Not the best of its kind, but still pretty great
It’s starting to get difficult to keep track of every iteration in the Nintendo 3DS console line up.
First, there was the original 3DS console from 2011. Then came the 3DS XL in 2012, which simply provided users with a larger variant of Nintendo’s portable machine. In 2013, Nintendo took many by surprise and released the 2DS, which utilised the same internals as the original 3DS, but without the 3D display, the clamshell design, or the stereo speakers.
Things started to get a little confusing when, in 2014 (or 2015 in the U.S. and Europe), the console manufacturer launched the New 3DS and the New 3DS XL. Both of these models featured updated components and were somewhat more powerful than their predecessors, allowing for better performance or visual fidelity in titles that were designed with these handhelds in mind.
Now, here we are with the New Nintendo 2DS XL — the sixth variant of Nintendo’s eighth-generation portable. Given that the 3DS has now been succeeded by the Nintendo Switch, this may very well be the final one. If that truly is the case, then it’s safe to say that the 3DS line is (mostly) going out with a bang.
New Nintendo 2DS XL
Release Date: June 15, 2017 (AU), July 13, 2017 (JP), July 28, 2017 (EU and U.S.)
My initial reaction upon picking the New 2DS XL for the first time was one of shock. Not because there was anything wrong with the machine. Far from it. But because of how incredibly light it is. Sure, I’d heard prior to acquiring one that it had the same weight as that of the original 2DS (260 grams or 9.2 ounces), but it still feels like an admirable feat, given the size of the console.
Not only that, but despite its position as a budget-friendly alternative to the New 3DS XL, the console still feels remarkably solid. I get the impression that a lot of thought and attention went into the construction of the New 2DS XL, as the entire unit feels incredibly sturdy in-hand. Never once throughout my dozens of hours of play time with it did I hear or feel the unit creak or flex, which is more than could be said for some other devices in the 3DS line up.
Nintendo has clearly listened to some of the criticisms of its other New 3DS models, as the New 2DS XL’s MicroSD card slot no longer requires you to remove the entire rear cover plate of the unit in order to access it. It, and the cartridge slot, are now located quite conveniently underneath a flap at the base of the console. Not only does this change benefit the user as far as usability is concerned, but it also contributes to the a far cleaner aesthetic for the console.
In fact, I’d argue that this is one of the cleanest-looking 3DS consoles yet. Gone are the excessively large bezels surrounding the top and bottom portions of the unit’s screens, and console’s the black and turquoise colour scheme looks quite elegant in-person.
When I first looked at photos and trailers of the New 2DS XL, I thought that the textured pattern on the top of the handheld — and the Nintendo logo in the corner — would look quite garish, but even that looks surprisingly subtle in-person and under a more natural light.
The only thing that looks a little silly or out-of-place about the New 2DS is the hinge that protrudes from the top of the unit. It may help allow for both of the console’s screens to sit at around the same level when the unit is opened, but once the lid is closed, I can’t help but be reminded of an Atari Jaguar cartridge’s grip.
Perhaps the most significant quality-of-life improvement to the New 2DS XL is the updated placement of the console’s home button. As a bit of background information, my hands are tiny. Trump-like, even. As such, the simple action of accessing the home screens of any 3DS model that I’ve owned up until now has either entailed stretching my thumb out to the point of discomfort, or making the very deliberate move of relocating my entire hand just to press one single button. Relocating the home button to just below the directional pad is an absolute revelation. This is, in my mind, perhaps the single biggest improvement that Nintendo has made to the New 2DS XL, as it helps make the console significantly more comfortable — and therefore more enjoyable — for me to use for longer gaming sessions.
This isn’t to say that the refreshed design of the New 2DS XL is perfect. For starters, the location of the volume rocker isn’t all that optimal. While the New 3DS and its XL counterpart had this slider on the upper half of the console — making it accessible by simply reaching out to it with your index finger — on the New 2DS XL, it’s now located on the left side of the lower part of the unit, near where the Circle Pad resides. Because of this, adjusting the console’s volume is a lot less convenient than how it was on other New 3DS models, as it requires a far more deliberate action. On the plus side, the volume rocker is at least stiff enough to not be accidentally nudged when the console is in use.
Speaking of the New 2DS XL’s sides, the handheld’s edges are just a little bit sharper than I’d like. Whereas the New 3DS and the New 3DS XL both had rounded edges, the ones found on the New 2DS XL have a tendency to dig into the palms of your hands. In practice, it’s not too uncomfortable — it’s far better than the hard and sharp edges of a MacBook, for instance — but it is a noticeable step down from other models.
