Slowly but surely things are starting to look up for the Nintendo 3DS. Since the fruitful price cut and the release of a few top notch first party titles the 3DS has seen a big surge in popularity.
Despite the recent release of Sony's PlayStation Vita, Nintendo's handheld has dominated the Japanese hardware sales chart for the last few months.
Along with Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7, Capcom's Monster Hunter 3G was also released in Japan, accompanied by the Circle Pad Pro, an add-on device that grafts a second analogue stick to the handheld.
In Europe the Circle Pad Pro is piggybacking onto the release of Resident Evil: Revelations, which will be on store shelves this Friday. We've managed to get our hands on the attachment, and here's what we think...
iSORE PAD PRO
Let's get the glaringly obvious out of the way first: the Circle Pad Pro isn't pretty. Nintendo's taken a respectable crack at making it a little easier on the eyes by giving it a smooth finish and soft curves but - despite our best efforts - we can't help but see a Fisher Price toy-like hunk of plastic that represents a baffling lack of foresight.
On its own the Nintendo 3DS is a slick little device with a low profile and a sturdy design, it's aesthetically pleasing and is a cinch to carry around on a day-to-day basis. It's almost Apple-esque in its design and construction.
Stick on the Circle Pad Pro and it's a whole different story. Babies will cry, old ladies will hit you with oversized handbags and security guards will tackle you. On top of that it's definitely going to be a pain to carry around, since its hunchback profile means it's too lumpy to fit in most pockets you'll need a bag.
Attaching the Circle Pad Pro is relatively painless, once you've fiddled around with the screw and got the supplied battery in (which reportedly lasts 400+ hours) it's just a case of snapping it on. The shell grips the handheld very tightly so it does require a little initial force, but you can bet it won't ever fall out.
The Immediate design issues become noticeable when you take a look at the top edge of the 3DS, where a plastic lip now completely covers both the stylus and the game cart slots. This means you'll have to pull the handheld out should you wish to switch games and - unless you're comfortable with using your fingers - you'll have to keep your stylus separate from the device.
The headphone jack on the front gets the good end of the deal and is completely unobscured, as is the charging port. Lastly, the volume slider is easily accessible provided you angle your finger a little - it's a little finicky but not a major hindrance.
Along with the additional Slide Pad the shell also introduces three extra shoulder buttons. A duplicate 'R' button compensates for the original on the device, which is inaccessible due to the offset placement of the 3DS in the shell. Two additional shoulder buttons - 'ZL' and 'ZR' - use the trigger design found on the Wii's Classic Controller Pro.
Most people won't have any issues accessing the new buttons but those with long fingers might have sacrifice comfort for stability and arch their fingers at a less than ideal angle.
With the Circle Pad Pro attached it can be difficult to find a natural resting point for your fingers on the back initially. However, once you've got your fingers around it the device is surprisingly comfortable to hold - especially over long gaming sessions.
It also takes a little time to get used to the slightly off centre placement of the screen; the extra plastic on the right-hand side pushes the screen over to the left a bit, so you'll have to adjust your view. Again, more of a quirk than a serious issue.
The extra Slide Pad itself doesn't demand much explanation; it's there, it works. We did feel that it was slightly looser and provided more of a range of motion than the one on the 3DS itself, but that might just be us.
We spent our time with the Circle Pad Pro playing Resident Evil: Revelations, which detected the add-on straight away and offered to switch to the supporting control scheme.
By default character movement is mapped entirely to the single pad and Jill turns in the appropriate direction without the need for camera manipulation. However with the second Pad activated the left stick handles strafing while the right hand stick controls camera movement. Aiming in first person feels more intuitive, with the right stick allowing for precision aiming, and the additional triggers provide easy access to both firearms and melee weapons.
Overall we feel that while the add-on isn't essential to play the game, but it affords a more natural Resident Evil gameplay experience to those who do.
Does that alone justify the cost of the £15 peripheral? No - the slow pace of Resident Evil gameplay means it's still very playable with a single stick, but in the near future Monster Hunter, Kid Icarus and Metal Gear are likely to benefit greatly from the add-on and reward your investment.
Circle Pad Pro is an inexpensive, optional extra that - while undoubtedly affecting the portability of your 3DS - does exactly what it sets out to do by offering a quick fix solution and the best possible gameplay experience for games that support it.
If you're a Resi, Metal Gear or Monster Hunter fan not bothered by the added bulk, consider picking one up.
For a second opinion read Official Nintendo Magazine's Circle Pad Pro review.
An optional extra that works well and is inoffensively priced
- Reasonably priced
- Surprisingly comfortable
- Makes Resi easier to play
- It's Ugly
- A constant reminder of Nintendo's lack of foresight