Nintendo's handheld hardware revisions have become so commonplace that I almost feel silly not to have expected another 3DS model. In my defense it had already undergone an XL revamp, along with the bizarre choice to remove its own name-defining feature with the 2DS. The New 3DS is the perfect example of Nintendo's iteration, making plenty of minor, smart improvements in what I can only assume will be the last version of this generation.
In fact, it really has to be, given the name. For all its improvements, "The New 3DS" remains a pretty awful name, but it's the closest thing we can have to assurance that it will be the last one. You can't have a product called "The New" anything and then come out with a newer one. I wish it weren't branded on the system itself, but at least it's on the underside of the clamshell design where it won't likely be noticed.
3D That Actually Works
So what makes it new with a capital "N"? Nintendo has rolled out a whole host of improvements, from major revisions that have been sorely needed to more incremental ones. The box splashily promises the four headline revisions on the box, but it actually has more going on under the hood.
The one feature Nintendo seems to tout the most is the new "Super-Stable 3D," and with good reason. The 3D functionality in the 3DS was so hit-or-miss that I barely ever used it, only turning it on occasionally to see how it felt and then quickly turning it back off. I used it more in a few games like Super Mario 3D World or A Link Between Worlds, but for the most part the namesake of the system had become an atrophied appendage that was just as well forgotten.
Super-Stable 3D actually changed all that. By using its front-facing camera to track eye movements, the system actually delivers a perfectly crisp 3D image flawlessly at almost all times. It stutters slightly if you turn your head, or hold it too far away, but I've already found it much more enjoyable to play games in 3D. I still turn it off after my eyes get tired of it, but not out of irritation due to the feature not working as promised. It works beautifully, and makes the 3DS finally live up to its name in practice instead of only in theory.
A Fresh Face
Another noticeable change comes to the face and button layout. The Start and Select buttons have been moved to the side, rather than in their sticky placement below the bottom screen. The Power button is now located on the bottom, where there's much less chance of grazing it during the course of play. The stylus has been moved to the underside, for ease of use. Two more shoulder buttons join the top, and feel easy enough to reach, but I haven't played a game that actually uses them yet. On the whole these changes make sense and improve the experience.
An added C-stick nub is slightly clunky, though. It works well enough for shifting the camera in some games like Monster Hunter, but it's a far cry from a second analog stick. It just isn't responsive enough to be used in gameplay, so it should probably remain relegated to camera work.
Two more features are simply nice to have. An updated processor makes loading the Home menu and getting into games significantly faster, a good perk for those who choose to upgrade. It also includes Amiibo support, though Nintendo already plans to release some kind of base for older 3DS users. Plus, at least one game (Xenoblade Chronicles) will only work on the New 3DS, so fans who want to play it will definitely want to look into this model.
What's in the Box?
It is clearly targeted toward older users upgrading the system, too. The surest sign is that the New 3DS doesn't include an A/C adapter, so your only hope to charge the system is to use your old one or order one separately. Despite a small warning on both the front and back of the box, this is bound to confuse hapless consumers who didn't realize. It's baffling that Nintendo chose to leave out such a crucial component of its hardware.
This is especially evident while going through the transfer process. Unless you have a micro-SD card in your old 3DS, your best option is to do a wireless transfer of all your old game data. This means leaving both systems on and running for an extended period of time, depending on how much data you had, and babysitting them both to make sure neither runs out of power if you only have one AC cable.
The issue of SD memory brings up another strange choice. The system comes equipped with a 4GB Micro SD card, but to insert a larger one you need to perform minor hardware surgery. It's just a matter of unfastening two screws with a #0 screwdriver, but the back cover panel feels fragile and I was afraid of cracking it as I took it off. I didn't, fortunately, but an average user shouldn't have to worry about such a possibility just to upgrade the memory.
To Upgrade or Not
All of this leads to the big question: is the New 3DS worth the upgrade? It really depends on which of the 3DS family you're upgrading from. The New 3DS is ultimately the best version of the handheld, but its improvements are incremental over the XL model. If you already have an XL, and can live without improved 3D, you can probably safely pass on this revision. Your interest in 3D is really the defining factor in that case, since it really is the most dramatic improvement. If you own an original 3DS model and have been looking to upgrade, this is the best version you can get, so you might as well spring for it. You'll enjoy all the perks of the XL you've been missing out on, along with a few extra bells and whistles for good measure.
This review is based on New 3DS hardware provided by Nintendo. The New 3DS will be available in retail stores on February 13, 2015, for $199.99. An AC Adapter is available separately for approximately $10.