Nintendo love to tinker with their handheld console hardware, releasing several iterations of each during a console’s lifespan. However, they’ve taken that predilection to new heights during the 3DS era, not just revising the console, but exploring different ways to get it to reach more people. When it releases on 28th July, the awkwardly named New Nintendo 2DS XL will simultaneously be a well priced entry point system, the best designed 3DS console, a final hurrah for the system, and a somewhat ignominious demise of the auto-stereoscopic 3D that leant the system its original name.
What stands out here is how refined the 2DS XL’s clamshell form factor is. For one thing, it now completely closes around the rim, where the 3DS and 3DS XL leave a small gap. Open it up and the touch screen is now more embedded into the base of the console, where it was raised up on the 3DS, while the upper screen resides behind a single piece of glossy plastic.
The whole console feels very nice to hold, with a soft touch plastic instead of hard glossiness, and it’s more rounded off, with sculpted R/L shoulder buttons. Another great feature is how the game cartridge and microSD card slots now live behind a rubber flap, making both easy to access (the microSD card slot previously needed you to dig out a tiny screwdriver) and keeping them secure. The stylus is the shortest it’s ever been, but clips very securely into an asymmetrical slot next to the headphone jack. The one major downside to this is that the battery is no longer user serviceable.
It’s impressively compact compared to the 3DS XL, bringing the weight down to just 260g versus 329g and shaving off 7mm in depth, which adds up to 14mm when the console is opened up, despite retaining the same sized 4.88″ screen. That’s achieved by moving the player-facing camera to the hinge, the twinned 3D camera lenses to the back of the base, and the speakers from being alongside the upper screen to being in the corners of the base. It does mean they point toward your chest as opposed to your head, but while you might worry that they will easily be muffled by the palms of your hand, you’d have to really contort your grip to cover the speakers in a meaningful fashion.
Where the 2DS was an oddly cut down version of the original hardware, the 2DS XL retains all of the premium features of the “New” line of consoles. It has the C-stick and ZR/ZL buttons for added control options, it’s got the beefed up processor and added RAM to enable certain games to push the hardware further and speed up the system in general, and it even has amiibo support built into the touch screen. The only feature that’s missing here is the stereoscopic 3D, which has always been an awkward inclusion, as the system’s natural appeal as a children’s console clashes with the advice that 3D should not be used by children under 7.
Of course, that means you’re still missing out on one of the console’s selling points. While 3D has never been truly an essential experience on the console – heck, the Pokemon games have never used the effect – I find it’s still nice to occasionally push the 3D slider and appreciate some of the efforts that have gone into making the system and many of its games.
The screens stack up well against the 3DS and 3DS XL, being effectively as bright, and keeping the same size and effective resolution as its XL counterpart. However, it’s a positively anaemic 420×240 upper screen resolution and 320×240 lower screen resolution, and I personally find the smaller 3DS’ resolution to be preferable overall, with pixels much more easy to resolve on the larger screens. Stacked up against the Nintendo Switch, it obviously pales in comparison, but you’re also faced with the fact that is simply doesn’t go anywhere near as bright as Nintendo’s newer console.
The entire upper half being glossy means it reflects more of your surroundings at you, and that means it’s still not particularly well suited to gaming outdoors. Worse, when in direct sunlight it diffuses this across a large part of the screen, whereas the New 3DS manages to keep this relatively isolated with a rainbow of colours spreading horizontally and leaving the game just barely playable. Naturally, you can simply move, but it would have been nice to have something better suited to this environment.
While there’s a lot to like about the console’s redesign, one thing that hasn’t changed is the battery life. Despite ditching 3D, it’s still pegged at the same 3.5 to 7 hours life as the 3DS XL. In our experience, we managed 4:20 hours of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds spread across a day, with the screen brightness at maximum and Wi-Fi turned on to allow for StreetPass while out and about. It’s not amazing, but it’s respectable and could be stretched longer with less intensive games and tweaked settings.
One aspect still belies that this is designed to be the cheaper console: the hinge. On the one hand, it’s a slightly more rugged design, reducing the width of the hinge and moving the potential weak points away from the corners, but it’s simply not as firm and secure as the hinge on the 3DS and 3DS XL. There’s still the three angles that the screen clicks into, but it’s not held as rigidly and within each angle it can wobble back and forth much more noticeably.
Further to that – and it will be down to personal preference – but the shoulder buttons have a slightly spongey feel to them now. There’s still a distinct clicking point when depressing them, but it’s softer, less clicky compared to the 3DS. That’s odd when compared to the rest of the buttons on the console, which are just as clicky as on the other models.
On the software side of things, it might be a relatively unique position, but it’s a real pain to deal with Nintendo’s legacy of digital content and online functionality. The simple fact that a Nintendo Network ID (not the newer Nintendo Account of the Switch) can only be tied to a single 3DS console is a royal pain in the backside for anyone who already owns a console. Sadly, it’s something that we’ll have to live with, while the Switch sees a somewhat more modern approach to online and digital rights management, even if it’s still not ideal.
Despite those minor misgivings, the New Nintendo 2DS XL still makes for a fantastic console and a great counterpart to the Switch, not least in terms of colour scheme. It might lose the handheld’s 3D effect, but it retains everything else that makes up a “New” 3DS console and improves on their designs in a lot of ways. It’s priced quite attractively as well, coming in at £130 – including a charger! – against the New 3DS XL’s £180 price point – the smaller New 3DS sits around £150 if you can ever find it while the doorstop 2DS is a mere £80 with a game. Though they could have sought to cut prices on the existing consoles, the 2DS XL feels like the right move here.
The 3D effect might be missed by some, but the aside from its name, the New Nintendo 2DS XL strikes a more elegant balance with its design and function than its predecessors, coming across as having both a better design for the rough and tumble of children playing and yet also having a slightly more premium look and feel that sits nicely alongside the Nintendo Switch. The full fat New 3DS XL might still be the preferred console overall, but the New Nintendo 2DS XL is close to being the best 3DS yet.