Supersizing Mobile Gaming with the 3DS XL

I have found my all-time favorite portable gaming device: the Nintendo 3DS XL. It’s a larger, more refined version of their 3DS and led to a renaissance of mobile gaming for me.

I’ve been mobile Nintendo gamer for a long time, starting with the original Game Boy in 1989 (which, unlike most gamers, was my first Nintendo console; I didn’t get a conventional console until the Nintendo 64 in 1996). I played the heck out of it for years, but never upgraded to the Game Boy Advance. When the original grey clamshell Nintendo DS (2004) was released I jumped at the chance to get it because I’d loved my Nintendo 64, and I was intrigued by the touch screen.

Since then I’ve been a DS man, upgrading from the clamshell to the DS Lite to the 3DS. Along the way my kids also got into mobile gaming (starting with my then-three-year-old daughter and Animal Crossing in 2007). There’s been a predictable pattern since then: I get a new DS, and the kids get my old DS as a hand-me-down.

My new 3DS XL is the latest iteration of this process. My kids had taken to exclusively playing my original 3DS because it had their new favorite games on it (Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time). This led to an increasingly grumpy dad as the kids misplaced games, forgot to charge the 3DS, or used up all my saved game slots.

I had mixed feelings about my 3DS. I loved my red-and-black DS Light. It had a matte finish that didn’t hold finger prints, and it served me well on many a cross-country plane trip. My 3DS was a glossy, shiny red who’s surface was easily smeared by little (and not so little) hands.

It didn’t have the same feel as the DS Lite; it felt a bit boxier, and while I liked the brighter screen, it always felt just a bit off in some indefinable way.

In contrast, my 3DS XL feels like coming home. Like the earlier DS Light it has a smooth matte finish that doesn’t old finger prints. The cover is red while the accents (the hinges, the frame) are black, which again matches my venerable DS Lite.

It’s also huge. I was initially skeptical of the XL, who’s screen was 90% bigger than that of the regular DS. Would it be too big? Too awkward? Given that the screen was larger, but the resolution was the same, would it be too pixelated?

Happily, the answer is “no.”

The reviews had told me as much. Given that the XL was the only way I was going to get a new red 3DS, I decided to take the leap. I’m glad I did — yes, it is bigger and yes, the display is ever-so-slightly pixelated, but it feels great in my hands and the games themselves are so much easier to see. My 42-year-old eyes aren’t going quite yet but I still appreciate the upsized visuals.

The XL is probably too big for the kids, which is ok because they won’t be playing it. It’s perfect for me though — I never thought the DS was too small, and I still don’t, but the XL fits me better. The controls are nicely spaced out, and the lower-touch screen is easier to use. It’s also not so big that I can’t put it in my backpocket (though I’m much more likely to throw it into my backpack).

The 3DS XL has all the same features as the 3DS, and the best of these is easily StreetPass. Nintendo’s handshake feature lets you exchange game information with other game consoles. At its most basic level you’re exchanging Miis, the animated personas that represent you in the Nintendoverse. Some games complete their own handshakes, such as Animal Crossing which lets you exchange houses and even towns. It’s particularly fun when travelling to high-density cities where you’re likely to get dozens of tags per day.

My games really shined on the XL. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time looked good on my 3DS (better, in fact, than it did on my TV in the N64 days) but on the XL it feels expansive. The larger screen makes the 3D effect a little harder to control; it feels like you have to have it positioned exactly right for it to render correctly. I typically don’t use it, though I will say that the 3D effect is put to surprisingly good effect in New Super Mario Brothers 2. The game subtly adds in enough layer to give the game a sense of depth without feeling obnoxious. I haven’t played Mario Kart 7 on it yet, but I’m looking forward to trying it.

Final Analysis

The Nintendo 3DS XL is perfect for the gamers looking to upgrade their handheld gaming experience. It may be a little too big for those with smaller hands, but I expect geek dads will appreciate the additional game space. If you do decide to share it with your kids, its matte finish makes it far less likely to attract finger prints.

But come on, you’re not really going to share it with your kids … are you?

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