3DS Circle Pad Pro Review


Developer: Nintendo
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.

Relatively inexpensive
Greatly enhances the games that support it
Excellent ergonomics
Blocks access to the cartridge slot, stylus and WiFi switch
Only supported by 1 game at present

So, in short, two nubbins good, one nubbin not so good.  But you probably knew that already.

This peripheral was purchased by the reviewer.
Circle Pad Pro – Nintendo Online Store (US ONLY)

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  1. YAY! Breaking the hardware-review-hymen.

    I’m just waiting for the inevitable Super 3DS: Twin Stick Edition, I can’t really see how they can justify the size of that peripheral on a portable device. It’s going to be fine for home use, but it’s hardly something you’re going to have in your pocket ready to whip out on the tube.

    One thing I think they should have done with this, given the increased size of the 3DS when this is in use, is to have shoved some battery packs in it, I’d be much more inclined to want to use it out and about if it doubled the battery life.

    How does the Circle Pad actually ‘talk’ to the 3DS? Is there a physical connection or does it use the infrared?

    • You’ve managed to work out how the Circle Pad Pro talks to the 3DS, you clever chap. It’s through the magic of infra-red – there’s a little transmitter that lines up with the IR port on the 3DS.

      Erm, then some magic presumably happens to make it work. Or something like that.

  2. Lukas Heinzel

    I got it with the re: revelations special edition , works awesome and was worth the extra 10€. Great piece of hardware, reat gsme and future titles will support this. I love my 3DS now even more, now back to Tales of the Abyss.

  3. Cory

    Another problem is that you no longer can use the docking station for the 3DS. I really enjoy the lazy aspect of just placing it in the station instead of having to plug it in every time I want to charge.

    I too hope that they release an upgraded 3DS version that has the second analog built in. They could easily fit it below the face button.

  4. Excellent review, best one I’ve seen around yet! I think I’ll buy it, I preordered RE: Revelations a long time ago and have been eagerly anticipating that game so, as you can imagine, I want the best possible experience. The bulkiness is unappealing but the thing that worried me the most was the placement of the stick and how hard it’d be to reach the face buttons. It doesn’t seem to be the case…

  5. Lukas Heinzel

    Alone for Kingdom Hearts 3 its worth it, Birth by sleep was pain to control, or the other mobile versions. And snake Eater as mentioned or other possible action games will make good use of it. I agree with Darkwonders that at least they fixed their mistake soon to signal that to the developers.

  6. I have a question, could Nintendo start releasing games that require two nubbins and only two nubbins? They’re pretty cheap on Amazon right now and I don’t want to buy a 3DS only to not be able to play certain games due to a lack of a second stick. Any ideas?

  7. […] – if you’re using a Circle Pad Pro (an accessory that I reviewed recently) – is fantastic.  The feel of how the characters control is pretty much lifted straight from […]

  8. […] Resident Evil: Revelations, Metal Gear Solid 3D supports the Circle Pad Pro, and, like Revelations, slapping your 3DS into the Circle Pad Pro greatly enhances how the game […]

  9. […] I think it is odd that Nintendo chose not to announce this at E3; but perhaps they didn’t want to overshadow their Wii U announcements. It is also slightly strange that they did not chose to include a second circle pad in the redesign as including one would have likely helped the new system sell in Japan alongside a new Monster Hunter. This also makes for bad reading for current 3DS owners who plan to trade in their current unit for the new XL model; if they happen to own titles that take advantage of a second pad (such as Resident Evil: Revelations and Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater), they will be either be forced into reverting to the use of a single pad or, presumably, be expected to buy a new XL-compatible Circle Pad Pro. […]

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