The new Nintendo handheld device the 2DS seeks to solve a puzzle that may not, to the casual games observer, seem in need of a solution: How does a company get more games in kids’ hands?
Nintendo has stressed in promotional materials and interviews that the 2DS, available today, is a budget-friendly gaming device that is geared toward first-time players, most notably children. Yet in crafting a gadget that looks like an entry-level tablet rather than an ultra-sexy gaming machine, Nintendo has managed to walk the line between a toy-ish contraption and an accessible way for people of all ages to game.
When it was first unveiled in August, the 2DS raised some eyebrows among Nintendo fans and the gaming community. After all, the company’s current portable gaming machine, the foldable, dual-screen 3DS, is doing quite well for itself. The system has now been the top-selling game machine this summer, according to research firm the NPD Group, and Nintendo has stated the 3DS has sold more than 32 million units worldwide as of June 30.
There’s also the nagging fact that the poorly named 2DS does away with one of the biggest selling points of the 3DS. While it plays the same games, still has two screens (and the bottom one is still touch-enabled), the 2DS lacks the ability to create a glasses-free 3-D effect. In turn, the 2DS is cheaper, at $129.99, but that’s not exactly a massive price cut from the $169.99, 3-D-enabled 3DS (the difference is about the cost of a premium game).
The lack of 3-D will mean anyone curious about the full spectrum of experiences offered by the 3DS will forever skip over the 2DS, but it shouldn’t be seen as a deal-breaking downgrade for more casual hobbyists. Personal use will vary, of course, but the adjustable 3-D capabilities of Nintendo’s 3DS are a nifty option only now and again.
The bigger question is why Nintendo bothered to tinker with a winning formula. The 2DS complements rather than advances its current line — it offers no increased technical abilities and lacks the means to compactly fold up. Yet the way people game — and perhaps more important, the way children are exposed to games — is changing.
A recent NPD Group report estimated that children ages 12 through 17 spend an average of seven hours per week playing games on mobile systems compared with five hours per week in 2011. What’s more, kids are gaming on phones and tablets at a younger age than ever, with many reported to be starting at the age of 8.
Entering into this environment, Nintendo’s 2DS is a more sensible bet for the company. While a quick Google search will reveal all sorts of colorful descriptions for the plastic slanted device (door-stopper, baby’s first tablet) it feels sturdy and comfortable and is far less an eyesore when slotted next to a Kindle or iPad Mini. That’s important for a family looking for a way to get kids to stop demanding time with mom’s or dad’s iPhone, as it all feels of the same universe.
Its dual-tone colors (black and red, or black and blue) and obviously plastic look do telegraph that this is something designed for childlike roughhousing. Think of its architecture as a mini, digitized version of Etch A Sketch. Unlike the 3DS and the 3DS XL, the screens of the 2DS are always exposed, meaning one of Nintendo’s cases ($12.99) is a must-purchase. That also means the system will look a little bulkier on the counter.
But no edition of the 3DS is exactly pocket-friendly, and what’s important is how it handles. The answer is quite well. As someone who’s been playing a non-XL version of the 3DS, I appreciated the brighter, more vivid screens of the 2DS (the screens are the same size on each device). When playing in 3-D, the 3DS has a tendency to blur the backgrounds, and everything felt a little crisper on the 2DS.
I was nervous about the inability to fold the 2DS to an optimal viewing position, and while I still (for now) prefer my foldable 3DS over the 2DS, once a game such as “New Super Mario Bros. 2” began, the fixed viewing angles of the 2DS never presented an issue.
In fact, the larger body size of the 2DS (127 mm x 144 mm compared with 74 mm x 134 mm), coupled with its curved design, actually felt more comfortable on my thumbs and wrists during longer play sessions. I’m prone to stopping a complex game such as “Fire Emblem: Awakening” after about 45 minutes on the 3DS due to cramping, but had no such issues with the potentially more ergonomic 2DS. I’m not a doctor, so take that as an observation rather than a fact, but it’s a heavy point in favor of the 2DS.
The lack of 3-D was rarely an issue. I tried some games that use the 3-D tools at their most optimal, such as “Super Mario 3D Land,” and everything was still easily playable on the 2DS. Some trickier advanced levels required a little acclimating, as “Super Mario 3D Land” does make it a point to toy with the system’s perception abilities, but in a week of play I’ve yet to encounter a 3-D moment that was too difficult to navigate on the 2DS.
Any other quibbles are minor, such as the fact that 2DS plays in mono rather than stereo, or that the ability to enter “sleep” mode requires the flip of a switch rather than the snapping shut of the system.
The bottom line is that the 2DS is a slightly cheaper way to get your hands on one of the better gaming systems on the market right now. The lineup for the 3DS is robust, and whether it’s the aforementioned “Super Mario 3D Land,” “Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon” or the upcoming “The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds,” the 3DS library is packed with approachable games that tinker with control schemes.
Serious gamers will prefer the 3DS or the 3DS XL, casual gaming adults may prefer the aesthetics of the foldable 3DS, but the 2DS is a kid-friendly device that will probably find itself nesting in the paws of many a grown-up.
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