Oct. 3, 2013 at 11:01 AM ET
Nintendo turned some heads this summer when it unveiled a new mobile gaming device, the 2DS, adding to its already crowded lineup of handheld consoles, the 3DS and 3DS XL. The company insisted that the newer, cheaper handheld was designed as an "entry-level" system for prospective gamers who were turned away by pricier and more complicated gaming systems. But many Nintendo fans worried that the 2DS was too little, too late for a company that should be devoting more of its time and resources to lifting its weak Wii U sales. The 3DS was already a beloved device, so was Nintendo killing off the one thing it had going for it?
After spending time with the 2DS, I can safely say that Nintendo hasn't done anything too crazy. Really, the beauty of the 2DS lies in its sameness. I tested a number of my favorite 3DS games such as "Fire Emblem: Awakening" and "Animal Crossing: New Leaf" along with standard Nintendo fare like "New Super Mario Bros. 2" and "Mario Kart 7" and found that the 2DS delivered the same exact gaming experience of the 3DS, minus a few bells and whistles.
Those details will determine how gamers take to this device, however. Gamers well-versed in Nintendo's handhelds will notice a glaring difference with the 2DS: as the name suggests, the device does away with the 3D pop-out effects that Nintendo put into the 3DS and 3DS XL. But I, for one, won't mourn this loss. I hardly played my 3DS with the effects turned on since they made me more dizzy than anything else anyway. While they did give a nice visual layer to certain titles that used them particularly well like "Super Mario 3D Land," in general the stereoscopic 3D always felt like a gimmick that raised the price of both 3DS systems unnecessarily.
Not so with its high quality form factor, however. Nintendo has never been the most artful tech company when it comes to industrial design (remember the hideous claw-shaped Nintendo 64 controller?), but the DS was one system where it really got it right. Its portable functionality was perfectly complemented by the snapping hinge that separated the bottom touchscreen from the top display screen.
With the 2DS, Nintendo instead returned to the brick-like shape and feel of its old Game Boy systems. The screen sizes and button arrangements are almost identical to the 3DS otherwise, but not being able to open and close the device is surprisingly inconvenient. Rather than putting the console to sleep by simply shutting the screen, you now have to switch a little tab on or off. And don't even think about carrying the 2DS around unprotected now that both of its screens are left to the mercy of whatever else you have in your bag at the moment. Ironically for a portable gaming device, the design of the 2DS diminishes its very portability.
It feels cheap, for lack of a better word. But for $130, that's the point—though you'll probably have to shell out a few more bucks for a carrying case. It makes the $170 3DS and $200 3DS XL seem high-end in comparison. And with the entire catalog of stellar 3DS games already at its disposal, the 2DS is a bargain that's worth hearing Nintendo out for.
Yannick LeJacq is a contributing writer for NBC News who has also covered technology and games for Kill Screen, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. You can follow him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq and reach him by email at: Yannick.LeJacq@nbcuni.com.