2DS: hands-on with Nintendo’s new plastic fantastic

Wednesday, 4 September 2013 14:37 GMT By Stace Harman

Stace Harman runs his hands over Nintendo’s new 2DS and finds it both curiously attractive and slightly illogical. Detailed impressions inside.

The Ins and Outs of the 2DS

The battery in the 2DS will support 3.5 to 5.5 game-play and up to 5 days sleep functionality.

The 2DS weighs a reported 260g, which is actually heavier than a standard 3DS that comes in at 235g. Its upper and lower screens are the same size as the original 3DS’.

Unlike its 3DS XL sibling, a charger will be included with the 2DS, along with a non-retractable stylus and 4GB SD card.

The 2DS will play the full catalogue of 3DS titles but without any of the fancy 3D effects, obviously.

The 2DS launches at £109.99 in two-tone red and white or black and blue, alongside Pokemon X and Y on October 12.

At what point in human history did we learn to covet plastic? Is it actually possible to find the physical characteristics of a game console attractive? Or is that rush of endorphins upon beholding a new machine simply an anticipatory thrill of the exciting experiences that we believe will follow?

Frankly, Nintendo’s new 2DS doesn’t appear to be concerning itself with such matters. Having dropped the stereoscopic 3D that was once billed as the headline feature of the 3DS, the quirky 2DS is set to join the handheld party. Seemingly uninvited but with an air of confidence that suggests its arrival was never in doubt.

The 2DS is deliberately offbeat and that makes it attractive in its own peculiar way. This is hard to convey in images alone as the 2DS is quite literally a wedge of plastic that, viewed from the side, appears to resemble a door stop or perhaps a chunkier version of an old-school desk calculator. It’s too wide and long to fit comfortably in any regular pocket and it lacks the pleasing heft that has long been associated with quality components.

And yet it has an easy charm. Unlike its clam-shelled 3DS brethren that hide themselves away, the 2DS offers itself up like an open-faced sandwich and allows you to eye-up its simple aesthetics. Its matte plastic looks durable but unspectacular, while its buttons and D-Pad carry the same colour as the facia but lack the silvery detailing of the 3DS. However, it’s when you take it in your hands that it makes the most sense.

Its relative size makes it most readily comparable to the standard 3DS but holding the 2DS is even more physically intuitive than holding either of its 3D siblings, and it suits large and small hands alike. Your hands find a comfortable resting spot half-way up the unit with fore-fingers resting in the grooves of oversized shoulder buttons that put the delicate nubs of the 3DS to shame. The other buttons are same size as those of the 3DS but are spongier and while they still have a very definite biting point that leaves you in no doubt that you’ve pressed the button, they lack the defined, precise feel of the 3DS.

The separated layout of the Start, Select and Home buttons makes each more readily available than they are on the single flat panel of the 3DS and the power button is bigger and slightly concave. The single new addition to the handheld’s button cluster is the Sleep switch, which has a definite On/Off click, rather than the smooth but ambiguous feeling of the 3DS’ sliders. In all, the 2DS is perfectly comfortable to hold and while its spongier buttons won’t be to everyone’s liking the larger shoulder buttons are a definite improvement.

Feature-wise, the five levels of brightness remain but the 3DS’ power-saving option has been removed. Curiously, the twin-lenses on the back of the unit mean the 2DS is capable of taking but not displaying 3D photos, while the AR cards still function as well as they every did. All the information provided by Nintendo so far suggests that the 2DS are functionally identical to the 3DS but I’m not entirely convinced.

In comparing the 3DS and 2DS side-by-side I have to give the edge to the 3DS’ upper screen, which looks a little richer in colour and seems to offer a smoother image overall. Maybe it’s the power the unit is drawing from the batteries, maybe it’s a slightly different plastic coating or maybe I’m just going mad. Nonetheless, I maintain that the upper screen of the 3DS is ever so slightly better than the 2DS’, even if there appears to be no technical reason why this should be so.

However, it’s arguable that how precisely the 2DS compares to the 3DS is irrelevant. This is not one of the industry’s characteristic design iterations that’s intended to replace that which went before it. Instead, Nintendo appears to have a whole new audience in mind for this new handheld, even if it isn’t specifically saying it aloud.

Doing it for the kids

With its two-tone plastic fantastic appearance and softer, more forgiving buttons, the 2DS looks and feels like it’s intended as an entry point into Nintendo’s handheld market. The console is launching alongside the latest entries in its child-friendly Pokemon franchise on October 12 and I’ve not doubt that kids will feature heavily in Nintendo’s advertising in the run up to launch and into the busy end of year shopping period. Furthermore, the removal of stereoscopic 3D could allay some parents’ fears concerning the potential damage that the feature can do to young eyes.

However, there are two things that run counter to what otherwise appears an obvious win with kids and their console-buying parents. The first is the long-term durability of the console and the exposed nature of the screens, which could be prone to scratches or cracks when thrown into backpacks or toy boxes. To combat this, Nintendo has created brightly-coloured 2DS padded storage pouches that are to be sold separately.

This leads to the second potential stumbling block; the price. At £109.99, the 2DS comes in at around £25 to £30 cheaper than online retailers are currently selling the 3DS and with the inclusion of a charger and 4GB SD card it seems to represent good value.

However, a sub-£100 pound price tag would surely have made the console even more appealing during the gift-buying rush of year-end. What’s more, without even a basic slip-case included in the box and no other way to protect the screen or safely transport the handheld, Nintendo is likely to sell almost as many carry cases as it does 2DS consoles, adding another tenner to the price.

Despite these concerns, Nintendo’s 2DS offers its handheld business a new route to market and gives the company a chance to start engendering important long-term loyalty from a young audience. It also offers a slightly more affordable alternative to its 3DS in the run up to Christmas.

Whether you view the 2DS as unequivocally ugly or curiously attractive is really a matter of personal taste and, besides, it’s not really for you anyway. It’s for a new section of the market and it will surely sell to them in huge quantities over the next few months.

The Nintendo 2DS will launch October 12 at £109.99, alongside Pokemon X and Y on October 12.