Review: 3DS Circle Pad Pro

February 27, 2012

It was a surprise to everyone. Starting out as a rumour on the French gadget website 01net, nobody truly believed Nintendo intended to release an analogue pad dongle for the Nintendo 3DS. It sounded like the stuff out of peripheral nightmares, recalling mounds of unused plastic junk sitting aside an old Wii. Then it was official. True to the rumours, the Circle Pad Pro peripheral would add a second analogue pad to the standard 3DS control setup, allowing for dual analogue controls, and expand the shoulder buttons with second L and R pads, shifting the 3DS controls to more accurately resemble a console control pad.

It was couple of weeks, maybe a month, before it finally sunk it. Yep, this is real.

The reception was mixed. Some fans were intrigued by the premise of updating the 3DS to a more traditional dual analogue control layout, catching up to the now released PlayStation Vita. Many other fans were annoyed, confused and disappointed. They saw the Circle Pad Pro as a cheap stopgap between the current Nintendo 3DS design and the inevitable dual analogue revision. The device itself looking quite bulky and cumbersome didn’t help matters, with many questioning the place a large peripheral has on what is supposed to be a portable system.

But speculation and gossip are no longer necessary, for the Circle Pad Pro has transcended rumours and a bizarre reveal, by finally becoming a very real, physical object to put in your hands and try for yourselves. You can buy it, you can play with it, and the verdict is now in on those pressing questions; is the Circle Pad Pro a necessary expansion to the Nintendo 3DS controls? Or is it superfluous lump of plastic best left on shelves?

If you haven’t been following, you’re probably wondering just how the Circle Pad Pro works, and what it adds to the 3DS. Getting down to the nitty gritty, the Circle Pad Pro is more or less a shell (as seen above) in which your Nintendo 3DS can snugly fit, simply by pushing the device down into the hollowed area. Minimal force is required to get the 3DS in an ideal position, and the rubber buffers around the interior of the Circle Pad Pro prevent the main system from moving around and risk falling out regardless of the game you’re playing, while also never scratching against the sides. Pulling the 3DS back out requires a little extra force, though nothing excessive nor likely to cause damage to the system.

The peripheral communicates with the 3DS via the 3DS optical sensor, located on the back of the main platform. Here data from the extra button functions granted by the Circle Pad Pro are sent to the 3DS for use in compatible games. Predominantly, the Circle Pad Pro is all about the second control pad on the right side of the system. It feels and slides exactly like the main system’s standard control pad, simulating a dual analogue configuration. In addition to this, an extra L2 button is added under the standard L button on the left side of the system, meanwhile the right side too sees an R2 button, though with a second R button added to better fit the larger right side of the system.

That is, in a nut shell, everything the Circle Pad Pro adds to the 3DS. These extra features need to be powered to work with the 3DS, but rather than run off the 3DS charge, the device simply takes a single AAA size battery, which appears to last quite awhile, and you’re good to go.

At first the Circle Pad Pro looks like a cumbersome monstrosity. Surprisingly, it’s more or less the exact opposite. Though it adds extra size and weight to the 3DS, the ergonomic shape of the shell makes the 3DS arguably more comfortable to hold than it originally was, as the bottom of the device is shaped with grooves to rest your fingers, rounded edges that better mould to the palms of your hands, and the new shoulder buttons are ideally placed for quick tapping. Reaching across the extended right side to the ABXY buttons and the touch screen is a little less intuitive and comfortable than it usually is, but to no extent worth complaining about. Only two noteworthy complaints can be directed at the Circle Pad Pro. Firstly, the second analogue pad rests a bit too close to the palm of your right hand. This demands a style of play where thumbs ideally rest flat on the pad, as opposed to using the thumb’s point like many would with a console control pad, and though the latter option still works, it can lead to some unfortunate thumb cramping. Lastly, the back of the peripheral, which helps hold the system in the shell as well as communicate with the optical port, blocks off the stylus holder, so if you intend to use the stylus you’ll need to take it out before you put the system inside. There’s also the question of portability, given the increased size of the system, but this will depend entirely on your means of carrying the device around, the pocket 3DS perhaps no longer an option, but hardly a concern for those keeping the system in a bag.

