much debate over whether the 3D effect of Nintendo's handheld is more than a gimmick, and Nintendo hasn't done much of late to prove otherwise. Pokemon Sun and Moon, two of the biggest games to hit the 3DS, completely ignored the feature. The 2DS speaks for itself.
Nintendo's new head-tracking 3D doesn't make it better in clarity and pop, but it does make it more consistent and comfortable to use, which is still a big improvement in my eyes.
What might be less noticeable when you pick up the 3DS is the added speed. Nintendo has swapped out the CPU for a faster model. Apps now open and close with added brevity, and a number of upcoming games will only be compatible with this newer model.
Here's the rub of the New Nintendo 3DS. The Circle Pad Pro provides a (rather cumbersome) fix to anyone who wants to stick to their current model, but when it comes to new games that are New 3DS-compatible only, there's only one solution for those who don't upgrade: suck it up.
That's going to cause fragmentation, but obsolescence is the very driver of technology so it's difficult to criticise Nintendo's decision to up the processor on a device that's nearly four years old.
However, aside from some faster load times and better framerates, the improved processor doesn't offer too much of a benefit to your gaming experience. This is still a 3DS after all.
What's not been boosted significantly on the new model, however, is the New 3DS's camera. There's been a slight improvement for capturing pictures in low-light conditions, but overall it's a pretty weak feature that I'd say the console could do without were it not for augmented reality games like Face Raiders.
Nintendo made one other preparation for the future, NFC, and its gotten a lot of use over the years. The New 3DS comes with NFC built in to make use of Nintendo's army of Amiibo figurines. By placing an Amiibo on the bottom screen of the 3DS the two will interact, allowing you to level up your character, gain some bonus items, and more.
As for the games, I shouldn't need to tell you that they're in abundance. Good games too, which is where the technically superior PS Vita falls down.
The library of games available to 3DS owners is already vast and varied but it's no coincidence that Nintendo is launched its new handhelds on the same day as Majora's Mask 3D, the handheld port of its classic N64 Zelda adventure.
But with the Nintendo Switch now on store shelves, we've definitely hit the handheld's twilight years, and it's unlikely that we'll see another major release for the console.
The bottom line on the 3DS's games library is that at this point you're buying the console for the games that are already out rather than for the games that are on their way in the future.
It's an impressive library to be sure, and you can check out the best it has to offer in our guide to the best 3DS games. Particular highlights include last year's excellent Super Mario Maker, Pokemon Sun and Moon, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.
Nintendo has long been boss of the handheld market, but the fact it continues to be so successful in a market now dominated by smartphones is, quite frankly, damn impressive.
The New 3DS means Nintendo should continue to hold its own for a while longer. With more power, extra controls and a reason to turn that 3D slider back up again, Nintendo's latest handheld is a welcome refresh that - despite some minor niggles - is definitely worth the upgrade.
Almost every change Nintendo has made here is welcome, and the result is a handheld that finally feels complete. The 3D is now much more consistent, meaning less headaches and a more enjoyable experience, while the C-stick gives us what we've been asking for since 2011.
There are a few niggles: having to remove the back with a screwdriver to change the microSD in 2015 seems crazy; the camera is still quite poor; and the name might cause some confusion for those less familiar with the Nintendo family.
The New 3DS makes a number of small improvements, but put together they make for a console that's definitely worth the upgrade, especially as a number of future games will be incompatible with the older model.
Faster, comprehensive, more powerful; Nintendo's best handheld finally feels complete.