The 'New' Nintendo 3DS hits shelves across America and Europe this Friday, alongside a long awaited remake of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask and a seriously pretty exclusive Majora's Mask themed bundle (pictured above). While the refresh of the 3DS line brings with it some very welcome improvements, it also carries the baggage of a company that, in 2015, struggles to achieve a level of customer experience that your mobile telephone has managed for years.
There's a lot of great things about Nintendo's latest hardware update... but it's underlined by a series of terrible choices that continue to pull Nintendo backwards into the digital dark ages.
First, let's get the positives out of the way:
Which is all great. Really. It's an improvement on the existing models in more than enough ways that I can sincerely say that you should avoid buying those models instead of this one at all costs.
- Comparing the New 3DS XL with the old 3DS XL is extremely favourable. The system is only very slightly larger than it's predecessor, but it feels much more comfortable in your hands. The corners are more rounded, the back of the device is much smoother (though a combination of that and the removal of the rubber 'feet' on the bottom of the 3DS also makes the system much more slippery to either hold or set down on top of things) and the device is very slightly lighter as a whole - but doesn't feel unsubstantial.
- The screens are very similar on the XLs (the smaller New 3DS - which won't be available in America - does feature a larger set of screens than its predecessor), but the New 3DS seems to handle colours a bit better.
- The adaptive lighting on the new models, a feature that's been common place on most mobile devices for quite some time, works very well to keep the brightness of the screens at a suitable level for the lighting around you. The choice - whether automatic or manual - in brightness settings remains a set choice of 5 options, however, so it's not a very smooth cut to the different settings.
- The extra power in the system - which eventually promises to provide new, exclusive games for the system to exploit it - results in much quicker load times, especially for Smash Bros. If you were hoping that it might help the Gen VI Pokemon games' framerates on 3D mode, however, you'll be disappointed - it's as effective as an electric attack on a ground type. Ultimately, that extra power will only really be seen when exclusive games using it come along - like the Xenoblade Chronicles remake.
- The 'smart 3D' mode, which uses eye tracking to ensure that the 3D effect is always 'pointed the right way' to work actually does, in fact, work. It uses a combination of hardware features - one of which is the camera on the front - so while it may not work very well in low lighting conditions, it does tend to work 99% of the time. There'll be no moving around to find the 'sweet spot' any more, and lots more actual moving around as it makes the gyroscope actually work with 3D mode on at last.
- The Majora's Mask edition, at the very least, is seriously pretty. The top of the system has the same glossy feel as the bottom and it gives the deep, golden colour of the Majora's Mask edition a premium shine without looking gaudy.
- It's still fully compatible with all DS, 3DS and DSi titles, which means there's a fantastic library of games that already work on it, and a promising future of new, exclusive-to-or-enhanced-by-this-New-3DS games. It doesn't make any sense to get one of the older models instead of this model. Just save up a little while longer if you have to.
- It has a second analog 'nub'. It's a lot like those little analog nubs you used to get on old laptops, and it's about as fiddly to get used to as well. I've yet to put it through enough rigorous work in Smash Bros or Majora's Mask to say if it adds as much value as a second full sized analog input would, but anything is better than nothing in this regard. The original 3DS should never have launched without a second analog input.
Unfortunately, if you're part of the nearly 50 million people that already OWN a 3DS, the New 3DS is a £200 upgrade that, as of right now - with no exclusive games for it available - is almost unjustifiable. A large part of that is the upgrade process itself. After all, there's no doubt that there is exclusive content coming, so it's an obvious investment to have the hardware when it does. So long as you're fine with paying the absolute most anyone will pay for this system for the least amount of immediate return and the maximum amount of aggravation, of course.
The biggest issue here is one that keeps coming back against Nintendo time, and time again. Even though we finally have a central Nintendo Network account - which keeps tracks of our purchases enough to automatically log them in our Club Nintendo accounts (for as long as there remains such a thing) - we don't have the sensible approach to digital content ownership that follows such a central account system on literally every other platform today. If I buy a new Android phone, I can set up my Google Account on it, put in my WiFi password, and have all my settings, wallpapers and apps downloaded and back on my phone in moments with literally no further input on my part. If I buy a PS Vita tomorrow (and join the heady ranks of the dozens of other owners), I can log into my PSN account and download any of the compatible content I already own without any need to connect it to a PSP I once owned or turning on my PS3.
You have to wipe all the data from your old 3DS to transfer it to the new one... but you also have to wipe all the data - including preinstalled games - on your New 3DS too...
