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The New 3DS XL unlocks the potential of Nintendo's handheld

Hands-on with the vastly improved New 3DS XL.

Nintendo's reformed New 3DS XL has made a surprise appearance at Tokyo Games Show 2014 - exclusively at Capcom's booth demonstrating the upcoming Monster Hunter 4G.

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The New 3DS and New 3DS XL don't launch in Japan until 11th October (and not in North America and Europe until some time in 2015), but after a long wait in line behind hundreds of Monster Hunter aficionados we managed to try the device for ourselves.

From the outside, the new design appears very much like the old - same size, same shape. But looks are deceiving - you'll notice the difference from the first moment you pick it up. The New 3DS XL is considerably lighter than the existing model and thus much more comfortable to hold.

This is even more of a feat when you consider the fact that it also contains the buttons and functionality of the ugly, bloated 3DS Circle Pad Pro add-on, a device which basically removed the pocketability of the 3DS any time that it was attached.

The next thing you'll notice is the top screen's 3D effect, which pops into view much more easily when viewed at an angle. This is a benefit of the device's new eye-tracking capability that tailors the 3DS' parallax technology specifically to where you're looking from, enabling the effect to work from a far wider range of vision.

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The result works a treat, and allowed me to lean over and watch my Monster Hunter partners on their own screens from over their shoulder in 3D. Even attempting to trick my 3DS by turning it rapidly didn't seem to wreck the effect. And I tested it while wearing glasses. It is genuinely impressive stuff.

There will be a portion of players who still prefer the 3D off - and that's fair enough. But the fact that you can now enjoy the effect without having to keep your head centred in the regular 3DS' "sweet spot" will undoubtedly encourage players to keep the 3D turned on, or at least turned on a lot longer.

Nintendo's other major addition is the new C-stick, which sits comfortably just above and to the left of the ABXY buttons. This tough rubber nubbin is very much like the one found in place of a trackpad on older laptops, and amply reproduces the effect of a second control stick.

You need to apply a little pressure to activate its directional input - you can't just slide your fingers over it - but this quickly feels natural. Within 30 seconds I was using it to manoeuvre Monster Hunter's camera as easily as if I was playing with dual analogue sticks.

The other new buttons - ZL and ZR - simply replicated the functions of L and R in Monster Hunter, but both also felt like a comfortable reach.

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Start and Select are now small circular buttons underneath the ABXY face buttons but neither get in the way. The change of position tidies up the New 3DS' overall design, too, allowing the Home button to sit more comfortably in the bottom centre of the handheld. The move of the volume controls up to the top screen - mirroring the position of the 3D slider - also makes the whole thing more symmetrical.

Of course, the new 3DS and 3DS XL also have other new features that we couldn't put to the test today - the included NFC-reading technology and the faster CPU. There has been no announcement that Monster Hunter 4G will require the New 3DS/XL to play, but other titles will - the first of which to be announced being the upcoming Xenoblade Chronicles 3DS port.

From our initial impressions, then, Nintendo's new handheld refresh is a huge improvement - with features such as the C-stick inclusion that feel like they should have been in the console since its first iteration. There's still no word on a UK release date or pricing, but rest assured that the changes feel different enough to make it a worthy upgrade.

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