Nintendo will be launching a new portable gaming system in October. It's called the Nintendo 2DS. It's a 3DS without the 3D, and it's shaped like a thin piece of cake.
"This is an entry-level handheld gaming system," Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime told Kotaku earlier this week when we got our hands on the unusual device.
The system is compatible with all 3DS and DS games. Its two screens are the same size as those of the original 3DS, smaller than those on the Nintendo 3DS XL. The 2DS' upper screen will not render graphics in 3D, though the system's two outward-facing cameras will still take photos and video in 3D, saving those files on a memory card so that they can be transferred to hardware that does display stereoscopic 3D imagery.
The system launches on October 12 in North America, the same day as the release of the first major next-gen handheld Pokemon games, Pokemon X and Y. Those games will only work on post-DS systems, a line that now includes 3DS, 3DS XL and 2DS.
The 2DS will sell for $US129.99 and will be available in red or blue. That price makes it $US40 cheaper than the Nintendo 3DS and $US70 cheaper than the Nintendo 3DS XL (and recently price-dropped PlayStation Vita).
"We expect consumers to use it just the way they use a current 3DS," Fils-Aime said. "And, really, from a target standpoint, this is designed for that entry-level gamer. For a family of four with two kids, when you're looking at spending either $US169.99 or $US199.99 for two this holiday, now you've got a more affordable choice with Nintendo 2DS."
The system will also launch in Europe but is not announced for release in Japan.
Fils-Aime referred to the 2DS as having a "slate-like" design. The form factor is unusual in that it doesn't fold. It's the first non-clamshell Nintendo handheld since the 2005 Game Boy Micro. All subsequent models of the Nintendo DS and 3DS have been able to fold up, allowing their screens, buttons and control pads to be protected when the system wasn't being used. The unbending 2DS leaves its screens and controls exposed to the elements of whatever bag it is tossed in, though Nintendo is also selling a pouch for $US12.99.
"We expect it to be carried around the way you carry a 3DS right now," Fils-Aime said.
The almost square form factor for 2DS is unusual for any gaming or non-gaming hardware. In a shift from the design of the 3DS, the system's circle/control pads and buttons flank the 2DS' top screen -- the one that typically displays the action in new games -- instead of the bottom one. The 3DS was made to be held by its bottom half, but that 2DS control placement requires players to hold the new flat unit higher up, as if choking up on a baseball bat.
The flat 2DS is more evenly balanced than the 3DS, making the overall feel of holding the unit comfortable, at least to the extent that your 5'6" adult author here and the 6'-plus Fils-Aime can attest: "I find that holding it in my hand, my hands don't get as tired as when I'm holding the 3DS XL."
Nintendo wasn't permitting photos of the 2DS when they showed it to me, so I traced it. Here's a comparison of me holding a 3DS, 3DS XL and a sketch of the 2DS.
The system sports all of the online and multiplayer functionality of the 3DS. It comes with much or all of the same built-in software that the 3DS had, including the augmented-reality game Face Raiders and the basic role-playing game Find Mii. It can still be put in a sleep mode for "streetpassing" (read: exchanging data) with nearby 2DS and 3DS systems, though this time that mode is enabled with a switch.
Like its 3DS brethren, the 2DS uses an internal rechargeable battery. Nintendo isn't commenting on battery life other than to say it should be in line with other company handhelds. The unit charges with the same AC adaptor used for 3DS systems.
The machine comes with a 4GB memory card. Its stylus is the same size as that of the 3DS XL.
Overall, it doesn't appear that Nintendo is cutting major features to save price, aside from whatever savings it is getting from the non-folding form factor and from using a non-3D screen. The only other cut feature that we noticed while handling the unit involved the built-in speaker, which is mono on the 2DS as opposed to a stereo pair on 3DS. The new system has a headphone jack which will output stereo audio.
Despite near feature parity between 3DS and 2DS, Fils-Aime nevertheless denied that simply cutting the cost of the current 3DS to $US129.99 was a better option for Nintendo than introducing a brand-new handheld. "The reason we do this is, obviously, there's a limit to how low hardware can go from a profitability standpoint," he said. "This device allows us to reach lower consumer price points and still generate some profitability for the company."
The lack of support for 3D graphics could indicate a cooling interest in stereoscopic graphics, though Nintendo themselves never made 3D mandatory even on the 3DS. Both 3DS and 3DS XL allow users to turn the machine's stereoscopic effects off. The 2DS, clearly, won't even let them turn them on. But Nintendo isn't disavowing 3D. What they are acknowledging is that they've long recommended the 3DS' 3D effects only for gamers seven and up. If the 3DS' 3D is a deterrent keeping parents from buying their child a new Nintendo handheld, the 2DS does away with that. It's fitting that such a system would come out day and date with the biggest, newest release in the kid-friendly Pokemon series. "This device allows us to get to that five or six-year-old demographic," Fils-Aime said, "But in terms of the Pokemon demographic, you and I know that it's six to 66."
Nintendo let me try two working units of the 2DS at their offices in New York City earlier this week. Both appeared to function just fine, though the screens seemed small to my eyes, given that I've become comfortable playing with the 3DS XL and its nearly double-sized screens.
The most notable difference between units isn't really the lack of 3D graphics but the form factor. While it may appear ungainly and certainly doesn't fit in a pants pocket, it felt good in my hands. The circle pad, d-pad and face buttons were all easily accessible. Their placement on both sides of the upper screen directs one's focus more squarely on the upper screen, creating a little bit of the feeling of playing a game on a Wii U GamePad or original Game Boy Advance.
I was not able to test the comfort of playing a game that makes heavy use of the touch screen, the lower screen. But the fact that a 3DS XL-sized stylus ships with the system should help hand comfort. It also helps that the system is fairly light -- lighter than the 3DS XL -- and easier to hold with one hand.
The shoulder buttons on the 2DS are thicker than those on the 3DS and have a concave depression. That curvature makes the system easier to cradle and also helps with any one-hand play, presumably comfortably freeing the player's other hand to wield a stylus for touch-based games.
The overall build of the machine feels solid, but the design does look lower-budget. There's a lot of plastic to this thing with relatively little surface of the unit devoted to screens. Compare that to the 3DS XL, Sony's Vita or any popular smart phone and tablet, and it feels less than cutting edge. It does feel sturdy, though, so despite its sliced-bread shape, it doesn't feel like it will snap.
It's probably best to consider the 2DS in the same league as other experimental off-shoots of Nintendo's handheld line. This isn't the obvious improvement that the DS Lite was over the DSi or the 3DS XL over the 3DS. This is more akin to the oddities like the Game Boy Micro or the DSi XL... hardware that'll work just fine and is targeted at a different group of gamers that may prove to be a small niche or an underserved crowd waiting for a system they'd otherwise have missed.