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3DS Circle Pad Pro Review
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January 30, 2012
7:38 pm
Dan
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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.

 

XBL: CapnAverage | PSN: CapnAverage | Steam: CaptainAverage

3DS: 0404-6249-0152 | Twitch: CapnAverage

January 30, 2012
8:00 pm
Richard
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January 11, 2012
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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?

When I am king, you will be first against the wall.
January 30, 2012
8:07 pm
Mahagna
Guest

Yeah, I plan on buying a 3DS when the second stick comes built in.

January 30, 2012
8:09 pm
tmsmyth
Guest

Probably worth waiting on then. Nintendo are so good at showing you the best possible angle without the need for manual camera control, and normally you can position the camera behind you by pressing one button. They have only become experts at this because they keep limiting themselves with the hardware. Seems like Nintendo were only thinking about 1st party stuff when they first designed the 3DS and if they want more 3rd party ports on the system then this accessory is essential. They can have ps2/vita ports with minimal effort and still surprising they didnt realise this from the outset.

With MGS, Kid Icarus and Revelations announced before launch, how did they not realise aiming with the buttons on MGS doesnt work. I wasn't calling for a redesign at the time and didnt really think about it, but then again I buy Nintendo systems for Nintendo games where the camera is perfect and doesnt obscure any of the action with 1 analogue

Id love to have right-stick camera control on a 3D Mario or Zelda game now they have the freedom, and i'd buy it for that or a more interesting 3rd party title. Hard to justify buying mgs3D when the HD collection is out for the same price, and with Res Evil 6 and Raccoon city coming out I'm not sold on Revelations. And clearly dual-nubbins isnt as precise as a dualshock

Wonder how that Kid Icarus stand will look with the circle pad pro. Will that even work? It will look a mess and seems more hassle than its worth. Definately going to wait and see how much support it gets before I buy one

January 30, 2012
8:47 pm
Dan
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@Richard:

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.

 

XBL: CapnAverage | PSN: CapnAverage | Steam: CaptainAverage

3DS: 0404-6249-0152 | Twitch: CapnAverage

January 31, 2012
10:37 am
Lukas Heinzel
Guest

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.

January 31, 2012
2:17 pm
Cory
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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 buttons.

Twitter: Darkwonders | PSN: Darkwonders | XBL: Darkwonders | Steam: Darkwonders
January 31, 2012
3:32 pm
MTaylo050
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Darkwonders said

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 buttons.

As much as I want this and I know it's going to happen sooner or later, I almost wish they wouldn't. I really don't want to have to buy a new console. I fight for every dollar I spend on gaming already and I'm sure I will eventually want this. This isn't some lazy upgrade either, like a camera, this is something that could greatly affect gameplay (and frankly should have been there in the first place).

January 31, 2012
4:06 pm
Cory
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MTaylo050 said

As much as I want this and I know it's going to happen sooner or later, I almost wish they wouldn't. I really don't want to have to buy a new console. I fight for every dollar I spend on gaming already and I'm sure I will eventually want this. This isn't some lazy upgrade either, like a camera, this is something that could greatly affect gameplay (and frankly should have been there in the first place). 

 

It'll happen eventually. They have 4 versions of the DS! I know it'll be a pain for early adopters, but at least Nintendo caught their mistake early this time. Remember when they finally came out with the Wii motion plus? It was so late in the cycle that hardly any devs supported it because they weren't sure if people would have it or not. at least with the analog stick games a year or so from now could have it mandatory if nintendo came out with an upgraded 3DSi.

Twitter: Darkwonders | PSN: Darkwonders | XBL: Darkwonders | Steam: Darkwonders
January 31, 2012
8:43 pm
Vincent Deshaies
Guest

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...

January 31, 2012
11:20 pm
Dan
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guest said

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...

The bulkiness takes a little while to get used to, but it's a fair trade off considering the amount of playability that it adds to titles such as RE: Revelations.

 

That being said, however, Nintendo need to make sure a substantial number of titles support the Circle Pad Pro to make it truly worthwhile for 3DS owners.

 

XBL: CapnAverage | PSN: CapnAverage | Steam: CaptainAverage

3DS: 0404-6249-0152 | Twitch: CapnAverage

February 1, 2012
9:43 am
Lukas Heinzel
Guest

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.

February 1, 2012
10:23 pm
Phoenix
Guest

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?

February 1, 2012
11:07 pm
Dan
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Phoenix said

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?

If Nintendo are thinking of doing a hardware refresh which has a second nubbin (a no-brainier, IMHO), then I expect that support for the Circle Pad Pro will increase ad time goes on.  I don't think that they'll be doing games that require it any time soon, though.  At the end of the day, you can pick it up for around £15, so it's not too expensive ad gaming investments go.

Also, am chuffed to bits that 'nubbin' had become the official term for the 3DS' sticks! toothysmile

 

XBL: CapnAverage | PSN: CapnAverage | Steam: CaptainAverage

3DS: 0404-6249-0152 | Twitch: CapnAverage

February 13, 2012
4:27 pm
Somprob
Guest

There is some thing cllead the Games Developers Conference on Tuesday (March 2nd) so maybe they will talk about the 3DS there.

February 27, 2012
10:12 pm
Ahren Jones
Guest

Why won't you buy the 3ds yay i'm tiping to you misy Phoenix

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