Back when the 3DS first came out, it wasn’t uncommon to here gamers say something along these lines, “Only one joystick?”
That sentiment was very strong amongst gamers and seemed quite valid. After all, two axis of control has been a videogame standard since the days of the PS1 and if Nintendo really wanted their new system to compete with console gaming experiences, it seemed like a pretty major oversight. Well, Nintendo stuck to their guns on that sucker for a whole 11 months. Sure, Mario games and N64 remakes don’t need two joysticks, but Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid titles? That’s kind of crucial. So, the company reluctantly put out the Circle Pad Pro, a big hunk of plastic that provides 3DS-ers with an extra circle pad to bring the system’s level of control up to the standards of late 90s gaming. It might be a bit of an afterthought for a glaring oversight, but it actually works quite well and is worth picking up.
Right off the bat, if this thing were to be judged purely on aesthetics, it would be a failure. The Circle Pad Pro is a bulky and unsightly piece of plastic that instantly doubles the size of the portable system. It looks like the last minute solution to the glaring problem that it is and makes the slick 3DS suddenly appear more like one of the ludicrously bulky 90s Gameboy clones, like the Atari Lynx. Fortunately, unlike the cruel realities of the high school dating world, this thing isn’t to be judged on appearance alone. Nope, despite the ugly exterior the Circle Pad Pro feels great and operates smoothly. Sure, it instantly turns the 3DS into a system that can’t be shoved into a pocket, but the games that require it aren’t really ideal for quick n’ easy on-the-go gaming anyway. Games like that will likely always focus on a single circle pad, while games like Resident Evil: Revelations need to be played in extended sessions that should be done from the comfort of a couch.
Sliding a 3DS into this Circle Pad Pro takes all of two seconds and since the connection is done using an infrared light, hooking it up is as easy as sliding it in. There’s no need to go into the system menus to activate the device. Compatible games pick up its presence instantly and take care of that for you. Even though it looks bulky and awkward, Nintendo actually designed it to fit comfortably into your hand. Playing the 3DS through the Circle Pad Pro actually feels more comfortable than playing the system on its own. I actually always found I needed the battery extension on my 3DS just so it felt better in my hands and this add-on is actually even more comfortable. Unfortunately despite its large size, there’s no room for the system to fit in with one of the 3
party battery extensions. That’s a real bummer, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before some company puts out their own circle pad add-on that either accommodates a big battery or includes its own additional power.
I’ve read complaints that the new circle pad doesn’t feel the same as the one on the system and to an extent that’s true. It is a little bit looser, but every game that uses it allows you to adjust in-game sensitivity and once I did that I had zero problems with the second circle. The Circle Pad Pro also adds two new shoulder buttons while still incorporating the ones on the system. That set up feels comfortable, works well, and allows for control schemes similar to an X-Box or PS3 controller. On a functional level, this thing is amazing. Only two games are compatible so far, but both are improved. The first is ‘Resident Evil: Revelations’ and adding on a second circle pad means that the dreaded stop n’ shoot style is removed from the game. You have the freedom to go into first person mode and move while shooting. Personally, I always found having to stop while shooting only made the survival horror series that much more tense, so it never bothered me. However, I have to say that the game is dramatically easier with the second circle pad and moves by much faster. The second compatible game is ‘Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater’ – and it is vastly improved by the second circle pad. On a normal 3DS you control the camera with the X, Y, A, and B buttons and it’s an awkward disaster. It works decently, but in a game like Metal Gear where pinpoint control is vital, that design just doesn’t cut it. With a second circle pad, the game is a breeze and I honestly wouldn’t recommend picking up that game without the Circle Pad Pro. It’s just not worth the frustration.
There may not be much in the way of software available to test out the Circle Pad Pro yet, but based on what I had access to this thing works perfectly. It’s easy to install, comfortable to use, and makes games requiring two-joystick controls play like a dream. The thing may be unsightly and impractical for on-the-go gaming, but as a solution to an undeniable 3DS design problem, it works wonders. I wouldn’t be surprised if a “3DS Lite” or “3DS XL” or “3DS We’re Sorry” comes out some time in the next year or so with two circle pads built in. When that upgrade happens, it maybe worth upgrading your 3DS. However, if you don’t want to buy a new 3DS or Nintendo decides that they are committed to one built-in circle pad for the system’s lifespan, I’d say this accessory is a must own. I honestly wouldn’t even consider playing Metal Gear Solid without it and I’m sure there will be plenty of other titles released on the system that will require it as well. This thing may look dumb in pictures and you’ll probably doubt its effectiveness when you first slap it onto your system, but it gets the job done. Until Nintendo or a third party manufacturer releases another solution to the single circle pad problem, this is all we got and thankfully it works pretty damn well.