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Opinion: The lack of a second stick is an XL mistake, Nintendo

Nintendo sticks to its guns with new 3DS XL model
Product: Nintendo 3DS XL | Publisher: Nintendo | Format: 3DS
Nintendo 3DS XL 3DS, thumbnail 1
Most of us could have guessed a new 3DS was on the way. It has become a long-held Nintendo tradition to follow up a hardware launch with a superior, revised model a year or so after the original's debut.

In light of the frankly bizarre Frankenstick Circle Pad Pro add-on, it seemed obvious to everyone with a face and at least one functioning eye that Nintendo would do the decent thing and release a model with a second stick. (We thought it might look like this).

But, no

Instead, Nintendo has decided to completely disregard overwhelming consumer feedback and simply make the existing device bigger.

After the company's recent E3 horror show, the last thing Nintendo really needed was to present its critics with even more ammunition, but the 3DS XL is perhaps Nintendo's biggest own goal in recent memory.

Nintendophiles will doggedly deny that the 3DS needs a second stick: "Hardly any games support a second stick, anyway", "the DS did just fine without one", "not having a second stick will stop lazy ports", "not adding a second stick will ensure existing owners won't be upset", "they can't change the fundamental design of the console." Et cetera.

These are all fair, reasonable points, but I'd argue that there are a lot of perfectly good reasons for adding one even at this early stage in the 3DS's life cycle.

For a start, having two sticks as standard opens up the 3DS to more types of games, including shooters and action adventures. As much as gyroscopic controls offer a neat alternative to camera movement in games like Resident Evil: Revelations, most players would take physical controls given the choice.

More control

It's fair to say that only a few other 3DS games have tangibly benefitted from the Circle Pad Pro add-on to date. But, rather than see this as a sign that there isn't any real hunger from publishers to make twin-stick games, it's more a case of risk-averse companies catering to the lowest common denominator.

Adding a second stick would have very quickly addressed the problem, and given publishers the confidence to produce games using the industry-standard control configuration.

Instead, Nintendo has essentially ensured that the PS Vita remains the only handheld gaming system that gives developers the choice of making games with true joypad-style controls.

Of course, it's true that the 3DS is indeed selling better than the PS Vita, which leads people to the conclusion that it really doesn't matter whether you meddle with the controls or not. If they mattered so much to people, wouldn't the 3DS be trailing in the Vita's wake right now?

Well, quite. But, if you were in Nintendo's shoes, wouldn't you want to make absolutely sure that the 3DS grinds the Vita into the dust by nullifying one of its advantages?

The other issue, of course, is that Nintendo has a lot more to worry about these days than just Sony. The onslaught of tablets and smartphones is a far bigger threat than Sony ever was, and Nintendo should be bending over backwards to make its handheld as broadly appealing as possible.

Don't give gamers an excuse to whinge. Make your product essential.

Home and away

There's also the unanswered question of 3DS and Wii U interoperability - if any. Given that the Wii U's tablet controller features, yes, two sticks, it would have made sense for a revised 3DS to match it for basic functionality and layout. For the sake of consistency, you know.

Before I get accused of knee-jerk negativity, I will admit there are a few positives to look forward to in the new 3DS model. The 3DS XL will boast an improved battery life, for one. You'll now get "3.5 - 6.5 hours" for 3DS titles, and "6 - 10 hours" for DS titles.

But, before anyone unfurls the bunting, that's a whole extra half an hour for 3DS, and between 1 and 2 extra hours for DS games - an improvement, yes, but still a long way from where most gamers would like it to be.

The biggest thumbs-up, perhaps, is reserved for the expanded screen size of the 3DS XL, with Nintendo boosting the original 3DS's dimensions by 90 per cent, making it the biggest screen ever on a Nintendo handheld and most likely a beautiful showcase for its 3D content.

Then again, the XL dimensions turn the 3DS from a pocket device into a portable device, and that's not necessarily right for everyone's needs.

No power

In one of the more baffling decisions in Nintendo's long and illustrious history, the 3DS XL will not come bundled with an AC adaptor.

That's fine if you happen to have an old DSi or 3DS charger lying around, but somewhat annoying if you don't. Cutting costs is one thing, but neglecting to provide basic fundamentals just eats away at customer satisfaction.

Given the imminent launch of the 3DS XL, there appears to be little chance that the 3DS will benefit from a significant revision in the near future. At best, a slimmer model may appear with (genuinely) better battery life, but it already feels like Nintendo would rather work on producing an entirely new handheld system than try to fiddle too much with an existing one.

Then again, considering the 3DS will only become a profitable system for Nintendo later this summer, it seems highly unlikely that it will bail out any time soon.

One day, we might enjoy a full-featured Nintendo handheld with everything we've been clamouring for. Decent battery life. Twin-stick controls. Visually stunning. Great online play.

We can but dream.

Reviewer photo
Kristan Reed 22 June 2012
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