Nintendo 2DS Review: It’s Perfect for Neophyte Pokémon-sters

It's a non-gimmicky surprise.

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“That is one freaking tiny screen.” Those were my words, spoken as I fired up Konami’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadow on a strangely flat, firetruck-red Nintendo 2DS after plucking it from the box.

Let me be clear: we’re talking the same screen sizes (upper and lower) you’ll find on the original 3DS. But I upgraded to the 3DS XL over a year ago. Once you’ve gotten used to that lovely 4.88-inch screen — a 38% improvement over the 3DS’s 3.53-inch one, putting it squarely in PS Vita and Galaxy S territory — it’s impossible to go back.

So let’s get that out of the way: If you have a 3DS XL, forget about the 2DS. It’s not for you.

And if you’re toting around the original 3DS — still not for you. There’s nothing about the 2DS that’s an improvement over the 3DS or 3DS XL (well, save the grip, specifically the way your fingers rest on the shoulder triggers, but it’s a small thing). If you want to play in 2D, that’s what your 3DS’s 3D slider is for. Plus the 3DS’s clamshell case protects both the widescreen and touchscreen on the go. Those of you who’ve paid for a 3DS, mosey along, nothing to see here.

If you don’t have a 3DS, on the other hand, pull up a seat, because you’re the target demographic — especially all you parents of hard-playing kids. The 2DS is, after all, a full-fledged 3DS, minus the stereoscopic glasses-free 3D and hinge. It has the same motion sensors, Wi-Fi (though no physical toggle), cameras, buttons and triggers, a removable stylus and 1GB of internal flash storage (note Nintendo bundles the 2DS with a 4GB SD storage card, compared with the 3DS’s included 2GB SD card). You’re trading down a tick on audio, defaulting to a single mono speaker, but headphones bring things back to stereo parity.

The most salient difference is the price: The 3DS runs $170 new, while the 3DS XL costs $200; the 2DS, by comparison, can be yours (or your child’s) for just $130. It’s Nintendo’s value version, aimed squarely at budget-conscious gamers, the parents of children old enough to play games but maybe too young for a $600-$800 smartphone, or those who couldn’t give a flip about stereoscopic 3D (as well, importantly, as those worried about stereoscopic 3D’s impact on a very young child’s binocular vision).

To be clear, the 2DS plays both 3DS and regular ol’ DS games. You lose nothing in the shift away from 3D, either. I can’t think of a single 3DS title that  benefits from 3D, gameplay-wise, much less one that requires it. My only complaint is that the relatively low screen resolution — 400 × 240 pixels, compared with the iPhone 5’s 1,136 x 640 pixels or the PS Vita’s 960 x 544 pixels — can make polygonal 3D games look a little pixelated, and I mean less in a “gosh, that’s ugly” sense than a “it’s actually hard to follow what’s going on sometimes” one (the 3DS’s stereoscopic 3D effect could sometimes mask this).

Physically, the 2DS is a slanted slate (visualize a doorstop), harking back to Game Boy days when gaming handhelds were solid, unbending slabs of plastic. That makes it both more and less resilient than the clamshell 3DS iterations. You’ll never worry about snapping hinges here, but on the other hand, these screens aren’t Gorilla Glass. While they’re scratch-resistant, dropping the thing screens-down on a gritty or textured surface, well, I haven’t tried it, but I’d wager there’d be consequences. You’ll also need (not want, but really need) some sort of carrying case if you’re going to tote it around in a backpack or purse. And no, it won’t fit in your pocket — it’s too wide and squarish. At 5 inches high by 5.67 inches wide by 0.8 inches at its thickest point, it’s like a Kindle chopped in half.

Battery-wise, the 2DS sports the same juice capacity as the original 3DS: 1300 mAh. But since the 2DS employs a less expensive screen and you’re playing the games in all-2D, the 2DS’s rated battery life is slightly higher: from 3-1/2 to 5-1/2 hours. Make that higher still if you’re playing older DS games: 5 to 9 hours. There’s also a dedicated sleep switch here, since you can’t fold the 2DS in half as you would the 3DS or 3DS XL to knock it out for a spell.

As noted above, the 2DS feels pretty sweet in your hands, or at least in my hands, which are slightly bigger than average. Instead of the 3DS and 3DS XL’s orthogonal edges, the 2DS has a curved top, so your forefingers rest more naturally on the triggers, which now rest above the top screen, not below it. The thumbstick and face buttons are higher up, too, sitting to the left and right of the top screen, respectively, instead of below it, meaning your thumbs extend at more of a natural 70- to 80-degree angle instead of the nearly perpendicular one that can cause top joint pain when playing for extended periods on the 3DS (again, take note, parents of children with time to burn).

Summing up, the 2DS isn’t a cheap gimmicky handheld. It’s a solid one shorn of a gimmick (3D) and priced to kill. It’s not for gamers who want splashy 5-inch widescreens, but if you’re on a mission to mollify the budding Pokémon buff in your family for a relative pittance, it’s the best version of this dedicated games handheld on the market, bar none.