Nintendo woke us all up early this morning with a fresh batch of information about a new and improved 3DS mobile console it's making. Most of this was geared towards its Japanese audience, however, so let's break down the relevant parts of the news for gamers outside the company's home country.
Here are the main talking points:
There's a new analog stick.
Well, more of a nub really. It's called the "C-Stick." It sits on the top right corner of the lower half of the console, just above the four face buttons. Nintendo says it will be easy to use in a number of different ways for multiple games going forward. As my colleague Brian Ashcraft wrote this morning: "The new C-stick will be used in Dragon Quest X: Online, Final Fantasy Explorers, and Monster Hunter 4G to control the in-game camera function, and in the upcoming Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS to unleash Smash Attacks."
Also: new shoulder buttons.
That's in addition to the current two. They both sit slightly inward from the original shoulder buttons, so gamers will have four going forward. As for how these buttons are going to influence gameplay? We'll have to wait until it's actually out in the wild to see.
Speaking of buttons, they look awfully familiar.
Good observation! The whole system is getting a subtle redesign that references choice elements from previous Nintendo consoles. The C-Stick, for instance, recalls the GameCube's C-Stick. The face buttons, meanwhile, are brightly colored in the SNES tradition.
The hardware and software are getting an upgrade.
It's still a 3DS, but Nintendo insisted that this will be the best 3DS yet, performance-wise. The new 3DS has 3.5-6 hours of battery life, compared to the original's 3-5. The XL has 3.5-7, up from 3.6-6. Nintendo also said that the newer models will have a faster CPU and better 3D effects to avoid some of that pesky "blurring" that happens so often with the current models if you tilt the console too much while playing. It will still use the same cartridges, but the slot's position has been adjusted slightly for the new models, both of which are slightly larger than their predecessors. Also, it's switching from normal SD to Micro SD cards.
Alongside the technical improvements, Nintendo is also updating the look and feel of the device. There are the new buttons, as I've already mentioned. But they're also rolling out some snazzy-looking faceplates—though they're only available for the 3DS and not the XL version, unfortunately.
The internet will be "filtered."
Gamers will still be able to surf the web on the new system, but they'll have to pay a small fee to override certain parental control-type limitations on the new console.
It's backwards compatible, but already has one 'exclusive.'
Part of what a hardware upgrade means is that Nintendo will begin making games that are optimized for the newer tech. To start, the company said that Xenoblade Chronicles will be exclusive to the new systems—though that's technically a port of a 2010 game. But it's also making all of the new hardware instantly compatible with the NFC tech required to use the Skylanders-style Amiibo figures that the company will be rolling out later this year. Older 3DS models will have to rely on a peripheral to use the figures.
As is often the case, the true backwards compatibility of the new system remains an open question. Nintendo said that it will be compatible with earlier 3DS games, and that players will be able to transfer data from previous consoles. Keep in mind that it's also already getting its own exclusive titles, though. So while you might be able to play older 3DS titles on the new console, there could also be any number of other games incoming that are only available for the new version. Once it's actually available of course. And, well...
We won't be playing with it anytime soon.
Nintendo said that the new 3DS models are going to launch in Japan on October 11th for 18,800 yen and 16,000 yen respectively (around $180 and $160). Everyone else is going to have to wait. The company said that while it likely bring the new mobile console to other markets at some point, that won't happen in 2014.