Nintendo's 3DS system first launched back in 2011 and brought with it the tantalising promise of glass-free 3D gaming on the go. However, this impressive accomplishment wasn't quite the selling point that Nintendo had hoped for; first, there were scare stories about the autostereoscopic screen damaging the eyes of young gamers - Nintendo's target audience, basically - and then there were reports of how easily the 3D effect could be "broken" by small movements. The 3D fad came and went - with companies like HTC and LG briefly experimenting with mobile phones which boasted the same tech - and Nintendo even produced a non-3D equivalent of the 3DS hardware, the 2DS.
However, the Japanese firm has finally solved the 3D problem with a revised system which has just been launched in its homeland and is expected to hit western shores early next year. An improved 3D screen isn't the only bonus that this refreshed console has to offer - it's got additional controls, a faster CPU and customisable faceplates. Is it worth another look when you consider how graphically humble many 3DS games are compared to modern smartphone titles on iOS and Android? Join us for an exhaustive look at the import version to find out.
New Nintendo 3DS Review: Design & Display
Arguably one of the biggest selling points of this new 3DS model is the vastly improved screen. Older models of the system suffer from a very shaky viewing angles; even the slightest shift in movement is enough to cause the 3D effect to falter, and for this reason many owners switch the effect off entirely. Thankfully, Nintendo has solved this egregious problem using head tracking, and the end result is impressive.
The console's front-facing camera monitors the position of your head during play, and compensates for shifts in position by adjusting the 3D image. It's an incredible success, with even quite drastic movements failing to break the image. We personally found that this has revitalised our interest in what was a surprisingly little-used feature of the console.
Cosmetically, there are other major differences in the New 3DS, the most obvious is the inclusion of extra control elements. There's now a second analogue nub which resides next to the four, SNES-coloured face buttons. It feels like those mouse pointers you used to find on old laptops, and is quite rigid and stiff. Even so, it's surprisingly comfortable to use, and removes the need for the bulky Circle Pad Pro attachment which Nintendo has released for both the original 3DS and the 2011 3DS XL model. It also means that Capcom's forthcoming Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate will be equipped with a second stick for controlling the in-game camera. There are also two additional shoulder buttons on the top of the machine.
Another new feature is the ability to remove the front and back faceplates and replacement with alternatives. Strangely, Nintendo has made this feature exclusive to the standard New 3DS model - there's also a larger New 3DS XL on offer which lacks customisable faceplates.
New Nintendo 3DS Review: Software & User Experience
The New 3DS runs the same system firmware as the older 3DS models, so when you boot it up you won't notice any massive differences in terms of presentation or menu layout. However, what you will notice is a considerable increase in pace; the console starts up quicker than ever before and moving between elements of the UI is a lot swifter. Other aspects - such as accessing the online eShop and downloading content - are also given a speed boost. While the increased pace might not be immediately apparent, place the system side-by-side with the original 3DS and it becomes glaringly obvious - the more powerful CPU really does make a difference.
Even so, there are aspects of the 3DS UI which need work, and feel terribly archaic when compared to what we're used to on smartphones and tablets. The eShop is sluggish - even when taking the additional power of the New 3DS into account - and organising icons on the home screen is a bit of a chore. It's perhaps unreasonable to expect Nintendo to totally overhaul the software as well as the hardware, but we'd liked to have seen some more improvements here.
New Nintendo 3DS Review: Gaming
The New 3DS is capable of playing all of your existing 3DS and Nintendo DS software, as well as all of the downloads you've accrued from the eShop. If you're already a 3DS owner then you can perform a system transfer to port over all of your content - including save data. Basically, the 3DS family is still one big happy family when it comes to software, but in the future there will be games which are exclusive to this new edition. These will make use of the New 3DS console's additional processing power, and therefore won't function on older variants.
Although there are currently no games which fully exploit the power inside the New 3DS, you'll find some benefits. The recently-released Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS performs much better on the newer system; on older 3DS consoles, load time is painful and you can't use the console's Miiverse social networking platform when the game is running. However, on New 3DS, Smash Bros. loads much faster and allows you to use all of the console's functionality. Also, if you buy a New 3DS from Japan now, you'll also be able to play Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate with those lovely additional controls.
Improvements aside, the 3DS library is one which is packed with solid-gold classics, and if you've never owned one before, you really should consider it now that this new version is coming to market. Titles like Super Mario 3D Land, Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Luigi's Mansion 2, Mario Kart 7 and Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D are some of the best handheld offerings money can buy right now, and deserve to be experienced by any right-minded gamer.
New Nintendo 3DS Review: Battery Life
Nintendo may have fixed some of the 3DS console's many problems, but there's one particularly annoying quibble we still have with this revised system - the battery life just isn't good enough. The New 3DS comes equipped with a slightly larger power cell, but it's not that much larger than the one which came with the first version of the console. Nintendo always quoted the 2011 3DS as having between 3 to 5 hours of battery life, while this updated model offers 3.5 to 6 hours.
That's a slight improvement, but when you consider how cheap rechargeable batteries are these days, a variant with a higher capacity could easily have been included. The quoted stamina presumably applies to current 3DS titles, so goodness knows what will happen when New 3DS exclusive software designed to take advantage of the beefier processor comes along; we could potentially see even less playtime between charges.
New Nintendo 3DS Review: Conclusion
The 3DS hardware may be getting a bit long in the tooth now - especially when compared to the kind of games we're accustomed to on iOS and Android - but as Nintendo proved with the original Game Boy, power doesn't always equal success in the handheld arena. The 3DS is home to some of the best games of the modern era, and there's a lot to be said for devices with dedicated gaming controls.
The New 3DS fixes a lot of the things that bugged us about Nintendo handheld, with only battery life going unsolved. Even so, this isn't a big enough issue to get in the way of the fact that this is the best dedicated portable gaming system available right now, and a viable travelling companion to go alongside your phone or tablet.
If you like what you've read and are itching to get your hands on this updated console, you might want to cool your jets a little. Nintendo isn't releasing the New 3DS or New 3DS XL in Europe or North America until next year - Australia and New Zealand are getting it this month, but everyone else outside of Japan is going to have to wait until after Christmas. You can import one if you're really keen, but be aware that 3DS consoles are region-locked and can only play software from the same territory.