We’re not entirely sure why six years into the 3DS’ life cycle Nintendo decided to inject life into an aging platform that features outdated hardware from the start. But here we are, and admittedly there are a lot of old 3DS games worth playing, so let’s make the best of it.
With the addition of the New 2DS XL, Nintendo’s lineup of handheld gaming systems has ballooned to six different systems ranging from around $85 to over $200 depending on what kind of bundle you’re looking at. And that’s before you even account for the Switch. So to save you some time and aggravation, we thought we’d sort through the confusing mess of Nintendo’s mobile portfolio so you don’t have to.
Starting with the least expensive option, the 2DS can be had for as little as $83 (with a copy of Mario Kart 7 bundled in). But you’re better off passing on this one. The 2DS is big and clunky and is basically the equivalent of buying someone Mega Blocks when they really wanted Legos. The 2DS’s wedge-shaped body is awkward to hold, more annoying to pack in a bag, and it doesn’t have creature comforts like automatic screen brightness that you get on its more expensive siblings. The 2DS’ only major redeeming feature is that if a toddler decides to smash it on a rock, it’ll cost less to replace.
Most of you can stop right here. The New 2DS XL is the handheld Nintendo should have made from the start, and it’s the one you should buy. At $150, the 2DS XL is the least expensive system in the family that doesn’t compromise on design. You even get some handy new improvements including a more accessible microSD card slot, a more compact body with smaller bezels, and a power adapter that actually comes packed in the box—something you won’t get with the purchase of a New 3DS or 3DS XL. But what might be the best thing about the 2DS XL is what you’re not paying for: Nintendo’s gimmicky 3D graphics tech. Amusingly, the 3DS’ 3D tech never actually worked that well and was often the fastest path to a headache this side of the Virtual Boy.
If you’ve got money to spare and desperately need to experience stereoscopic 3D in all its fuzzy glory, the New 3DS and 3DS XL aren’t bad options. Current pricing has them listed between $25 and $50 more than a 2DS XL, but you will need to factor in another $15 to $20 extra for a power adapter, which inexplicably doesn’t come included. The main advantage of the New 3DS systems is an upgraded processor that lets you play more demanding games like Xenoblade Chronicles 3D and SNES Virtual Console ports such as F-Zero and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. But since the New 2DS XL can handle those games too, that’s not much of a feather in its cap.
One other minor thing to consider is that there are more special edition New 3DS systems, which might make a difference for people looking for a handheld with a little flair. (The New 3DS XL with the cuddly Pikachu on its list is pretty irresistible.)
The non “New” 3DS and 3DS XL systems were the original launch models, but in the six years since their release, they have been completely replaced by the “New” versions which sport a slightly more powerful CPU, better battery life and a new analog control pad. However, you can still find old 3DSes listed online at places like Amazon and Gamestop, so remember to pay attention so you won’t get fooled.
Furthermore, despite being older, the original models often cost more than their more recently upgraded siblings, which means these systems are really only targets for the most die-hard collectors.
Before we finish up, we’d be remiss to not mention the Switch, assuming you can actually get your hands on one. While the Switch isn’t exactly a true handheld since it’s also meant to be played on a TV, if you’re trying to decide on just one Nintendo device to buy, this is the system to get.
Even with the release of the New 2DS XL, it’s clear that the 2DS/3DS line is on its last legs. The New 2DS XL is the past and present, the Switch is the future. At E3 2017, Nintendo announced twice as many new Switch games compared to titles for the 2DS/3DS with highlights including new Kirby, Yoshi, Metroid and Pokemon games for the Switch. Yes, there’s a fantastic backlog of games for the 2DS/3DS, but when Mario Odyssey comes out on the Switch and not Nintendo’s other handheld, you can’t say we didn’t warn you.