Nintendo makes amazing video games, but sometimes their hardware decisions leave people scratching their heads. From discontinuing the NES Mini at the height of its popularity to the many models of the Nintendo 3DS, we wonder what they’re thinking sometimes.
Perhaps the recent announcement of the New 2DS XL has you thinking of buying a system from the 3DS family. This is a great idea — even with the Switch’s great library, the 3DS is still kicking. But with so many confusing names, which one should you get? We’ll show you the differences between the various 3DS models so you can pick the best one for you.
A Brief Note on Discontinued Models
In the United States, there are six different models of the 3DS:
- Nintendo 3DS (launched March 27, 2011)
- Nintendo 3DS XL (launched August 19, 2012)
- Nintendo 2DS (launched October 12, 2013)
- New Nintendo 3DS (launched September 25, 2015)
- New Nintendo 3DS XL (launched February 13, 2015)
- New Nintendo 2DS XL (launches on July 28, 2017)
Of these six, the first two are no longer produced by Nintendo. You can still find the original 3DS model and its XL counterpart on eBay and the like, but we don’t recommend buying them. As we’ll discuss, the New 3DS models have more processing power, built-in Amiibo support, and a second analog stick. To stay current, you’re better off buying one of the modern models.
Additionally, the smaller New Nintendo 3DS model is also on its way out. It was only available in North America in special bundles, and Nintendo ended production — which limited availability. Thus we won’t include it in our discussion below.
Nintendo stopped the production of New 3DS units..The New 3DS handheld didn't sell well in Japan & other markets. pic.twitter.com/0i23W5e3EQ
— KURO_NEKO_G@MER (@KuchingKing888) July 13, 2017
Now we’ve got the old models out of the way, let’s get to comparing the three current systems!
New Nintendo 3DS XL
The New Nintendo 3DS XL is the premier member of the family. It fixes some problems of the original 3DS models, features a large, crisp display, and is the only current model that still displays in 3D. Our review described it as one of the best handheld systems ever, and that hasn’t changed.
What Makes the New 3DS XL Great
In this model, you’ll find the Super-Stable 3D feature. This makes the 3D screen technology more reliable so you don’t have to look at the screen from a perfect angle to appreciate it. Even in the dark, the face tracking lets you move around and still get a good picture.
In addition, the New 3DS XL features a second analog stick. It’s a nub, similar to those on older laptops. Not all games take advantage of this, but it’s a far more elegant solution than the ugly Circle Pad Pro attachment for the original 3DS models.
The New 3DS XL also packs a more powerful processor than its predecessors. This results in faster loading times across the system, a welcome change from the sometimes sluggish performance of the early models.
More importantly, it also enables the New 3DS to play some exclusive games (also thanks to two new shoulder buttons). There aren’t many like this — you can identify them by the Only for New Nintendo 3DS banner on the box. The extra power also allows the New 3DS XL to download SNES games from the Nintendo eShop. And some demanding titles, like Hyrule Warriors Legends, run much smoother on the newer system.
Finally, the New 3DS XL features a built-in Amiibo reader. This lets you scan your figures to use in compatible games, like Super Smash Bros. for 3DS.
New 3DS XL Downsides
The New 3DS XL suffers from a few negatives. The major issue is the placement of its microSD card slot. On other 3DS models, you simply pop open a flap and place the card inside. But the New 3DS XL has this slot underneath the battery cover, which requires a screwdriver to access. Thus, you’re best off buying a microSD card with the system (unless the included 4 GB one is enough for you). Install it as soon as you open the box and never look back.
Nintendo decided not to include a charger with the New 3DS XL. If you’re a first-time buyer, this results in an additional cost. They’re selling for $8 on Amazon, which isn’t a lot — but it’s a cost you don’t have to worry about with other models.
The price is the last negative — this is the most expensive 3DS at $200 MSRP. If you want the full 3DS package this is the way to go — but it costs the most. That’s why the 2DS is such an attractive package…
New Nintendo 2DS XL
Even though the Switch console-portable hybrid is enjoying a successful run so far, Nintendo isn’t letting the 3DS slide. Aside from new games, they’re also releasing a new model on July 28, 2017. How does it compare to what came before?
Differences from the New 3DS XL
As you can tell from the name, the New 2DS XL doesn’t support the 3D functionality of other models. While this sounds like a huge letdown, it’s actually not as big of a deal as you’d think.
Many early 3DS games, like Super Mario 3D Land, used the 3D quite a bit. But newer games don’t use the 3D as much if at all. Pokemon Sun and Moon, for example, (our review) only display in 3D in limited mini-game sections. And even in early 3DS games, the 3D is never a requirement to solve puzzles. Some games might be a bit less exciting without 3D — playing Ocarina of Time in 3D, for instance, is a treat for any Zelda fan. But you’d find yourself turning it off before long anyway.