At the time of writing, the Circle Pad Pro has been confirmed to support four games; Resident Evil: Revelations, Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater, Kid Icarus: Uprising, and Monster Hunter 3G. Of these four, only the first three are confirmed for a release in Australia, and only the very former is out on the market right now, limiting software options enhanced by the Circle Pad Pro. Thankfully, a demo for Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater is available on the Nintendo 3DS eShop, granting two test benches to see just how well the Circle Pad Pro works in practice.

Capcom’s Resident Evil: Revelations (review here), offers Circle Pad Pro support that allows players to adopt a more traditional dual analogue control layout. Without the peripheral, Revelations controls not unlike Resident Evil 4, using the single analogue pad to both move the character and aim a weapon whenever entering aim mode. Let it be said that the entire game is perfectly playable with this control scheme. In fact, it is likely the game was originally built this way, and anybody who had no problem adapting to Resident Evil 4’s controls will too have no problems playing vanilla Revelations.

That being said, the Circle Pad Pro adds a greater degree of fluidity and control to the game’s mechanics and functions, most noticeable in how the player character navigates the environment. With two pads, again like a traditional dual analogue input, players can strafe while also controlling the camera, and most importantly easily move around while aiming their weapon. Both of these functions are possible without the device, but require a button be held down, obviously less intuitive than simply using another pad. For many players, the accessibility of two pads for moving and shooting will be a game changer in itself, allowing for arguably more precise and involved weapon play against fast moving enemies.

As Revelations does not make huge use of the touch pad, the Circle Pad Pro is ideal. Most of the few touch pad functions, such as primary and secondary weapon switching, are also tied to to the D-Pad, making a vast majority of the game’s functions usable with just the face buttons. Given the surprising comfortability of the Circle Pad Pro, it is highly recommended for enhancing playtime with Resident Evil: Revelations, though not absolutely essential thanks to serviceable standard controls.

Like Resident Evil: Revelations, this remake of Hideo Kojima’s masterpiece features both standard controls, and enhanced Circle Pad Pro controls. Using a similar analogy to the above, standard Snake Eater 3D controls can be likened to Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker on the PlayStation Portable. For many readers, this alone says quite a lot. Peace Walker, regardless of it’s quality as a game, was marred with cumbersome controls due to being designed around a single analogue input. Unlike a slower paced Resident Evil game, the Metal Gear series thrives off quick, precise controls, particularly when aiming weapons for rapid take downs, and manoeuvring the camera to get a better look of the battlefield. Without a second analogue input, many of these functions are tied to buttons instead, resulting in digital input for aiming and camera control, both far from ideal.

However, with the Circle Pad Pro, Snake Eater 3D closely resembles the Dual Shock 2 controls of the original PlayStation 2 release, the standard control pad used to move Snake around the environment, and the second pad used to aim weapons and control the camera, while the extra shoulder triggers allow faster switching between available equipment. Like Revelations, this allows for more advanced weapon and camera play, though given the necessity for control over these mechanics in a Metal Gear game it is easy to argue that the Circle Pad Pro is far more essential to the Snake Eater 3D experience than it is to Resident Evil. Fans intending to buy Snake Eater 3D should seriously consider the Circle Pad Pro for optimal controls.

The Circle Pad Pro is comfortable to hold, adds useful functions to a traditional gaming control scheme, and is proven very effective the two playable examples above. So, should you buy the peripheral and enhance your Nintendo 3DS experience? Well, that depends.

Though it might sound great, it cannot be denied that the Circle Pad Pro is truly a brute force control expansion of the standard 3DS controls. It’s ugly, notably increases the size of the system, and lacks a library of software to truly take advantage of it. From the details Nintendo has revealed, Kid Icarus: Uprising simply uses the additional pad as an option for left handed players, enhancing the game in no way for righties. As for Monster Hunter 3G, well, there’s not much point banking on a game with no local release date. Given the implications that the Circle Pad Pro will no doubt wave the way for a proper dual control pad hardware revision, there’s a real case to be made for waiting it out until the Nintendo 3DS 2.0.

But, it works. It does exactly what is advertised, and does so with an optimal standard of comfort and control, legitimately enhancing the play experience of the two games mentioned above. It is what it is, and whether or not Resident Evil: Revelations and Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater are enough to warrant a Circle Pad Pro purchase so early on is entirely up to you.