New Nintendo 3DS XL Releases Tomorrow – Should you get one?

I suppose we should be used to this by now.

What began as a seemingly one-off venture for Nintendo with the 3DS XL has definitely turned into an almost yearly event. First we had the Nintendo 3DS in 2011, then the 3DS XL in 2012, then the 2DS in 2013, and now—as you probably are aware—Nintendo has yet another new hardware revision in store for us with the New Nintendo 3DS XL, set to hit North American store shelves tomorrow, Friday the 13th (whose big idea was that?). But questionable release date aside, this particular revision has more people more interested than usual because for once we’re not just looking at a change in form factor, but an actual hardware upgrade. No, it’s not enough to class the device as a successor to the original 3DS, but that also begs the question: is it enough to make it a necessary replacement? Let’s find out, for the good of all still sitting on the fence!

What’s so ‘new’ about the New Nintendo 3DS?

Of course, before we can begin answering the question of if the New 3DS is a worthy upgrade, we need to know just what it is that’s being upgraded!

The New Nintendo 3DS XL features a new quad-core CPU versus the original’s dual-core CPU plus single-core coprocessor reserved for the OS. The clock speed of the new CPU is estimated to be practically no faster, but the extra cores and the fact that the entire CPU is now ARM11 instead of one ARM11 processor and one ARM9 processor means the end result is markedly more efficient. This is further augmented by the New 3DS packing 256MB of RAM and 10MB of dedicated GPU RAM versus the original’s mere 128MB of RAM and 6MB on the GPU. It’s still no Playstation Vita, but the extra grunt should at least help the 3DS hold out a few more years until a proper successor is due.

The New 3DS also adds a handful of new controls as well as rearranges the old ones a bit. Most notable is the new C-stick—a laptop mouse-style nub that serves as a secondary analog stick. A second pair of shoulder buttons (dubbed ZR and ZL) also occupy the rear of the device. On the front, the Home button now sits alone beneath the 3DS’s lower screen, while Start and Select have been relegated to a much less prominent place beneath the ABXY controls (which, by the way, are now colored to match the classic SNES controller). The cartridge slot, stylus, and headphone jack have all been shuffled around as well so that all three now reside on the front of the device. The SD card slot has been done away with entirely in favor of a smartphone-style Micro SD slot hidden beneath the device’s backplate.

The New 3DS also brings a couple changes to the screens, though not the change everybody wanted—that being a higher resolution. Instead, the upper screen now features an enhanced 3D mode that uses the front-facing camera to track the player’s face and dynamically readjust the 3D affect to eliminate problems with ghosting/shimmering. And for its part the lower screen now serves double-duty as an NFC hotspot for Nintendo’s amiibo figurines.

All of this boils down to some pretty major improvements on the software side of things, too. The most obvious benefit is more complex and graphically advanced games, but what may count even more in the long run are the little improvements like automatic brightness adjustment and much, much faster web browsing with streaming video support. You can finally even watch 3D YouTube videos!

Yes, it all sounds pretty great indeed…until you remember there’s a $199 price tag attached to it.

Is the upgrade really necessary?

Now, granted, $199 is the perfect price point for the device, but if you’re a current 3DS owner you’ve probably already spent that much or even more on your current model. And don’t forget, the New 3DS does NOT come with an AC adapter—you’ll need to buy one separately if you don’t have an extra lying around. As great an upgrade as the New 3DS is, it’s far more the same as the original 3DS than it is different.

That being said, if you’ve never owned a 3DS before and you’re thinking now’s the time to take the plunge: you’re right. Get the New 3DS when it releases tomorrow, no doubt about it. The 3DS library is fantastic and only getting stronger with time.

But I think with 3DS sales as high as they are it’s safe to assume most New 3DS customers won’t be…well, ‘new’ 3DS customers. And for this crowd, the question of whether to upgrade gets a bit trickier.

First, consider the New 3DS’s exclusives. At this point that consists entirely of Xenoblade Chronicles 3D and the aforementioned web browser. In the future that list could expand, but it’s not likely that many developers will limit their audience by excluding original 3DS and 2DS owners. We might see some games that automatically turn on some extra effects or better textures when running on the new system, but expect not to miss out on many titles altogether if you choose not to upgrade.

Second, some of the New 3DS’s features will actually exist on the original 3DS by means of peripherals. The new C-stick and Z triggers function exactly like the Circle Pad Pro addon that’s been available for some time now, and Nintendo has promised an amiibo peripheral will become available at some point down the road as well. While not ideal, the cost of both of these peripherals combined will be merely a fraction of the cost of an entirely new system.

Digital downloaders had also better beware—the change in format from SD to Micro SD cards means that if you’ve filled up more than 4GB of space with digital games, you’ll need to purchase a sizable Micro SD card on top of the New 3DS and the separate AC adapter. That $199 price tag is starting to grow, isn’t it?

So is it for me, or not?

But don’t necessarily let all that stop you. When it comes down to it, whether or not you should upgrade is contingent on a number of factors.

Are you a first-time buyer? Then get the new 3DS and swallow the extra $5-10 it will take to get the AC adapter. No biggie.

Do you already have a spare 3DS/2DS/DSi charger and a high-capacity Micro SD card laying around? Have you not even downloaded many digital games to begin with? Then the included 4GB card will be plenty for you, and the lack of a charger is a non-issue.

Do you really, really want to play Xenoblade Chronicles on 3DS? Then get the 3DS capable of playing it—it’s a really fantastic game.

Are you a Monster Hunter, Resident Evil, or other dual-analog game fan? Get the New 3DS—it will save you from the ugliness of the Circle Pad Pro and from having to lug around a bulky addon.

Are you strapped for cash and worried your current 3DS is becoming obsolete, or hoping to pick up an original 3DS on an inevitable price drop? Go ahead and stick with the original—it will be supported for a long time yet.

Are you a fanboy or fangirl of all things Nintendo? Then you’ve already made your decision and you just came here for affirmation.

So basically, if you want a New Nintendo 3DS XL, you can rest assured it is a good purchase, and if you’d really rather not buy a new model right now, you can feel comfortable not upgrading. Either way is a perfectly viable means to get into the 3DS library, and that probably won’t change anytime soon, especially since there’s no New Nintendo 2DS (yet). It isn’t in Nintendo’s best interest to alienate any large portion of their customer base, so while all the bonuses of owning a New 3DS are great, at the end of the day they’re just bonuses. When it comes to upgrading, whichever choice you make, it’s not the wrong one.