Today, in the year two-thousand-fifteen, more than ten years after Nintendo launched their first device with an actual online platform (the DS) and about as much time as everyone else got this system nailed down, I have to go through this process to get the content I have bought from Nintendo onto my new Nintendo product:
1) Update both my New 3DS and my old 3DS XL (which seems a bit pointless for systems that are about to wipe themselves)
2) Set up my New 3DS to receive a transfer from my old 3DS
3) Set up my old 3DS to transfer to my New 3DS
4) Watch as my old 3DS painfully takes its time to copy across what amounted to only a few hundred megabytes of data to my New 3DS - failing during this process three times, the last of which never even reported any error on the end of the New 3DS, leaving me with a wiped 3DS XL and a New 3DS with an incomplete transfer process and who knows what valid data left on it.
The end of which leaves me with a completely blank 3DS XL and, after a few restarts, eventually, a New 3DS XL that at least knows I'm me and I own the content I do... but with none of it on the system itself. Even if the transfer hadn't failed, I would still have had to re-download it anyway.
Nintendo forces you to go through this entire process, even though - at the end of it all - you still have to sign into your Nintendo account and go and download all your content again anyway, because they refuse to let you have any way you could keep your owned content on more than one system at a time.
You might argue that's a fair enough proposition - even though it's not a problem for your iOS/Android/Windows apps or your Xbox or Playstation content; or that you're royally screwed by this system if your console is broken, lost or stolen. However, they do this while also insisting that, as 50 million of you already own a 3DS, you don't need a charger packaged with the system so as to save costs and electronic waste. In the very same breath as they insist that you surely already have a 3DS that you won't be getting rid of - and by making you go through a process that can only be completed by continuing to own an old 3DS - they also insist that there's absolutely no reason why you would ever actually have more than one 3DS... It's an insane contradiction.
Another particularly terrible choice is the move from SD Card to Micro SD card. It's not necessarily that Micro SD card is inherently worse (though it is exponentially more expensive and if you want to get a card larger than 32GB to work on the 3DS, you'll need to jump through some ridiculous hoops first), but the change to Micro SD suddenly makes the SD card in your 3DS completely incompatible - which certainly makes the original 3DS transfer method of (eventually) swapping the cards a completely ridiculous exercise) and also brings with it the absolutely awful way you have to open up the back of the New 3DS to be able to change the card. Especially since it requires a specific kind of screwdriver size that almost no-one is going to have just lying around as well as a concerning amount of force to separate the backplate that's pretty terrifying to be doing to your new £200 toy.
And if you got a New 3DS with preloaded software like the Majora's Mask bundle, you will have to do the transfer first, so you can apply the game to your eShop account, before changing the SD card to a larger one. And then download the game again. All this means that if, like me, you purchased the New 3DS with bundled software, and already owned a 3DS with digital content you needed to move over to it, you are hours away from playing that game from the moment you first turn on the system due to the amount of pure faff this upgrade system requires from you.
These aren't problems that any digital entertainment company should be having in 2015. They're problems that were solved years ago and Nintendo is languishing so far behind the basic user experience standards expected of a digital consumer device today that the New 3DS could genuinely have come out 5 years ago in 2010 and still looked out of date.
It's the last piece of generously long rope that Nintendo can be afforded for "being Nintendo". It's simply not an acceptable standard for a consumer product today and completely untenable with any future release of any hardware. This has to be the last time these complaints can be levelled against a new piece of Nintendo hardware, because it's the last time it can even remotely be excused. If I were still able to levy these complaints in a review of their next hardware, I absolutely would be finishing up by telling you to avoid it at all costs.
As it is, I'm not. Not quite, anyway. Ultimately, despite being a terrible user experience in terms of upgrading from an older 3DS, it is still a solid improvement for the 3DS platform, and the 3DS platform is one of the richest game libraries out there right now - with a promise to be only better in the coming years, in part directly because of this hardware upgrade. You should buy one, but if you're upgrading, I would genuinely caution you against it right now. That aggravation will be easier to swallow when the price is lower and the exclusive content is richer.
(Some images taken from this guide on transferring your data - one that's worth a look if you are upgrading anyway.)
Update: A note on the failed transfer: While my purchases are in-tact, my save files for my digital games are not. All content on Pokemon Alpha Sapphire, Y, Smash Bros. and a Link Between Worlds is gone. Including the in-progress living Pokedex I had 'checked out' from Bank into Sapphire...
On almost every other modern gaming platform today, cloud saves would have eradicated this issue. At the very least, a system that didn't erase all your data when it fails to transfer over correctly would have been nice, Nintendo...