The 3DS is an interesting creature. Nintendo’s current flagship handheld experienced a bumpy launch in 2011 with a relatively lukewarm roster of launch games. While it sold respectably, it fell well below Nintendo’s expectations. This led to a controversial price drop within a few months of release, which understandably irked those who bought the system at launch, and opinion is divided on the how much the 3D functionality contributes to the enjoyment of the system. With that in mind, Nintendo has just unveiled the next generation of their beleaguered handheld, the 3DS XL. Following in the footsteps of the DSi, they have made it substantially larger. This begs the question: Does bigger equal better?

The 3DS XL is designed to address two key issue of the first 3DS; the small screen size that can hinder the 3D effects for some, and the unacceptably short battery life. The latter issue could be offset somewhat by playing the system with the bare minimum of features active, turning off the 3D and lowering the brightness. The top and bottom screens on the 3DS XL are 4.88  and 4.18 inches respectively, and this offers a 90% increase in screen size over the previous model. The aforementioned battery life has been the Achille’s heel of the original model, and the estimates for the 3DS XL are 3.5 to 6.5 hours for 3DS titles, and 6 to 10 hours for regular DS titles. These are meerly projections, as battery life can vary depending on playtime and the features you utilize.

The bigger screens will prove a benefit for those who found the original 3DS too small, however don’t expect a shocking increase in horsepower. In terms of technical specifications, the 3DS XL is essentially identical to the original model, with the same screen resolution, despite the increased size, and no enhancements made to the cameras and other multimedia functionalities. As such, it is hard to look at this as being a full upgrade, rather an augmentd model that dangles a few improvements as a way of enticing people to purchase the console again, as well as to win over those purchasing it for the first time. That’s not to say that these are not welcome improvements, but the 3DS XL is hardly reinventing the wheel.

The most surprising omission from the 3DS XL design is a second circle pad, which is by far one of the most requested improvements that fans have been seeking. Perhaps even more egregious, the Circle Pad Pro peripheral that provided a second circle pad on the original model will not be compatible with the 3DS XL. For certain games, such as Resident Evil: Revelations and Kid Icarus: Uprising, having that second circle pad really proved integral, significantly enhancing the controls. The lack of support for the peripheral can be chalked up to the larger design of the device, but Nintendo’s decision not to include it as a core feature is more of a mystery. My guess is that cost was a factor, or the volume of games compatible with a second circle pad is not perceived to be large enough to justify its inclusion. Either way, this comes off as a missed opportunity.

The question of whether the 3DS XL will be worth purchasing depends on a few factors. If the larger screens and improved battery life are important considerations, then this should be a worthwhile investment. If you are expecting a complete design overhaul and were banking on a second circle pad being included, there are probably not enough enhancements to justify re-purchasing the system. As someone who does not currently own a 3DS and has been holding off to see what Nintendo would do in the second generation, I am pleaed with the improvements and I will be buying it. I am confident in this as a good purchase for a first-time buyer, but if you aren’t won over and have a perfectly functional 3DS at home, you won’t lose out by holding off.

The 3DS XL is scheduled for release on July 28, 2012 in Europe and Japan, with North America getting it on August 19. The MSRP is $199.99 and, as of this writing, the system will come in two colors (red and blue) with a 4GB memory card. It should be noted that the AC adapter will not be included with systems sold in Europe and Japan, however your existing 3DS charger can be used or a new one can be purchased separately. Units sold in North America will have the AC adapter included. As of this writing, it is unknown if Nintendo is planning any game bundles or special promotions to coincide with the launch.

via[Nintendo Direct Archive]