New Nintendo 3DS

Though we have a new generation of Nintendo hardware set to be revealed this year, there's life yet in the current generation. With the 3DS family of systems celebrating its fifth year anniversary in the West, it's worth taking the time to consider how much it still has to offer.

With the range of portables approaching 60 million sales, the 3DS has a sizeable user base and a broad and impressive game library. Depending on the hardware version it also has full amiibo support along with its own unique features such as StreetPass, so for those contemplating an upgrade or jumping in late there's a lot to consider. From budget child-friendly options like the 2DS through to the New 3DS, there are plenty of options.

So with all this in mind we've put together this guide to walk you through the myriad of 3DS buying options, so you can find the perfect one to suit your needs and budget. The following also has some retail links, too.

Nintendo 3DS

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This is where it all started, hot off the heels of the phenomenal success of the Nintendo DS. The Nintendo 3DS was launched in early 2011 worldwide with the selling point of more powerful hardware, better games, StreetPass, an analogue stick (Circle Pad) for the first time and, of course, glasses free stereoscopic 3D.

Unfortunately it was a bit of a rocky start for Nintendo and by Fall / Autumn 2011 the price was slashed by almost a third to win over reluctant consumers. To appease early adopters Nintendo launched the 3DS Ambassador scheme which saw 20 classic games distributed.

By the time the usual culprits such as Mario Kart and Zelda made it over to the 3DS, it was in rude health.

You can read the full details about this iteration of the Nintendo 3DS hardware in our Nintendo 3DS hardware review. It's also worth mentioning the existence of the ghastly Circle Pad Pro add-on which benefits games such as Resident Evil Revelations and Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D. In addition, those that want to use amiibo can buy an NFC scanner separately.

Should I buy one?

Unless you happen to spot a mega cheap second-hand bargain for the original 3DS model. There is no good reason to buy this now due to its weaker battery and less comfortable ergonomic design.

Buy online

Nintendo 3DS XL

3DS XL

Launched in July/August 2012, the 3DS XL is more of a revision to the original 3DS than a complete overhaul. The most obvious advantage of this increased size is the screens – the top display in particular is a whopping 90% larger than the one on the previous console.

Another welcome side-effect of the enlarged casing is comfort – while it's certainly not true for everyone, a worrying percentage of owners of the first 3DS have complained about hand cramp, something that we can personally vouch for here at Nintendo Life. By opening up the console's interface and spreading out the various pads and buttons, (in addition to rounding out edges) the 3DS XL feels roomier and consequently more pleasurable to use for prolonged periods of time.

Amazingly the 3DS XL isn't packaged with a power supply in Europe, so if you do buy one be sure to pick up a separate PSU. Be sure to check out our 3DS XL hardware review for the full lowdown on this hardware revision.

Should I buy one?

If you are on a tight budget, the Nintendo 3DS XL might be a good option for you. They can still be bought brand new and the prices have come tumbling down now that the newer models are out (plus there are some nice limited editions on the market). You will need a separate adaptor to scan amiibo, the 3D isn't super-stable and of course there is no right-hand analogue stick. But it's still a perfectly service option for lots of games.

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Nintendo 2DS

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Launched in October 2013, the Nintendo 2DS is perhaps one of the most surprising revisions of the 3DS hardware. Losing the clamshell design of the 3DS and of course the 3D effect might have made many assume that Nintendo had finally lost its marbles, but there is definitely a lot to be said for the humble 2DS.

The main use case is for children of 6 and under. Nintendo does not recommend that this age group use the 3D effect of the 3DS as developing eyes are at potential risk of vision damage. While this can be disabled using the parental control feature on standard models, the 2DS removes this feature within the hardware and passes the cost saving on to you.

While we love the clamshell design of the 3DS, young children have been known to break the hinges, so this is another aspect which isn't an issue here. As someone who has used a 2DS with a toddler at home, this writer can vouch they are virtually indestructible. It's even survived being bounced down the stairs, but this is not recommended!

Be sure to check out our Nintendo 2DS hardware review for the full lowdown.

Should I buy one?

The 2DS is a fantastic option for younger children. It comes in a variety of attractive colours with a range of game bundles at a low price.

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New Nintendo 3DS

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Launching in October 2014 in Japan and Australia and early 2015 in Europe, this is pretty much the ultimate 3DS. It's remarkable how much improved the 3D effect is on this updated model due to the addition of the head tracking "super stable 3D" feature. The original 3DS and 3DS XL were plagued with less-than-ideal viewing angles; even the slightest shift in posture could "break" the 3D effect, making it hard to discern on-screen activity and encouraging many players to switch if off entirely. While it's still possible to lose that all-important sweet spot, it requires a somewhat more drastic movement.

North American gamers were only offered the New Nintendo 3DS XL (see below) variant to begin with, which caused uproar. It wasn't until late September 2015 when Nintendo of America relented and began selling the smaller model in limited numbers. At least US based gamers could stop drooling over European's snazzy cover plates.

The New Nintendo 3DS screen strikes what we feel is the perfect balance between the tiny display of the first 3DS model to the larger XL screen. While the former was simply too small for comfort, the latter shows up the resolution shortcomings of Nintendo's portable. The happy middle ground of the standard New 3DS allows for a larger viewing area without the pixel-heavy nature of the XL's screen.

The New Nintendo 3DS of course has a right-hand c-stick, which we feel is the most significant enhancement when it comes to control options, negating the need for the unwieldy Circle Pad Pro attachment. It feels very stiff when you first use it, not entirely dissimilar to the old-fashioned "nipple" mouse pointers that were used on laptop keyboards in the days before touch-pads became the norm. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate fans rejoice.

One of our favourite features is the ability to switch cover plates in order to customise your New Nintendo 3DS. There are some really lovely designs available now and this is not a feature shared by the larger XL model. We also really love the SNES style buttons too. It scans amiibo, too.

There are even exclusive games like Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, Hyrule Warriors Legends runs better on it and you can download SNES games on the Virtual Console (these also apply to the New 3DS XL, naturally) which are not an option for the regular old 3DS. Unfortunately only limited editions of this smaller model are available in North America.

For the full scoop, be sure to check out our New Nintendo 3DS hardware review.

Should I buy one?

The New Nintendo 3DS, along with the XL model, is still Nintendo's flagship model so expect to pay a bit of a premium. The smaller version isn't significantly cheaper, so it really comes down to your preference here. If you have massive spade hands you'll probably want the XL version instead.

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New Nintendo 3DS XL

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Bringing across all the benefits of the smaller New Nintendo 3DS, the XL model is the option for those who like bigger screens or have massive hands. While the New smaller model is a very different design from its predecessor, this is a close (almost identical) ergonomic fit to its XL predecessor. That's no bad thing, as many clearly love the feel and comfort of these larger models, as shown by the fact they consistently outsell their smaller brethren. All core system features carry across too, such as the c-stick, super-stable 3D, amiibo support and improved CPU performance.

The XL unfortunately doesn't have interchangeable cover plates like the smaller model, which is a shame. Standard models also have boring black buttons, unlike the colourful SNES-like buttons on the non-XL model. For some, however, the screen size and comfort of use trumps all.

Should I buy one?

It really comes down to preference here. Both the New Nintendo 3DS and the XL version come at a higher price tag. But they are the definitive versions of the 3DS hardware.

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So there you have it. We'll leave you with this video which might help you to decide between the New Nintendo 3DS XL and its smaller counterpart.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission.