Nintendo sure likes to iterate its portable hardware, and the 3DS 'family' has been no exception. There's been the 3DS, the 3DS XL, the 2DS, the New 3DS, the New 3DS XL and soon the New 2DS XL. Throw in various colours, limited editions and cool designs and it's been a typically dizzying generation.
For me, though, the best one has also been the least successful - the smaller New Nintendo 3DS. Its history is slightly odd, having failed to catch on and only having a limited release in the massive North American market. The New 3DS XL lives on while its cute sibling bites the dust, with two 2DS iterations filling out the range. The smaller model has been officially discontinued. Where did it all go wrong for the New Nintendo 3DS?
First, I want to say why I think it's the 'best' 3DS, and I say this having used or owned every model to date apart from the New 2DS XL; it's an entirely subjective opinion, of course. First is the general build and size. I'll freely admit it - I have rather small hands for an adult man. If I was running for political office it'd probably be a talking point, which is an embarrassing state of affairs. I wanted to be a good cricketer (google it if you don't know what cricket is) but it's a game best suited to those with buckets for mitts.
Anyway, the point is that I find it comfortable to use, and it's dinky enough to fit into a reasonably sized pocket. It feels like Nintendo had cast impressions of my hands and designed the size to suit me alone - it's perfect. Beyond that I love the build and materials. The original 3DS had those edges, which I think is poorly designed, but the New 3DS utilises a smooth plastic and rounded edges. The D-Pad on my system is excellent, and all of the buttons have a lovely click to them. Oh, and I have a white one with those colourful ABXY buttons, so it just looks fabulous.
I also think games look better on it, too. Let's remember that 3DS titles are low resolution, and I think the smaller screens and the stable 3D show them at their best. These games, so primitive in terms of raw graphical technology (by 2017 standards) still pop nicely on these screens. Sometimes when using an XL I feel that the sacrifice for that extra real estate is a scruffier image, as the resolution is stretched and the pixels cry out to be shrunk back to their normal size.
For me the New 3DS and XL variant will always be the best because of the feature set, too. Like the upcoming New 2DS XL there's the improved CPU (which supports a few exclusive games and most importantly makes Monster Hunter games run better), C-Stick, extra shoulder buttons and amiibo support. But I also love the 3D effect, and have been an advocate for it from day one. I still get a kick out of having the slider all the way up to this day, and it's a shame that the 3D era is ending; as you saw with my preview I'm currently playing Hey! Pikmin, and it's sadly a title that doesn't use the 3D at all. Frankly I'm just glad that the upcoming Metroid: Samus Returns does, as I feel the effect really adds to games. With Switch, of course, we're now in a strictly 2D world.
What I really love about the New Nintendo 3DS, and why I think some in North America were so frustrated by its limited run in the region, is that it's the most Nintendo system in years. Those coloured buttons, the design, the smooth edges, and of course the cover plates. They seem like such a missed opportunity - the range was varied, but stock (especially in Europe) was limited and low-key. I have quite a few cover plate sets and love them, and spent a long time coveting (and eventually finding and buying) the Xenoblade Chronicles plates. Some of the designs are fantastic, and they've been a way for 3DS owners to have a bit more pizazz, to show what games they love the most and to declare, in a blaze of plastic colour - 'I love the 3DS'.
So, what did go wrong? For one thing, it seems the broader market simply prefers XL models. As of 31st March 2017 the second most successful 3DS unit in sales (the family total is 66.12 million), after the original, is the first 3DS XL at 19.64 million. In terms of the New 3DS it's the XL that's dominant. Let's take North America out of the equation (because of the limited availability there) and compare New 3DS sales in PAL (marked as 'other' by Nintendo) and Japan.
New Nintendo 3DS Sales
Japan - 1.16 million
Other - 830,000
New Nintendo 3DS XL Sales
Japan - 4.3 million
Other - 2.55 million
Not only do the numbers not lie, but even at launch I knew more people that bought the XL than the cute smaller system. When I asked why they made that call, the response was typically that they simply preferred the bigger size - pretty simple. It was no doubt through market research and looking at DS trends that Nintendo of America made the decision to not really bother with the smaller system. It was noticeable, too, that the smaller model was quietly dropped long before its actual discontinuation, here in the UK at least. With the New 3DS models the XL has pretty much always been front and centre at retail.
The 2DS played its part in sucking away the market for the smaller model too, coming out over a year earlier; it became the system of choice for parents buying young gamers an affordable console, a market that could have potentially played well for the New 3DS - in a parallel universe. The 2DS, with its solid build and low price, has shifted over 7.42 million units globally, and Nintendo even felt moved to effectively relaunch it in Japan. We've also seen a number of major games ignore the 3D effect in recent years, as highlighted above, so the emergence of the New 2DS XL actually makes sense. Having figured out that the market likes the XL models more than the dinkier alternatives, Nintendo is placing the 2DS XL in the middle of the range between the inexpensive tablet and the 'premium' New 3DS XL.
Some will, quite rightly, say that the market decides, and the market decided it wasn't overly fussed about the smaller New Nintendo 3DS. I think that's a shame, though, and I don't think I'll ever fully understand why. It's colourful, a good portable size for gaming on the go, and has cool customisation options. It's my favourite portable system ever, frankly, just because it blends its top-notch design with a killer catalogue of games. I'm not the only one in the Nintendo Life team, I know, that feels this way, but of course some are firmly in the XL camp.
In any case, it's a shame in my view that the New 3DS didn't find the sales and success to cement itself as a key part of the 3DS generation; in fact it's the worst-selling entry in the family by a distance. Perhaps we can blame the lack of a day one launch in North America, or the limited stock in other territories. But in reality it just didn't connect with enough consumers. It was cheaper than the XL but less popular - we're in a world where size matters, unfortunately for this model and my diminutive hands.
Still, it'll stay in my collection as a treasured piece of Nintendo hardware. In fact it's my favourite bit of Nintendo technology - its look, its feel, its shape, I think it's fantastic. Nearly 2.5 million smaller New Nintendo 3DS systems have been sold; I like to think each one is as appreciated as my own.