Then there’s the New 2DS XL’s stylus, which is simply too short and stubby to be comfortable for long-term use. Given that so few games are dependent on touch controls, I’m not going to pretend that this will be a problem for every single user of the console. If you simply want to flip through menus in a Zelda or Pokemon game, the stylus that comes with the New 2DS XL is more than serviceable for such a task. Saying that, if you’re a fan of the Etrian Odyssey series, or if you want to replay a more touch-dependent DS title such as The World Ends With You, you may find yourself longing for the days of the original 3DS’s telescopic pen.
So, what’s the catch?
While I am overall impressed with the design of the New 2DS XL, it’s quite apparent that in order to hit the $150 price tag, Nintendo wound up cutting a few corners. As an example, the quality of the New 2DS XL’s speakers aren’t quite on par with those sported by its more expensive counterparts. Thankfully, this reduction is minor enough to only really be noticeable when directly comparing the units side-by-side. Not to mention that if you’re the type of person to use headphones while playing on a handheld, the New 2DS XL’s lesser sound quality should be a non-issue.
There is one design fault of the New 2DS XL that I could see as being potentially problematic in the long run, however, and it’s an issue that I’m sure many owners of the original 3DS will be all-too-familiar with. Whenever the unit is closed, parts of the bottom half of the machine can and will press up against the upper display. Notably, the Circle Pad, C-Stick and face buttons. While the affected areas on the upper half of the console mostly consists of bezel, you will start seeing scuff marks on the far-right side of the top screen thanks to the location of the unit’s Y button. Suffice it to say, it’s disheartening to see one of the worst hardware faults of the original 3DS rear its ugly head once more, even if its effect has at least been greatly diminished this time around.
To go alongside these reductions in build quality, the New 3DS’s automatic brightness function was scrapped entirely. Given how jarring and aggressive it could be in practice — the New 3DS lacked the ability to fine-tune the brightness of its screens at a granular level — I doubt that its omission will be missed.
Oh, and the New 2DS XL lacks the 3D capabilities of its more expensive brethren. But that should just be a given.
Oh my goodness, it actually comes with a charger
If there was ever one truly baffling aspect of the New 3DS’s launch, it would be Nintendo’s decision to omit the charger that usually comes as a standard with almost every electronic gadget. At the time, the company stated that its rationale for this move was that as many New 3DS adopters were upgrading from a previous model, they’d likely not want to pay for a component that they already owned. Instead, new owners were left with an additional hidden cost of $10 in order to acquire a charger separately.
Sure, it’s not as if the company didn’t make an effort to inform users — there was a warning label on the box that explicitly stated that a charger wasn’t provided with the unit — but Nintendo’s decision to keep preserve its profit margins was nonetheless a truly bizarre move that came as a great inconvenience to many new New 3DS owners. This is especially true when you consider that the handheld didn’t even utilise a standard charging connector such as a MicroUSB port, meaning that first-time users couldn’t simply use the cables that they already had laying around.
With the New 2DS XL, the hardware manufacturer appears to reversed course. Yes, the New 2DS XL actually comes with a charger this time. This, coupled with its pre-installed 4GB microSD card, means that the unit is ready-to-use right out of the box, although you’ll probably want to buy a game to go along with it. Hooray for basic functionality!
On paper, reviewing the New 2DS XL sounds like it should be the easiest job in the world. It’s a New 3DS that displays games in 2D. Most people know what a 3DS is at this point, and depending on your location, the more powerful iteration of the handheld console has been on the market for nearly three years at this point. What else was there to say?
It turns out that things are far more complicated than what I’d initially assumed.
In many regards, this is undoubtedly one of the finest iterations of Nintendo’s six-year-old console line. Its MicroSD card slot doesn’t require you to remove the console’s rear cover plate anymore, the home button is now far more conveniently located near the directional pad, and the entire unit feels amazingly light in-hand. These quality-of-life improvements, coupled with the more powerful internals of the New 3DS, should make the New 2DS XL a highly enticing prospect for anyone in the market for a new 3DS.
At the same time, the console does have numerous setbacks that should be taken into consideration. Most of these trade-offs — such as the slight reduction in sound quality when compared to other New 3DS devices — aren’t particularly game-breaking, but may be mildly disappointing to some users. Then you have issues such as the console’s hard plastic face buttons rubbing up against the upper display when the unit is closed, which is most definitely a cause for concern.
Keeping in mind that it’s $50 (plus the cost of a charger) cheaper than the New 3DS XL, I’d say that many of its drawbacks are an acceptable trade-off if you’re upgrading from an older 2DS or 3DS, or if you’re picking up a console in its family for the very first time. If you’ve already got a New 3DS, however, you’ll see little reason to upgrade.
[This review is based on a retail build of the console purchased by the reviewer.]