Nintendo’s latest console includes innovative features

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For all the great games it produces, Nintendo’s creativity in console naming hasn’t been quite as strong these past few years. After the confusing title for the Wii U and the even more confusing Nintendo 2DS, Nintendo’s newest console is named the New Nintendo 3DS.

No, not a new 3DS console, a new New 3DS console.

Wait.

What doesn’t help is that the console looks pretty similar to its non-New counterpart. All the buttons (except the volume slider and the start and select buttons) are in the same place as the (old) 3DS XL, and the sizes of the consoles and their screens are about the same. The only noticeable differences at first glance are that the face buttons (the x, y, z and a buttons on the right hand side) are multicolored, much like a Super Nintendo controller, and there’s a small gray button above the face buttons. The price of the new console is even the same as the 3DS XL, from about a year ago.

However, the New 3DS really is, well, new. The major alterations aren’t immediately apparent (most are under the hood), but there are a number of beneficial tweaks to the system that justify releasing an upgraded version of an existing handheld.

The extra “button” above the face buttons is actually one of the new features: an extra analog stick. Well, though it’s referred to as a “C stick,” it’s more of a little nub that responds to pressure. While playing “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D”, it worked wonderfully for controlling the camera, and its placement above the face buttons actually felt a lot more natural than expected. Alongside the C-stick, there are two extra shoulder buttons, ZR and ZL buttons, allowing the console to have built-in compatibility with an old 3DS that has the Circle Pad Pro attachment.

The stereoscopic 3-D feature on the original 3DS model had one major flaw: The 3-D effect only worked when you were at a certain angle from the screen. The New 3DS now has face-tracking 3-D, so the system can be viewed at any angle in 3-D. This feature is smooth and quite effective at tracking your face. It even works on 3DS games released before the New 3DS, as it is a feature of the hardware itself. Fans everywhere will have a reason to turn the 3-D slider back on again.

Another internal feature is the buffed-up CPU and memory. Original 3DS models had a dual-core processor, while New 3DS models have a quad-core processor (with the same core model). Additionally, the system’s internal RAM has doubled from 128 to 256 megabytes, and its graphics processing unit has doubled in speed from 133 to 266 megahertz. The result of these upgrades allow for certain games, such as the upcoming “Xenoblade Chronicles 3D,” to work exclusively on the New 3DS. Additionally, certain non-exclusive games have improvements on the New 3DS compared to the original 3DS, such as significantly decreased loading times in “Super Smash Brothers for Nintendo 3DS”.

The last and perhaps most anticipated internal feature is the addition of near-field communication (NFC). Though an NFC adapter for the original 3DS is in development, the New 3DS has this feature built-in, ready for Nintendo’s insanely popular amiibo figurines, which are small figures used to unlock special features in games. Most notably, “Super Smash Brothers for Nintendo 3DS” uses this feature exactly like its Wii U counterpart, and can even use an amiibo’s existing Wii U fighter data.

However, the console does have its downsides. Notably, it does not come with a power adapter in the box. Though any charger in the Nintendo 3DS or Nintendo DSi family is compatible with the New 3DS, new users will find themselves needing to purchase an additional component for their console.

Additionally, the New 3DS uses Micro SD cards for external memory, and unlike the easily-accessible SD cards of the original 3DS, a screwdriver is required to access the card slot. Though you won’t need to access the memory card that often, the need for a screwdriver to access the memory card can be quite the annoyance.

The New 3DS is very much about iterating on what has gone before rather than promising a full-scale revolution. At the same time, as far as Nintendo hardware refreshes go, it’s one of the most drastic, easily on par with the paradigm shift that was the Game Boy Advance SP, which famously introduced a backlit screen and a rechargeable battery to Nintendo fans for the first time ever.

The processor bump makes the home menu much faster and allows for better games in the future, with the unfortunate caveat that existing 3DS owners aren’t invited to the party. The head-tracking improves the system’s stereoscopic 3-D effect remarkably, while the addition of a second analog stick offers the kind of control that really should have been present in the console when it first launched.

While the new features may not entirely justify upgrading for those who already own a Nintendo 3DS, 3DS XL or 2DS, the New Nintendo 3DS XL is certainly the best console to buy for those wishing to own a 3DS. Ultimately, though, the New 3DS is worth owning for the same reason the Wii U and the original 3DS are: It has excellent backwards compatibility, a large back catalogue of Virtual Console titles and most importantly, a massive software library spearheaded by Nintendo, one of the largest exclusive publishers of video games in the world.

System: New Nintendo 3DS XL
Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: Feb. 13, 2015
Rating: ★★★★☆