A funny thing happened with an article we wrote regarding comments from Nintendo of America's Reggie Fils Aime on the reasoning behind the New Nintendo 2DS XL. Our 'tagline' was from his TIME interview - ""Boy, I wish there was something in between", a snippet that reflected Nintendo's claim that it's a middle-tier offering in the 3DS family of systems. When the article had a window near the top of our front page, however, it snipped the tagline to say "Boy, I wish there was some..."
For those scratching their heads over the portable that may be rather well-timed and humorous, albeit entirely unintentional on our part. Fils-Aime, though, had made the case that the New 2D XL sits between the 2DS and New 3DS XL, in the process doing what NOA always does in pretty much ignoring the cool smaller version of the New 3DS.
Price-wise, he's not wrong. The 2DS sells for about $79.99USD in most cases, sometimes with a game bundled, the New Nintendo 3DS XL is $199.99USD, and the New 2DS XL will indeed sit snugly in-between at $149.99USD. It does everything that its 3D sibling does apart from the autostereoscopic visuals - a faster CPU for a small number of exclusive games and some performance boosts, extra shoulder buttons, integrated amiibo scanning and the C-Stick.
Moving away from the corporate speak, though, where does this system fit and what is its purpose?
Another Reminder That 3D Wasn't the Next Big Thing
This writer loves the 3D effect on the 3DS, especially on the New models; every time the system is played that slider goes right the way up. Yet over the years it's been clear that this isn't the case for all owners of the portable; in fact, some only use the top screen's capabilities rarely or not at all. After building games and features to show off the effect in the early days - like Super Mario 3D Land - Nintendo gradually made it less of a priority, with some later major titles ditching the effect or only implementing it as a minor extra. When it comes down to it, Nintendo doesn't exactly worry about it if a project doesn't suit 3D - such as Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS.
It's a pity, but it's to Nintendo's credit that it moved beyond the lukewarm interest in 3D and subsequently made a success of the portable regardless. When it was unveiled in 2010 and launched in early 2011 the company pushed the glasses-free 3D angle quite hard, but when the system had a tough second quarter and it was clear that it wasn't a killer feature it simply became a secondary part of the hardware. Even the '3DS' name as a brand seemed to lose its '3D' focus in public perception.
Pushing a Pricier 2DS Model on Parents and 'Casual' Gamers
On every 3DS hardware box there's a warning about the 3D effect and its affect on children, in the case of UK units even coming with an age 7 and up 'rating'. For Nintendo that has never been ideal, so when it released the solid slate in the form of the 2DS it got around that by ditching the 3D entirely. It's proven to be a success, especially with parents looking for extremely cheap gaming systems for young children; Nintendo has cited its 2DS business as an area of notable growth, with a relaunch in Japan last year after its positive performance in the West, which only accelerates when there's a Pokémon game around.
Not only has '2DS' become a successful brand of its own, then, but it avoids any awkward issues with health warnings and age ratings; some may scoff that's barely relevant, but it does matter within the parent / young children markets.
Nintendo clearly wants to convert some of those drawn in by the '2DS' brand to pricier purchases, so therefore will offer the middle ground of a conventional clamshell design and all the key non-3D features. The black / turquoise and white / orange colour schemes - though only the former is confirmed for North America so far - are arguably rather handsome, and with Nintendo's stated goal of drawing in more women and children in the coming year it's likely focus groups and research suggested those gamers will be attracted to these iterations.
But Why Release a New System Now?
Let's be honest, many are still dubious of the purposes of this system. It surely spells a final death-knell - especially in North America - for the smaller New 3DS, which NOA in particular has always restricted to limited editions and that super-cheap Black Friday deal; as a result units have disappeared quickly. Another side of the argument is simple - why not just cut the price of the existing New 3DS models and make more of those, instead of doing something new?
Let's consider various angles. Firstly, there are the points further up around the 2DS 'brand', the target audience and the loss of relevance in the broader consumer world of that 3D screen. Nintendo evidently feels that the best way to extend the life of the 'family' of portables is through a conventional clamshell 'premium' 2DS.
Another potential reason could be logistics. Nintendo uses a particular technology with those glasses-free screens, and as the wider world stopped caring about such technology years ago it won't exactly be hot property. Is it possible that the screens are increasingly awkward to source, produce or buy? Would that explain why stock levels of 3DS hardware in the last Holiday season - especially in North America - were so sketchy?
Perhaps Nintendo just wants to scale back on that 3D technology entirely, and 2D screens of the XL size and at the 3DS native resolution will be extremely cheap to produce. Yes, Nintendo will have spent money developing the New 2DS XL shell, its packaging and so on, but the innards will be identical to other New 3DS models. Nintendo has likely been able to create and manufacture this system rather cheaply.
Making the 3DS Family New Again, But What of the Switch?
What the New 2DS XL will do is renew interest in the 3DS 'family' and, of course, its sizeable range of appealing 'evergreen' games. With Nintendo gunning for six million handheld hardware sales in this financial year these new models will likely lead the charge, along with any promotional bundles Nintendo produces for the 2DS and New 3DS XL. It'll be fascinating to see whether any new unannounced games also drive interest - for one thing we've speculated whether the rumoured 'Pokémon Stars' could be cross-platform on Switch and 3DS; if it is it'd surely sell more copies on the 3DS family of systems. Some own a 2DS or 3DS pretty much as a Pokémon machine, after all.
It's an interesting one for Nintendo's broader strategy, though. Company President Tatsumi Kimishima recently spoke of 'flexible' hardware lifecycles, letting consumer demand rather than long-term company strategy dictate how long a system lasts. That's been seen with the discontinuation of the Wii U after just over four years, and also the continued release of new titles for the 3DS range. With the last financial year bringing improved 3DS sales - mainly thanks to Pokémon Sun and Moon - Nintendo appears keen to extend the range of portables through this year at least. The company has previous form with this; just remember how long the Game Boy lasted, defying its modest capabilities because it remained popular.
So is the New 2DS XL a final hurrah for the '3DS family', or a trial to see whether the portable should live on well into 2018? Only senior management in Nintendo truly knows, and the next six months or so of game announcements for 3DS will give us more context. As for how this impacts Switch, that depends on Nintendo and how it promotes the 3DS. For example if a new Pokémon game is also on 3DS it would certainly affect the impact of an equivalent Switch release - the situation would arguably be different from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, simply due to the low install base of the Wii U.
When the 3DS is an active range it'll be another product to tempt consumers, and money to spend on Nintendo systems is finite. It should be said, though, that potential late adopters to the 3DS would likely not crossover much with a year one Nintendo Switch audience; we're dealing with very different target demographics.
Besides, as Nintendo has made clear it'll happily maintain the 3DS range when it continues to sell; if it lasts into 2018 alongside a flourishing Switch the shareholders will be happy.
Time Will Tell
The reaction of some to the New 2DS XL has been bewilderment, but as we've outlined above it's not an illogical move from Nintendo. Its appeal to many reading these pages may be low - even those of us that have bought multiple 3DS iterations will think hard over whether it's worth paying out yet again. Many in that boat will likely resist, but then we're not really the target audience for the product.
We'll see through 2017 and into 2018 whether this is a smart bit of business from Nintendo or otherwise; it'll be interesting to watch.