Reviewed on: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: Available now
It’s not often that we see hardware manufacturers backtrack and admit to a failing of their original design. The 3DS is one nubbin shy of a party, so Nintendo decided it was time to slap a second one onto the 3DS.
Just about everyone is used to – and probably expects – dual analogue sticks for controlling games nowadays. Indeed, the lack of this functionality was a major contributor to the demise of the PSP, with many games requiring major hand-based contortionist feats in order to get your in-game character doing what you wanted them to.
Back when the 3DS was announced, I must admit that I was surprised that Nintendo had decided to go with a single analogue input. However, bearing in mind that the 3DS took many design cues from the DS – which only had a single d-pad as input – and the general lack of ‘hardcore’ games on Nintendo’s platforms, perhaps it was an understandable design concession. After all, the 3DS isn’t exactly the most svelte of handhelds to begin with.
After having attempted to play Resident Evil: Mercenaries on the 3DS, an experience that was not pleasant with a single stick, it’s clear that the 3DS was in desperate need of a solution to ensure that titles such as this were actually playable on Nintendo’s handheld. The shortcomings of a single stick would have been made even more clear with 3DS games such as Resident Evil: Revelations and Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater, both of which are being released in the same timeframe as the PlayStation Vita.
So, without further ado, let’s introduce Nintendo’s solution to mono-stickitis. The Circle Pad Pro.
The first thing that you’ll notice is that this peripheral is a behemoth – and makes the 3DS considerably less portable in the process. Whacking this on doubles the height of your 3DS and increases the width by a third – stretching even the most ridiculous marketing claims of a ‘pocket size’ console to the absolute limit. Despite the size of the Circle Pad Pro, it’s actually fairly light and feels great in your hands. The ergonomics of the unit are pretty spot on and considerably comfier to hold for prolonged periods than the rather angular 3DS.
The Circle Pad Pro doesn’t draw any power from the 3DS, instead drawing power from a single AAA battery. This was probably quite a sensible solution as, quite honestly, the 3DS has enough problems with battery life as it is – and Nintendo are claiming that the Circle Pad Pro will get about 400 hours out of a single battery, so hopefully users won’t be faffing around with changing a battery every couple of days.
As you can see from the pictures in this article, the Circle Pad Pro encases the bottom half of the 3DS, firmly holding the handheld in place with a couple of bits of rubber on the inside. Once the Circle Pad Pro is on, you’ll be positively awash with new control options – not only do you get a second circle pad, but you also get a secondary L and R trigger (known as ZL and ZR) placed at your disposal too. Due to the size of the unit, the Circle Pad Pro also duplicates the normal R shoulder button as, frankly, you wouldn’t be able to reach it otherwise.
Whilst this solution is functional – and definitely not aesthetically great – there are also one or two annoyances inherent in the design of the Circle Pad Pro. Since the bottom half of the 3DS is pretty much encased by the peripheral, you can’t access the cartridge slot, the stylus or the WiFi switch without removing the 3DS from the Circle Pad Pro – and the volume slider is only just about usable with the peripheral attached. These niggles aren’t deal-breakers, but are a bit of an annoyance that surely could have been overcome without too much effort.
The alignment of the controls is pretty good, although the second circle pad is a bit lower than the one on the 3DS. The buttons, whilst excellently placed, do feel a little mushy for my liking and the triggers don’t seem to support analogue input. However, none of these gripes get in the way of the functionality of the unit – and, as far as I can tell, the Circle Pad Pro is going to be an increasingly essential accessory for most 3DS gamers.
I tried the Circle Pad Pro out with Resident Evil: Revelations (which I’ll be doing a review of soon) and the difference is truly night and day. Without the Circle Pad Pro, the analogue stick allows you to move forwards and backwards as well as rotate your character – if you want to strafe, you have to hold down the L shoulder button. This, whilst serviceable, is less than great.
Playing Resident Evil: Revelations with the Circle Pad Pro, on the other hand, is fantastic. The game controls now feel completely natural; it truly converts a frustrating experience that shatters the fourth wall to one that feels completely natural.
Going forward, it looks like Nintendo will be supporting the Circle Pad Pro in a number of forthcoming titles. At the time of writing Kid Icarus Uprising, Metal Gear Solid 3D and Kingdom Hearts 3D are slated to have extra awesomeness for 3DS gamers who own a Circle Pad Pro.
The Circle Pad Pro is an inexpensive accessory that can add a great deal of enjoyment to the games that support it – which are admittedly limited in number at the present time. Because of the playability that it can add, I was tempted to boost the score for the Circle Pad Pro from a 3 to a 4 – but until more games support it, it’s a bit of a niche accessory for the 3DS. There’s also the considerable likelihood that Nintendo will be doing a 3DS hardware refresh (if the past is anything to go by) that will have a second circle pad built-in; so if you’re on the fence as to whether this accessory would encourage you to take the plunge on a 3DS, you’re probably better off waiting to see what Nintendo has around the corner.
So, in short, two nubbins good, one nubbin not so good. But you probably knew that already.