Nintendo's unveiling of an all-new model of the Nintendo 3DS, the 3DS XL, is strange one. Let the usual excitement over new hardware die down and you're left wondering who, exactly, needs this thing?
Revisions of hardware are usually there for one of two reasons: either you're correcting a clear fault in the original or you're trying to drum up sales when the current model is flagging.
The orginal 3DS has a fault alright: it's only got one thumbstick. Nearly every 3D game released over the past decade has used two thumbsticks, because it's the best and most-employed method of controlling a character and a camera.
It's why Nintendo released the Circle Pad Pro. Because it found out soon after launch that, hey, a lot of these 3D games are going to need the extra thumbstick.
Yet here is an all-new model of the hardware, and again, it only has one thumbstick. Worse, it doesn't look like the existing Circle Pad Pro will fit, since the XL has a new casing (not to mention the fact it's bigger).
Talk about a missed opportunity.
So the other explanation for the XL must be that it's going to kickstart sales of a handheld that isn't taking off like its predecessor, the DS, did. But, um, who exactly is this targeted at?
Let's look at how Nintendo handled it's wildly-successful DS handheld. The DS was weird, but wonderful. The DS Lite was needed because the original DS' exterior design was hideous. The DSi added a camera, a marked improvement over the regular DS. The DSi XL did...well. Let's look at that.
The DSi XL was released in Japan in 2009 and everywhere else in 2010. That's 5-6 years after the launch of the original DS. The DSi XL was a "chaser", the last hurrah of an ageing system that was pitched at a few niche markets still untapped by Nintendo; namely the elderly, those who played DS games at home and those who dug the classier, more adult colour schemes it launched in.
The 3DS XL, however, launches with the original 3DS only a pinch over 12 months old. It offers no major technical or functional enhancements beyond a bigger screen and better battery life (around 6.5 hours). It's even, it can be argued, uglier than the model its replacing/complementing, looking more like a children's toy laptop than the more refined design of the standard 3DS.
In other words, just like with the price-cut the 3DS received last year, this move comes across as maybe a little desperate. So pained are they to light a fire under the 3DS - which I thought was doing OK these days! - that they've resorted to the company's most tried and tested means of improving sales, something they've been doing since the days of the Game Boy: releasing new versions of existing hardware.
Only this time, they look to have done it without creating much of a reason for existing users to upgrade, or much of an enticement for people who haven't already purchased a 3DS to get onboard.