TORONTO — When the Nintendo Switch was announced last year, questions arose around the future of the company's 3DS family of handheld systems.
The Switch, a sleek hybrid of a console and a handheld gaming device, upped the ante in the portable market by offering gaming on the go with high-definition visuals. It was reasonable to imaging the 3DS, a robust but aging handheld platform, being made obsolete by Nintendo's shiny new system.
However, Nintendo maintained from the start that they would support their older portable system alongside the Switch. They made that claim an ironclad guarantee with the announcement of new "Metroid" and "Mario & Luigi" titles for later this year, as well as "Ultra" editions of the hit "Pokemon: Sun and Moon" games.
If support from some of its biggest franchises wasn't enough, Nintendo doubled down on their backing of the 3DS family with the recent release of the New 2DS XL. It's the sixth device in the line of handhelds dating back to the release of the original 3DS back in 2011.
The 2DS XL is arguably the best bang for your buck among the 3DS devices. It eschews the awkward wedge-shaped design of the original 2DS in favour of the traditional clamshell-style used by every other device in the family. It features the bigger screens and advanced control options of the New 3DS XL, which made that version of the device a marked improvement over the original design. And yet the New 2DS XL is sleeker and more portable, and comes in at a lower price point, because it isn't burdened with the largely superficial 3D feature.
It's also worth noting that the New 2DS XL includes an AC adapter, a necessity shockingly omitted from the core New 3DS XL package.
And yet, with the advent of the Switch and with the 3DS being around in one form or another for over six years, it's hard to tell who Nintendo is targeting with this new device.
The Switch makes the 2DS the inferior choice for the established gamer with money to spend. After playing "Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild," "Mario Kart 8" and "Splatoon 2" on the go, it's hard to go back to the New 2DS XL's decidedly previous-generation graphics.
It does make sense for Nintendo to provide a cheaper alternative for those not keen on shelling out big bucks for a Switch. But while the New 2DS XL is affordable compared to some of Nintendo's other portable units — it generally retails for about $40 less than the New 3DS XL and $200 less than the Switch — the budget-conscious consumer will note that it's still about $90 more expensive than the original 2DS model. And Nintendo is not waning in support of that device either, as a new 2DS bundled with the hit game "New Super Mario Bros. 2" is slated for release next month.
And the 3DS and New 3DS XL already have a big install base of users that will already support the new releases coming down the pipe. While it's possible owners of the older 3DS may be interested in upgrading to a New 2DS XL, there isn't any reason for a New 3DS XL owner to buy the new system.
So the market for the New 2DS XL seems to be gamers who don't already have a 3DS system, don't want to buy a Switch, are uninterested in the 3D functionality of the other devices, but are still willing to pay a premium for the larger screens and better design than the much cheaper 2DS.
That's not to say that market doesn't exist. A recent consolidated sales report from Nintendo's website shows sales of over 65 million units worldwide as of December 2016 for 3DS devices since the first model's release in 2011, including just under 6.8 million units last year. Should the Switch not carve too deeply into the 3DS family's potential market, then the New 2DS XL is a good bet for gamers looking for an affordable portable gaming system that still has the best top features of its predecessors.