In most other aspects, the New 2DS XL is nearly identical to the New 3DS XL. It features the same internals, a secondary analog nub, Amiibo support, and the extra shoulder buttons. Only minor differences are present: the stylus is smaller, the system is lighter and a bit thinner, and the game card slot has a cover.
Thankfully, the microSD card slot on the New 2DS XL doesn’t require removing the back plate to access. Like the New 3DS XL, it comes with a 4 GB microSD card, which is big enough for trying out some of the best eShop games.
The only possible issues with the New 2DS XL is that the speakers are downward-facing on the bottom of the unit. This makes it easy to accidentally muffle them, but using headphones avoids this problem.
Thankfully, this model will include a charger so you don’t have to pick one up separately. The cost is also easier to swallow — the New 2DS XL has a sticker price of $150.
The 2DS (our review) shocked many people when it arrived — why buy a system that can’t display 3D when it’s the main attraction? As we’ve discussed, 3D isn’t as big of a deal now is it was in 2013. But is the original 2DS still a good buy?
Major 2DS Differences
While the New 2DS XL is a lot like the New 3DS XL, the 2DS is completely different. Other models feature a folding clamshell design, but this one is a single wedge shape. This makes is comfortable to hold, but hard to fit into a pocket for travel. The lack of XL in the name also gives away the fact that this is a little system — its screens are significantly smaller than the New models.
The 2DS can’t display 3D images, also doesn’t feature the upgraded features of its newer brothers. This means there’s only one Circle Pad, one pair of shoulder buttons, and no built-in Amiibo support. You’ll have to buy a separate NFC reader to use Amiibo with this model. Notably, the 2DS uses a standard SD card, not a microSD card. It comes with a 2GB card installed.
The 2DS outputs sound in mono instead of stereo. This results in games sounding pretty tinny, but plugging in some headphones results in stereo sound. You also aren’t able to play any New 3DS exclusive software with this model.
Nintendo’s branding is really interesting these days: the Switch is unabiguously pitched as the cool adult console, and 2DS ‘for kids’ https://t.co/XQNiyfPpAW
— Alex Hern (@alexhern) July 18, 2017
Unfortunately, the 2DS also features the worst battery life of the three current models. Each lasts a minimum of 3.5 hours depending on brightness and wireless settings, but the 2DS caps out at 5.5 hours of use. The New 3DS XL gets around a half-hour more than that, and we don’t know how the New 2DS XL performs yet.
Who is the 2DS For?
With multiple disadvantages, you might be wondering why you’d want a 2DS. The target market for this model is almost certainly young children. With an affordable $80 price tag, plus the inclusion of Mario Kart 7 with most models, this is the lowest barrier to entry to the 2DS library. The lack of hinges also makes it harder for kids to damage — indeed, the 2DS feels like it was made to take a bit of a beating.
Common Features in All Models
These three 3DS models offer different experiences. But don’t get too hung up on them — all allow you access to the wealth of content that the 3DS has to offer. The game-focused social network Miiverse, built-in goodies like the sound editor and Mii Maker, and backward compatibility with all Nintendo DS games are all accessible in each 3DS version.
More importantly, the amazing library of 3DS games is playable no matter which one you have. It’s arguably the best group of games a handheld has ever offered. A fully portable Super Smash Bros., three excellent Zelda games, mega-RPGs, strategy games, and more abound. The 3DS eShop also provides access to dozens of retro Nintendo games from bygone systems, plus the latest indie titles. There’s no end to the fun you can have with this system.
Which Should You Buy?
We’ve presented the facts about each of the current 3DS models. If you’re still having trouble deciding, here’s a quick summary of the best audience for each:
- New 2DS XL — The best choice for most people. If you’ve never owned a 3DS and don’t care about 3D, this is the one to get. For $150, you get access to the complete 2DS library on a model with no major downsides. You might want to buy a bigger stylus if you have large hands, though.
- New 3DS XL — You should buy this model if you care about 3D, since it’s still neat to see the 3D effect in some games. If 3D support is worth the extra $50 to you, choose this over the New 2DS XL. Its only issue is the awkward microSD slot, which is a one-time annoyance.
- 2DS — This is the best model for young children. If you want to introduce your kids to the 3DS library or want to dip your own toe in, the 2DS is a good option. Just know that you’re missing out on the faster processor, second analog stick, and New 3DS exclusive games.
Like we said earlier, buying a 3DS now is a great choice. The past several years have seen so many great games come out no matter what genres you’re into. You won’t regret getting into Nintendo’s best handheld to date.
Which 3DS model do you own? Are you thinking of buying one? Tell us which is your favorite and share your thoughts in the comments below!
Image Credit: Metallic Citizen via Shutterstock.com, Jord-reys92 via Wikimedia Commons