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Hands-on with Nintendo's better looking, better playing New Nintendo 3DS

The New Nintendo 3DS is a big improvement in many immediately noticeable ways, based on some hands-on time with the forthcoming Nintendo handheld at Tokyo Game Show 2014. It certainly makes playing Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, the Capcom game chosen to show off the New Nintendo 3DS to the public for the first time, a lot easier.

The biggest addition to the New Nintendo 3DS are the handheld's new inputs: a new analog nub that sits above the ABXY button cluster and the new ZL and ZR shoulder buttons. Compared to the current Nintendo 3DS XL, a few other inputs, like the start and select buttons, have been shifted around — they've moved from below the bottom 3DS screen to below the ABXY buttons, just like the Nintendo 2DS.

That analog nub was initially the most worrying aspect of the New Nintendo 3DS design, but it works well enough. It's not like the analog Circle Pad; it's a firmly planted, sturdy, rubbery nub that requires a bit of force to use and has almost no detectable range of motion. In a game like Monster Hunter, it's good for controlling the game's camera — certainly better than other options — but it's not quite a second analog stick. It will be interesting to see how well the nub performs as an aiming device for crosshairs.

The ZL and ZR buttons seem like they might be a big tough to reach or reliably touch, but they're good too. I found it easy to rock my index fingers from the outer shoulder buttons to the inner shoulder buttons without much trouble.

The New Nintendo 3DS screens look great, and the stereoscopic 3D on the upper screen looks sharper than ever. Nintendo promises a wider viewing angle for 3D viewing, and tilting the New 3DS from side-to-side showed that the handheld will live up to that promise. The same expanded viewing angle doesn't apply when you're tilting the New 3DS up and down, but the better 3D view is welcome regardless of its limitations.

Other small form factor changes include some tweaks that I liked — there's symmetry to the 3D and volume sliders on the upper half of the New Nintendo 3DS — and some that I didn't — the bottom half of the device has a glossy plastic backing that immediately struck me as less comfortable. I've grown accustomed to the matte finish of the current Nintendo 3DS XL.

We had limited time with the New Nintendo 3DS and only got to spend it with the larger "LL" model, but the new hardware is already looking like a worthwhile upgrade. The new analog nub takes a bit of time getting used to but, the New 3DS plays better and looks better than its predecessors.

The New Nintendo 3DS hits Japan on Oct. 11, but won't be released in North America and Europe until 2015 at the earliest.

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