For a couple of years we have deemed Nintendo's 3DS as an essential piece of gaming hardware. And for decades, new iterations of Nintendo hardware immediately rendered older units obsolete. Things are different this time around.
Get it if you don't have one.
We do think you should have a 3DS in your gaming collection. There are tons of great games (these are our top 12, with the caveat that we haven't decided whether the brand-new Monster Hunter 4 and Majora's Mask remake should get added to that list). More 3DS games are being made all the time, primarily by Nintendo themselves, with key contributions from Atlus, Capcom and others.
If you don't have a 3DS yet and are willing to spend $200, the New 3DS XL is a pretty good option. (The non-new 3DS XL costs $175; the smaller 3DS goes for about $160). You're future-proofing a bit, and you're getting some better control options and stereoscopic 3D tech than you would if you got the older models.
But, if you do have a 3DS, you don't need to upgrade yet.
The New 3DS XL has a faster processor and will eventually have games that only run on it and not older 3DS/2DS models. Not yet, though. You don't even need to think about that in North America until the first New 3DS-exclusive game, the port of Wii role-playing game Xenoblade Chronicles, comes out in April (Check out this Wii-New 3DS Xenoblade graphics comparison, if you'd like to see how close the boosted 3DS hardware can match Wii/PS2-level tech).
Sure, the New 3DS will speed up the system's load times. But there aren't even any games out yet that use the New 3DS' two extra shoulder buttons. [Update - 2:40pm: Some readers have pointed out that the two extra shoulder buttons can currently ape the inputs programmed for the two extra shoulder buttons that were part of the 3DS' Circle Pad Pro add-on. As noted later in this piece, not many games supported that peripheral, but those that do will work with the New 3DS' added controls. So we can say there is currently limited support for the new shoulder buttons, but not zero support.]
Above: Nintendo promotional imagery highlighting the new control inputs.
The new nub is not quite the second circle pad we were hoping for, but it helps.
The New 3DS' new c-stick allows for dual-analog controls and surely will be programmed for that by developers who believe there are enough New 3DS owners to justify a control scheme that wouldn't work on a standard 3DS. For the moment, though, the c-stick nub can pretend to be a "circle pad pro," which was an add-on that put a second analog circle-pad input on the right of the 3DS. There aren't many games that supported the circle pad pro (here's a short list), but it's nice that the New 3DS will at least let players play those games' alternate control schemes without an added peripheral.
The main problem with the c-stick nub is that it doesn't have much give. You can't flick it as you could the c-stick, which has made it less than ideal for, say, the circle pad pro control scheme in Kid Icarus Uprising. It works, but it's not a 1:1 substitute.
It is promising to see that the developers of Majora's Mask 3D programmed free camera controls to the c-stick, which makes tracking enemies in that game a lot easier. In this regard, at least, New 3DS players will have a better experience with the game than non-new 3DS players will.
We do love the improved 3D.
The New 3DS tracks the position of your mouth and eyes in order to calculate the proper angle at which to display the system's glasses-free stereoscopic 3D. It can do this constantly and on the fly, which means that it'll transmit a clear 3D image to you even if you begin to rock your head or the system. This results in more stable 3D effects that are only occasionally baffled if a second person's face gets close to yours or if you're moving your head while wearing glasses. Even then, the system figures things out quickly. It's a lovely improvement.
The much-improved 3D effect on the New 3DS has even elicited this odd remark from Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata:
"It looked so good that it made me want to apologize for not having the 3D functions work this greatly when we first released the Nintendo 3DS system. Of course, such technology was not available when we released the original Nintendo 3DS, so it was impossible to integrate it at the time. I hope people will forget their expectations of 3D from the past, and replay on the New Nintendo 3DS systems the 3DS games they played before.
We don't love that they left out a power cable.
For reasons that reek of Nintendo cost-cutting (from the company that eliminated the headphone jack from their second Game Boy Advance!), the New 3DS XL does not come with a power cable. The new handheld is compatible with the AC adapter cable from the 3DS and 3DS XL, but if you don't have one of those, then you've got to buy a $10 cable. Nintendo has been leaving power cables out of their hardware packages outside of North America for some time, but that doesn't make it any less strange or annoying.
You should be aware of some other possible hidden costs.
The New 3DS XL uses micro SD cards. It comes with a decent-sized 4GB one, but if you want more storage, or if you had more storage on a standard SD card on your 3DS, you'll need to buy a bigger micro SD for your New 3DS XL. The new Nintendo portable doesn't support the SD card. Data transfer is easy, though, and you'll be able to bring all your games and save files from an older 3DS to the new one. Just make sure you have a small screwdriver to open the new unit up.
The New 3DS XL has a pretty short stylus, too, shorter than the 3DS XL's. You might want to think about getting a larger stylus.
Oh, if you want the non-XL, smaller New 3DS? Sorry, America.
It's not coming to North America, and any overseas models will be region-locked. Maybe Nintendo will bring it here in the future.