Nintendo 2DS

I don’t know what to think of the Nintendo 2DS. First of all, it has a clever yet strange name: as an overlapping combination of “2D” and “DS” (“dual screen”), it pretty much describes a system in the original Nintendo DS series rather than one in the Nintendo 3DS family (as the Nintendo 2DS is officially being marketed). I wonder if this is a sign that Nintendo is preparing to replace their existing Nintendo DS lineup—the Nintendo DSi and Nintendo DSi XL—with the Nintendo 2DS? That would seem to make more sense than simply releasing a new version of the Nintendo 3DS at a lower price point. After all, at $129.99 the Nintendo 2DS is only $40 cheaper than the Nintendo 3DS ($169.99).

Then again, if the Nintendo 2DS is indeed going to be the spiritual successor to the Nintendo DSi, why will the system be conspicuously absent in Japan? (As far as I can tell, the Nintendo 2DS has only been announced for sale in the Americas and Europe.) The reasons behind this decision are still mysterious to me, but if I were to hazard a guess it would be that the Nintendo 2DS appeals to the price-conscious sensibilities of Americans (and apparently Europeans) rather than the quality-conscious sensibilities of Japanese people. Furthermore, Nintendo’s brand awareness is very strong in Japan and thus the company may not need to constantly reduce prices in order to sell its products. Still, I wonder whether the $40 price difference between the Nintendo 2DS and the Nintendo 3DS is really significant enough to drive sales.

So all that being said, how does the Nintendo 2DS really stack up against its Nintendo 3DS brethren?

Nintendo of Europe’s website has helpfully provided a PDF with a side-by-side comparison of the systems in the Nintendo 3DS family. This comparison makes it clear that the Nintendo 2DS differs from the Nintendo 3DS and/or the Nintendo 3DS XL in the following ways.

  • The Nintendo 2DS has a 3.53-inch upper screen and 3.02-inch lower screen, just like the Nintendo 3DS—not the Nintendo 3DS XL
  • At 260 g, the Nintendo 2DS is heavier than the Nintendo 3DS (235 g) but lighter than the Nintendo 3DS XL (336 g)
  • The Nintendo 2DS does not have a clamshell design
  • The Nintendo 2DS does not have a 3D-enabled LCD

On the other hand, the Nintendo 2DS does share the following features with both the Nintendo 3DS and the Nintendo 3DS XL.

  • Two outer cameras and one inner camera
  • A Motion Sensor and Gyro Sensor
  • Wi-Fi support
  • StreetPass
  • SpotPass

In other words, from a game developer’s point of view the Nintendo 2DS has all the same capabilities as the other systems in the Nintendo 3DS family—except for a 3D-enabled screen, of course.

Speaking of that missing 3D-enabled screen, it’s easy to make fun of Nintendo for removing it from the Nintendo 2DS but in all honesty most people probably don’t care about it nearly as much as the tech pundits do. After all, haven’t Nintendo 3DS sales been disappointing despite the fact that the 3D screen was one of the system’s big value propositions, analagous to the motion controller that was introduced with the Wii? Nintendo may be a bit ahead of their time—I imagine that 3D screens will eventually be ubiquitous, but they’re certainly not as attractive to consumers now as Nintendo had hoped. Furthermore, the Nintendo 3DS has always allowed you to simply turn the 3D effect off, so developers had to design 3D games to be accessible on 2D screens even before the Nintendo 2DS was announced.

My final comment on the Nintendo 2DS hardware has to do with its deviation from the clamshell design that has characterized Nintendo’s handheld consoles for the past decade. Note that while the Nintendo 2DS certainly looks less elegant, the system should prove to be more durable because it has less moving parts (e.g. hinges) to break. As a result, this would be a perfect system for younger children who have trouble treating their expensive toys with care. Nevertheless, the screen will always be exposed unless you buy a carrying case ($12.99) to protect it—bringing the total cost of the Nintendo 2DS dangerously close to that of the Nintendo 3DS.

Discussion of the new system is inextricably tied to discussion of Nintendo’s overall business strategy. John Gruber, in reaction to Nintendo’s product announcement, is probably not alone in saying that Nintendo should “just give in and start making iOS games”. I have always been and remain skeptical of this idea: as much as I love my iPhone, I really don’t want it to take over every aspect of my digital life. I believe that games are a form of art, and that the act of consolidating handheld games onto touchscreen smartphones in general—and the iPhone in particular—is akin to limiting a painter to a single palette of colors and one canvas material. Yes, you can still produce works of art that way, but it severely hinders your creative potential. Think about it: how fun would the original Super Mario Bros. be on a touchscreen device? There is a synergy between game design and game hardware, and Nintendo has proved that they are willing and able to innovate in both areas.

Some (many?) may argue that Nintendo should develop games for iOS in addition to its own platforms, but I’m not so sure that that would be an efficient use of its resources. For all its clout, Nintendo is still a modestly-sized company with approximately 5,000 employees across all of its subsidiaries, and it probably doesn’t need to be siphoning its game design talent off of existing projects to focus on smartphones. As Nintendo has certainly learned by now, new hardware imposes new design constraints, which can have deep and significant effects on game design. While it’s true that Nintendo’s handheld systems have had touchscreens since the original Nintendo DS, the touchscreen was never the only input method. Besides, Nintendo probably isn’t interested in competing with smartphone hardware or software companies directly, and thus needs to differentiate itself by designing unique gaming experiences. I imagine that Nintendo would also be very wary about serving at the pleasure of the king that is Apple, in spite (or perhaps because) of its own history as the “king” of gaming in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

These are interesting times for mobile gaming. I hope that Nintendo knows what it’s doing.

August 28th, 2013

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