Sometimes, Nintendo has a way of totally taking people by surprise?such as when they announced the upcoming release of the New 3DS. While having what could equally be the most logical and least logical product name of all time, the handheld revision also bewildered many due to its strange status as a replacement of sorts for the current 3DS models while also not really being a totally new gaming platform.
Whatever the system is, my love of handheld gaming meant that as soon as I found out the New 3DS was available for hands-on time at Tokyo Game Show this year, I had to track it down and give it a shot. Now, to be clear, there were obviously things that I couldn’t really test in 15 minutes of hands-on time with this latest 3DS revision?such as the higher-powdered CPU and GPU. Plus, I didn’t have an opportunity to try out the hardware’s built-in support for Nintendo’s new amiibo figures, so I don’t have impressions on that, either.
I did, however, get the chance to get a good feel for three of the New 3DS’ major new features. Without further ado, here are my impressions.
Nintendo has improved the viewing angles of the top screen when playing games in 3D (by having a camera that tracks your head movement), and the difference was absolutely noticeable at TGS, providing what I consider to be the most impressive upgrade of the New 3DS.
Even thought I never expected to care about the feature, I’ve come to love 3D on the 3DS. It really does add a new dimension to a lot of games?but it also requires you to keep your system steady while playing, to the point that you often find yourself actively thinking about how you’re holding the system.
With the New 3DS, that’s changed. While you can still lose the 3D effect if you move to too much of an angle in any direction (or look away from the system, since the camera will lose track of you), you can now shift the unit in any direction (up, down, left, or right) and see the 3D as if you were looking straight on at the screen. I found myself no longer having to think about how I was holding the hardware in my hands?and having fewer distractions from what’s happening onscreen is always a good thing.
I really wasn’t expecting the New 3DS to be such a profound upgrade in terms of playing games in 3D?but it is, and it’s a great change.
The New Shoulder Buttons
Of course, the New 3DS isn’t just about its new screen?it’s also about the changes it’s received in terms of controls.
The first of those are the new shoulder buttons: ZL and ZR. These came as a big surprise to me, since I never really thought there was a huge demand for more shoulder buttons on the 3DS. However, with the announcement of a New 3DS version of Xenoblade Chronicles, the explanation might be a simple one: the extra buttons are there to help facilitate future ports.
Whatever their reason for the existence of ZL and ZR, I came away a little mixed on their execution. At least on the New 3DS XL (known as the LL in Japan) I tried, the buttons were far enough away from the sides to require some finger maneuvering in order to reach them?as well as to avoid hitting the original shoulder buttons in the process. Then again, I admittedly have smaller hands than some people, so I may find the not-quite-as-big-boned standard New 3DS more accommodating. Still, due to their placement, I expect these buttons to mostly be used for secondary actions?not more important uses that would probably be better served by either the outer shoulder buttons or the main face buttons.
A question of usability leads us to what’s perhaps the most anticipated feature of the New 3DS: the C-Stick. If there’s one negative that’s plagued Nintendo’s handhelds for years, it’s that they’ve often been behind the curve when it comes to controls. While the PSP had a D-pad and an analog stick, the DS only had a D-pad. When the Vita got two analog sticks, the 3DS only had one.
The problem with games built in 3D worlds is that camera control becomes a very important element for the player, something that’s usually been lacking on the 3DS. Nintendo made various attempts to fix the problem?camera controls on the D-pad, camera controls on the touchscreen, and even a peripheral that added a second analog slide pad?but a true build-in second stick was what many players really wanted.
Well, it’s finally here?sort of. Instead of an actual second slide pad added to the 3DS, Nintendo has built in a new little C-Stick nub to the upper left of the main face buttons. Games will now be able to offer players camera controls via that C-Stick, an absolutely welcome feature in the game I was playing at TGS (Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate).
The problem? The C-Stick is very small physically, doesn’t travel far in any direction before providing its maximum movement, and has quite a bit more resistance than the slide pad does. In my case, that led to often having two very distinct experiences when trying to use it to control the camera: either only a little movement, or full blast.
I never got to a point where I could seamlessly control the camera without focusing on what I was trying to do, something that’s second nature with almost every other dual-stick gaming device or controller. Still, the C-Stick does certainly provide a better option for camera control on the 3DS than we’ve had before, so that’s certainly a positive?and it’s no doubt something that would be easier to use thanks to time and practice.
My biggest concern, however, is that camera control will be the only thing it’s really good at. I can’t imagine trying to use the C-Stick to play any sort of first-person games, and I don’t think I’d ever want to use it for movement control over the standard analog slide pad. I realize adding a second slide pad below the buttons would have resulted in some awkwardly positioned thumbs, yet I can’t help but wonder if that still wouldn’t have been the better way to go.
Given that we’re not anywhere close to having Western release dates?or even confirmation of the systems being released beyond Japan)?you’ve still got a while to consider whether or not the New 3DS will be worth a purchase (or the cost of upgrading).
For me, whenever it comes out, I’ll have one?because I can’t not have one. That’s just how I roll.