Nintendo 3DS XL review: is bigger better?

Can the super-sized Nintendo 3DS XL improve on its portable gaming predecessor? Read T3's Nintendo 3DS XL review now to find out…

Nintendo 3DS XL review
Reasons to buy
  • +

    Bigger screen looks great

  • +

    3D sweet spot much larger

  • +

    Comfortable curved design

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Build feels a bit cheap

  • -

    Heft makes it cumbersome

  • -

    Bland styling

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Nintendo may be entirely focused on Nintendo Switch now, but with eight years of consistent support from Nintendo for the Nintendo 3DS and its many iterations, this is still one of the most software rich platforms you buy today.

While it might not be Nintendo's primary focus any more, the 3DS XL is still one of the best ways to experience this brilliant little system. With a larger display and a more robust build, games such as Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate and Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon look and run better than ever.

The 3DS has endured competition from the underappreciated PlayStation Vita, and the ever-present popularity of smartphone gaming, and now it's more attractive than ever with growing price cuts and bundles - look out for some cracking bargains during Amazon Prime Day!

Nintendo 3DS XL review: design and build quality

The 3DS XL's buttons, connectivity and innards – bar the inclusion of a 4GB rather than 2GB SD card – are the same as the 3DS, so read our previous review for an in-depth lowdown of its features and what it's capable of – this is a predominantly aesthetic overhaul.

In short: it's a very good, Wi-Fi enabled games system with the full gamut of dedicated action buttons, motion-sensing inputs, social-tech tidbits and AR functionality with added glasses-free 3D. But where once it was bite-sized and brick-like, it's now curved and biiiiiiig.

The squared-off build of old is replaced with a smooth, rounded-off exterior – ours is a kind of dull silver in colour, but it also comes in red and blue – that has divided the office on its merits.

There's no denying, it's absolutely massive now and not the 'slip in your back pocket' proposition that the 3DS just about pulled off. That said, its rounded edges are more comfortable gamefellows than its stylised, aggressively pointy predecessor.

However, with a change in form comes a change in function. The 3DS XL's new shape makes it far more comfortable to hold than the 3DS's palm-bruiser, although the 46 per cent increase in weight means it can be a drain for long sessions, and virtually impossible on more involved fare (Kid Icarus, we're looking at you in particular).

While still solid and rugged, the XL also lacks the reassuring build quality of its predecessor, the D-pad, 3D slider and interior plastic in particular cheap and clicky, the enormous 'Select', 'Home' and 'Start' buttons looking like something you'd get in a knock-off Nintari 'multi-game' portable on the Costa del Sol.

There are also a couple of contentious changes. Firstly, you'll notice the 3DS XL comes in a very snazzy, slim box – this is because it doesn't come packaged with an AC adaptor; not even a proprietary port-to-USB cable. Now, if we were searching for things to remove to keep costs down and packaging sleek, power wouldn't be something we'd consider.

Apparently research suggests most Nintendo customers already have the proprietary power pack at home, and obviously you can buy one easily enough, but it does seem a bizarre omission.

The second, more integral point is Nintendo hasn't incorporated the supplementary Circle Pad Pro add-on into the design, so the 3DS XL is still a strictly one-stick guy for the foreseeable future.

This is probably fair enough as there are few games that actually make use of it – raising the question why it was released in the first place – but meaning that once the upcoming second control disc peripheral is welded on, the 3DS XL will give the Wii U GamePad a run in the size stakes.

Nintendo 3DS XL review: screen and 3D effect

Nintendo says the 3DS XL screen real estate is 90% bigger and we're not going to argue. Both of the new displays are massive and look great. More impressive visual fare like Resident Evil: Revelations or Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D shine, the 3D's much larger sweet spot meaning you're saved from that constant head realigning you have to do when playing the original 3DS on bumpy public transport.

It's all just far more immersive – the opening of Super Mario 3D Land, for one, where the storm roughs up the trees, becomes a dramatic, cinematic vista – and we found ourselves leaving the 3D slider well alone, rather than easing it down after a while like we usually do.

At 4.88 inches the XL's screen doesn't hold up to Switch's 6.2, but it still does its considerable library of native games justice. For games such as Fire Emblem Warriors - a game that really needs more screen to accommodate all that action - having a larger display really makes a difference. Considering how large some smartphone displays are in 2019, the old 3DS models simply don't cut it anymore.

Nintendo 3DS XL review: games and ecosystem

Where once software was an issue for Nintendo's portable, it now has a raft of classic reinterpretations, such as Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7 and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, which you can't get anywhere else.

As ever, the non-Nintendo output is less stellar, though Resident Evil: Revelations and Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D show it can be done, even if neither reaches the heights of our favourite 3DS title, Nintendo's fantastic Kid Icarus: Uprising.

On the horizon there's yet more titles from Mario's world – New Super Mario Bros 2 and Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon – as well as some cutesie third-party fare such as Harvest Moon: A New Beginning and a host of Lego titles.

With the slow death of the Wii U - and the cannibalisation of its best games onto Switch - 3DS owners have benefited two-fold. Not only has the focus on Switch brought the overall cost of 3DS hardware and games down, but Nintendo has still be supporting the platform with new games Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido, Monster Hunter XX and Yo-Kai Watch 3.

Nintendo 3DS XL review: battery life

The larger casing has allowed Nintendo to expand the battery and, in turn, its life. The big N's quoting an 86 per cent increase – up to six and a half hours of 3D fun and up to eight hours of 2D scrapes – which was much needed (not to mention expected from such a hefty machine).

Just like with the original 3DS, our experience didn't quite reach these heady quoted heights – we conked out more around the five-and-a-bit front for 3D – but there's a tangible difference and it comes off well in comparisons to both the Vita and smartphones, the latter capable of excellent stand-by times but struggling typically with anything graphic intensive for too long.

Nintendo 3DS XL review: verdict

The 3DS XL is a portable gaming professional with much to recommend about it, a whopping great screen and a decent raft of games being high among them. While smartphones reign the masses, the 3DS has proven there is still a market for dedicated gaming handhelds for at least the near future.

The release of the 2DS - which removed the hinged screens in favour of a cheaper all-in-one look - has also changed the price landscape of the 3DS. If 3D really isn't you're thing, you can now buy a 2DS XL which offers all the same features (just without the 3D settings) for less than £135 on Amazon.

However, regardless of which version you settle on Amazon Prime Day 2019, you can be sure you're getting one of the most robust and software-rich platforms Nintendo has ever produced. An ideal choice if you want a cheaper alternative to Nintendo Switch.

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