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New Nintendo 2DS XL Review

Nintendo’s latest handheld might be the best one yet for the price.

In a couple ways, the New Nintendo 2DS XL was a long time coming. Despite there being tons of handheld systems released in the Nintendo 3DS family, the New 2DS XL looked like it was going to hit a sweet spot when it was announced. I still remember being perplexed when I saw the (now-discounted) original 2DS announced — that handheld ditched the original’s somewhat underwhelming glasses-less 3D effect, but was put in an ungainly slate instead of the more portable clamshell.

The New 2DS XL does fold up nicely for packing, and it helps that it’s even thinner than the other handhelds in the 3DS family. Not only that, it’s got the same hardware upgrades as the New 3DS XL — there’s a handful of recent games that can only run on that new hardware, and this New 2DS XL can play them.

So, we’re left with a handheld console that cuts out the so-so 3D effects to get to a lower asking price while adding upgraded hardware that ensures the New 2DS XL can play any 3DS game released in the past or the foreseeable future. That’s awesome on paper, and while reality isn’t perfect, it’s good enough to make this the best value buy if you’re looking to get into Nintendo 3DS games.

Build

The New 2DS XL is more compact than its predecessors, but the dual screens are the same size as those on the New 3DS XL. However, the two don’t share the same physical design, and there are even more changes compared to the older 3DS handhelds — you can see some of them in the side-by-sides below.

The New 2DS XL is the smallest and lightest 3DS handheld yet. Nintendo cut down on the size of the top bezel by moving the front facing camera to the hinge, while the rear cameras have been moved to the underside of the console to make the cover thinner. The top screen is also recessed into the cover this time — when the console is closed, the buttons and screens inside are fully sealed, instead of there being a gap like with the other consoles.

While Nintendo is still rolling with a cheaper plastic build, the buttons and sticks all feel solid enough, and I’ve found that older 3DS models have held up over time. The only worrisome part could be that lighter cover — it feels a little fragile, and there’s a lot more wobble in the hinge than there was before. You’ll probably have to be extra careful with the New 2DS XL to be safe.

Like the New 3DS XL, the New 2DS XL has some new buttons. There are two more shoulder buttons and an extra control nub on the right that serves as a second joystick of sorts. One kind of annoying change is the stylus that’s used with the bottom touchscreen. It’s so short you need to clutch it like a pencil nub, so it’s not as comfortable to use as the longer styluses that came with the older handhelds.

On the bright side, there have been design improvements to the game card and microSD card slots. Both are hidden under a plastic flap in the front, so the game card slot isn’t exposed like it’s usually been. The microSD card slot (the system comes with a 4 GB card) is much more easily accessed than it was on the New 3DS XL.

That microSD card slot is an annoyance for owners of older 3DS consoles, though. Nintendo has switched from full-size SD cards to microSD, so if you’re like me and have 3DS games stored on an SD card, you’ll need to get a microSD card and transfer them. It’s an extra expense to play games you already own and have stored, so that’s a disappointment.

I’d say the worst change in the new design is the location of the speakers. The two speakers used to be on either side of the top display, but with that part being so much thinner now, they had to be moved. They’re now located on the bottom edge of the system, so they’re not forward-firing anymore. They sound quieter as a result, and sometimes they’ll be partially blocked by your hands during gameplay. Fortunately, there’s still a headphone port.

Gameplay

The New 2DS XL works with all Nintendo 3DS games, even the New 3DS games made for the upgraded hardware. The 3DS family is now over six years old, and it’s built up an extremely impressive library in that time. But, that means more to anyone who doesn’t already have a 3DS system. If you do, there’s probably no reason to upgrade right now — there aren’t that many games that require the upgraded hardware yet, so if you’ve got a 3DS and it works, you can sit tight.

Being a 2DS, there are no 3D effects here. On 3DS consoles, the top screen has quasi-3D effects that don’t require glasses. But, they’ve rarely been impressive and have never added much to gameplay. Considering 3D has disappeared as a feature on TVs, too, it seems like there’s not really a market for these 3D effects. Cutting them out gets the price down without sacrificing much, so that’s a positive thing for the New 2DS XL.

