Image: Nintendo Life / Damien McFerran

The 3DS is the handheld console that simply refuses to step into the shadows. With the Switch arriving on the scene blessed with the ability to host both portable and domestic gameplay, many assumed that Nintendo would put its existing handheld system out to pasture, but the Kyoto giant has done the exact opposite; not only are there many major titles coming to the 3DS family this year - including a new Pokémon outing - Nintendo has released yet another variant of the hardware, a sign that it considers the 3DS to be very much alive and well in 2017.

What we have here is a machine which borrows the internals of the New 3DS and places them inside a tough, kiddie-resistant shell while removing the glasses-free 3D effect upon which the console was sold way back in 2011. Is this (presumably) final throw of the dice a worthy means of bringing the curtain down on one of the best handheld systems ever? Let's find out…

New Nintendo 2DS XL: What's In The Box

Image: Nintendo Life / Damien McFerran

Compared to the boxes in which the original 3DS, 3DS XL, 2DS and New 3DS shipped, the packaging for the New 2DS XL is surprisingly compact. It's fatter than previous boxes however, and with good reason - it actually comes with an AC adapter, something previous models lacked in certain regions. Nintendo's reasoning was thus: those upgrading to a 3DS XL or New 3DS would already own a power supply. However, with the New 2DS XL the company has wisely chosen to bundle one in, presumably because it is aware that many of the people who pick up this new variant won't have purchased a 3DS in the past.

Aside from the console itself and the aforementioned PSU, the only other items inside the box are a set of instructions and the ubiquitous AR cards, the impact of which is diminished slightly by the fact that the console doesn't have autostereoscopic 3D.

New Nintendo 2DS XL: The Hardware

Nintendo has a long history of creating robust portable devices designed to withstand the hardships inflicted by their typically energetic and youthful owners. The New 2DS XL doesn't buck this trend; it's fashioned from solid-feeling plastic and is every bit as rugged and dependable as its forerunners - despite the drop in weight to a very reasonable 260g.

While it's tempting to imagine that the system is little more than a 2DS with a clamshell form factor, there are some key differences to note. The design of the hinge has changed, and it now protrudes from the top of the console. The hinge also houses the front-facing camera that was positioned above the display on the New 3DS. The microphone is located on the hinge as well, and when the console is opened these elements are positioned slap-bang in the middle, in between the two screens.

The stylus is in very much the same location as it was on the New 3DS, but is now side-by-side with the 3.5mm headphone socket. Next to this is a compartment in which you'll find the game card and MicroSD slots, the latter of which contains a bundled 4GB card. On this bottom edge you'll also find the power button, status LEDs and stereo speakers, one located at each corner. This means there's the added danger of muffling the audio with your palms, but in practice we found this happened a lot less frequently than we expected. Like other members of the 3DS family the New 2DS XL is equipped with rather weak speakers and there's a hint of vibration when set to maximum, a possible consequence of having them so close to the edges of the system.

Image: Nintendo Life / Damien McFerran

The left-hand side of the console is home to the volume slider (there's no 3D slider, obviously) while the top edge has the IR port and charging socket. On the back you'll find the dual camera setup for taking 3D photos, even though the console itself isn't capable of actually displaying them; we can only assume the functionality is in place for taking 3D snaps and sharing them with a 3DS owner.

The top of the New 2DS XL features a textured stripe pattern with a glossy plastic surround. Depending on which colour variant you've selected (if your region has both options) these will either be white and orange or black and turquoise. Curiously, Nintendo has decided against including the removable cover plates seen on the standard New 3DS. Given the kiddie-friendly nature of the New 2DS XL, this seems like something of an oversight. While this new machine certainly looks classy enough and is a big leap forward when compared to the original 2DS, we'd imagine that younger users would have appreciated the opportunity to stamp their personality on the system with customizable plates.

Opening up the New 2DS XL reveals a familiar control arrangement. The big alteration when compared to the other New 3DS systems is the movement of the Home button (now located below the pleasantly springy D-Pad); everything else is the same, right down to the placement of the C-Stick "nipple", just above the face button cluster.

Image: Nintendo Life / Damien McFerran

The screens remain largely unchanged as well; the top one has a resolution of 400x240 (with no 3D effect) while the bottom display (which still uses resistive touch-screen tech - in 2017!) is 320x240. Both are perfectly adequate in terms of brightness and colour replication, but there's no real improvement on previous screens in the 3DS range, and when compared to your typical smartphone display (or that of the Switch) they look rather washed out and drab. Viewing angles are also disappointing, but if you're moving from the standard New 3DS you're bound to find the bigger displays appealing, even if they do lack autostereoscopic impact.

New Nintendo 2DS XL: Features and Software

Under the hood, the New 2DS XL has the same specs as the New 3DS. That means better processing power and 256MB of RAM, as well as NFC support for amiibo toys. This means you'll be able to play 'New' exclusives including Xenoblade Chronicles 3D and enjoy performance boosts in certain games, such as Hyrule Warriors Legends, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Pokemon Sun & Moon.

The system UI remains unchanged from that seen on other 3DS systems, and includes the usual core apps such as 3DS Camera, 3DS Sound, Mii Maker, Mii Plaza, eShop, AR Games, Face Raiders, Activity Log and Download Play. It goes without saying that the New 2DS XL is compatible with all existing 3DS and New 3DS games, and also supports Nintendo DS titles, too.

It's telling that Nintendo isn't making any claims of increased stamina when it comes to the New 2DS XL, and is instead pointing out that the console boasts battery life in line with other 3DS systems. During our review period we managed to get just under four hours of play with typical settings (WiFi on, screen brightness at the default fourth level and volume at full), which doesn't represent a massive gain over its siblings. Removing the autostereoscopic 3D should have given Nintendo the chance to boost stamina, but that isn't the case.

New Nintendo 2DS XL: The Verdict

While diehard Nintendo fans will find it hard to resist snapping up the New 2DS XL purely because it's new hardware, it's clear that the console is aimed at a very specific market. At £130 it's the cheapest way to gain access to the whole of the 3DS library (the original 2DS is cheaper but is hamstrung by its weaker processing power and lack of NFC support) and, when placed alongside the cost of a Switch, makes perfect sense as a starter handheld for younger players.

The clamshell design means both screens are protected during transit - something that wasn't the case with the original 2DS - and the pull-down flap over the game card slot prevents the accidental loss of valuable software. Every inch of the console feels like it has been created for a new generation of Nintendo fans, with the exception of one: the top plate isn't removable and therefore the console misses out on the joyful customisation options seen on the standard model of the New 3DS.

If you already own a New Nintendo 3DS or New Nintendo 3DS XL then there's little reason to contemplate buying this, unless you're especially taken by the design, of course. Parents with children who already own the 2DS will see this as a welcome upgrade for systems which may well be coming to the end of their serviceable lifespans, but it's those approaching the 3DS family of systems with no prior experience that will make the most suitable customers for this fresh handheld.

The omission of 3D is arguably less of a blow now than it ever was, with some key 3DS titles choosing to ignore it entirely, and the low price point should encourage casual players to pick this system up - especially when you consider that the 3DS has a library of games that is unmatched in the handheld arena. It might not be for everyone, but the New 2DS XL could be a vital gateway for millions of the Nintendo fans of the future, and is yet another solid addition to the growing 3DS family.