Aside from the speakers occasionally being obstructed, I really enjoyed playing on the New 2DS XL. The buttons are all responsive, even that little control nub on the right. It’s more like a touch surface than a joystick (I’d compare it to the TrackPoint on Lenovo ThinkPad laptops), but it’s surprisingly precise when used to control stuff like camera angles. Battery life is still frustratingly short — Nintendo estimates 3.5 to 6 hours, but the upper end of that seems too optimistic from my experience. The battery will drain pretty fast when left in sleep mode, too, dying after no more than a day. It’s still fine for home use and bus, car, and train trips, but you’ll have to have a backup plan if you take it on longer flights.

The New 2DS XL still has the same tiled UI as the previous consoles, with apps for Nintendo services (the social network-like Miiverse, the Mii Maker avatar creator, the camera app, and a handful of minigames and augmented reality games). There’s also a web browser and a dedicated YouTube app, taking advantage of the system’s Wi-Fi connectivity. It all works fine, although you’d probably want to use your phone for a lot of that stuff — the screens are still pretty low-res, and it’s not really Nintendo’s intent to give you a premium camera experience. Parents can use limited parental control tools, which can lock down games according to their ESRB ratings.

Wi-Fi connectivity also enables online multiplayer on whatever games offer it. Online multiplayer has never been Nintendo’s strength, but it’s historically been more stable on their handheld systems than on their home consoles. It still does rely on friend codes, which are lengthy numerical codes that need to be swapped before you can be friends with another player — makes it harder to just connect with random people you meet online. But, it’s what the Nintendo 3DS family’s online multiplayer system was built on, so Nintendo and its customers are stuck with it. The New 2DS XL also has NFC connectivity, which is used with Amiibo figurines — placing a figurine on the touchpad can unlock extras in its corresponding game.

I got to test the New 2DS XL out with a trio of new $40 games — MiitopiaEver Oasis, and Hey! PikminMiitopia is the latest game to feature Nintendo’s Miis, the little custom characters that were introduced with the Nintendo Wii. It’s a simple turn-based RPG that skews younger — while you eventually get a party of four Miis, the player only commands their character. It’s a basic good-versus-evil RPG (a dark lord is stealing Mii faces and putting them on monsters), but it’s got enough oddball Mii charm to make it worthwhile. The characters in the game are all Miis pulled from the creations of others, which makes for pretty funny combinations. My Mii teamed up with George Costanza, Princess Zelda, and Bob Ross to take down Dark Lord Gabe Newell (the Valve CEO) after he stole the faces of the loving couple of Jaina Proudmoore from World of Warcraft and the Burger King. You’re not getting that from any other game!

Ever Oasis is an action RPG that also skews younger, but it’s got a bit more meat to the gameplay. Set in a desert where beings called Seedlings link up with water spirits to create oases that hold the malevolent Chaos at bay, you take control of the young Seedling that forms the last oasis. The game is part action and part town building. The action is pretty well-paced and not too hard. Using dodge rolls with attacks keeps things fast and fun, even if all the desert environments get a bit old. Inside your oasis refuge, things are a bit more vibrant — new characters will stream in every day, and if you complete quests for them, they’ll settle permanently. Earn enough cash, and you’ll be able to build shops for them. From there, it’s all about stimulating the economy! You’ll need to help keep those stores stocked so you can rake in what amounts to tax revenue, which is what you’ll spend to expand your oasis. Sounds a bit dry, but it’s all light-hearted and enjoyable.

There’s enough in the first two games to justify $40, but I’m not as sure that’s true for Hey! Pikmin. The main Pikmin games on home consoles focused on 3D exploration and strategically picking your team of Pikmin — little plant-like dudes that excel in different environments depending on their color. Hey! Pikmin is just a 2D platformer, and while it’s generally well-constructed, it’s very simple. Instead of choosing your team of Pikmin, you find them within each level, so there’s only one way to advance through each level and find all the hidden items. Ultimately, the point is to find enough fuel to get Captain Olimar’s crashed ship off the ground, but that doesn’t end up taking long, and there’s not much gameplay variety to speak of. It’s still enjoyable and well-made for what it is, but $40 seems like a stretch.

Read on for the verdict…

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