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The Curious Existence of the Nintendo 2DS

Tom Mc Shea proposes answers to the myriad questions that are swirling around Nintendo's latest handheld announcement.


Nintendo does not take revisions lightly. The Game Boy Advance SP and Nintendo DS Lite offered such marked improvements over their progenitors that they instantly became the de facto standards by which those portables were experienced. And the XL versions of the DS and 3DS caused similar waves, though not as severe. Bigger screens have a tangible benefit to a sizable segment of the gaming populace, ensuring these revisions justified their existence in a crowded handheld market. The news today that Nintendo is releasing a substantial redesign for the 3DS is much more of a head scratcher than a game changer. Questions arise--replacing the excitement that usually encompasses such announcements--as we wonder what the Nintendo 2DS says about the underlying motivations of the Kyoto giant.

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The difference is apparent even at a cursory glance. Gone is the clamshell design that has defined Nintendo's portables for the last decade. Tablets have infiltrated the technological sector, and that trend has finally seeped into one of Nintendo's devices. Just don't expect the streamlined design that has become prevalent among the ubiquitous tablets that have flooded the market. Black plastic covers most of the system, and though there is just one screen, it has been separated into two nonsymmetrical sections so as to match the original specifications of the 3DS. Resembling a tombstone more than a gaming platform, the 2DS represents a puzzling step for Nintendo.

We wonder what the Nintendo 2DS says about the underlying motivations of the Kyoto giant.

However, the biggest change isn't to the aesthetics. As the name so cleverly suggests, the 2DS does away with the 3D technology that was paramount in distinguishing Nintendo's latest handheld from anything else out there. And it's this decision that's so baffling. The ability to see games in 3D without having to slap on a pair of unwieldy glasses differentiated the 3DS in ways more fundamental than its burgeoning software library ever could. Such a hook gave rise to clever rooms in Super Mario 3D Land and tricky puzzles in Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask that would have been annoying and tedious without the benefit of additional depth of sight. Nintendo had harnessed the 3D trend and contained it on a fast-selling portable for a reasonable price.

So why would Nintendo turn its back on its handheld's most noteworthy feature? The most obvious reason is price. By scrapping the 3D screen and clamshell design, Nintendo has been able to shave $40 from the retail price of the 3DS. Just nine days after Sony trimmed the Vita's price to $200, Nintendo has countered by offering a system that's a whopping $70 cheaper than its competitor. Not too shabby. And the 2DS hits at an opportune time. Pokemon X and Y will flood retail shelves the very same day as Nintendo's latest hardware revision, so for fiscally conscious parents, the 2DS is an affordable way to feed a child's unquenchable desire to capture, train, and fight wild animals. Kudos to Nintendo's attempt to expand the user base of the 3DS even further than it currently is.

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Still, it's not like Nintendo to subvert the identity of one of its systems. The Wii Remote and Wii U GamePad were always packed in with Nintendo's last two consoles, and neither the DS nor the 3DS scrapped its second screen to halve its price. Nintendo has never been scared to stand by its decisions, even if certain people refused to embrace them. There are many out there who found the revolutionary Nintendo 64 controller clumsy, and the incredibly comfortable (though admittedly quirky) GameCube controller was sometimes considered too different for its own good, but Nintendo never relented by offering a DualShock equivalent. No, Nintendo spends years designing the core elements of every one of its systems, so it came as a major surprise when it shunned the feature most integral to the 3DS's design.

It came as a major surprise when it shunned the feature most integral to the 3DS's design.

The 2DS may be a tacit admission from Nintendo that the 3D aspect of its popular handheld was superfluous. Although both 3D Land and Layton contained elements that took advantage of such technology, they represent two tiny specks across a bountiful oasis of games that did little of note with the multidimensional canvas. Regardless of which developers helmed projects, 3D effects were relegated to inconsequential visual flourishes that could be safely ignored if you so desired. When even Nintendo itself has refused to create compelling arguments for why the 3D should be a core component of games on that platform, you know you're dealing with a technological gamble that was considered a mere gimmick by the powers that be.

And there are issues (both concrete and debatable) that go alongside 3D technology. Although optometrists have stated that 3D does not have a negative impact on developing eyesight, there are many who are still wary of introducing such displays to younger children. Not to mention that some people either cannot see 3D imagery at all or suffer headaches from prolonged viewings. Nintendo has addressed these concerns with the 2DS, even though it won't admit to doing so. Granted, the option to disable 3D either by flipping a switch or tinkering in the options menu always existed, but now there is a choice for those who have no interest in ever using this latest technology. In this way, the 2DS is a wise move that capitalizes on the market that always viewed 3D with either ambivalence or disdain.

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Financial troubles also swirl around the 3DS's high-tech display. Ex-Sony employee Seijiro Tomita was recently awarded $15.1 million in damages from a case in which he accused Nintendo of borrowing heavily from his technology. It would not be surprising if Nintendo was attempting to distance itself from 3D to avoid being susceptible to further payouts. Such a decision would also be a smart move for a company that has found a way to ride the peaks and valleys inherent to the video game industry. After all, even though $15.1 million is but a drop in Nintendo's massive bank vault, it's much more profitable to wholly own your technology than to have an outside party stake a claim in it.

The 2DS is a wise move that capitalizes on the market that always viewed 3D with either ambivalence or disdain.

There are reasons that Nintendo may not publicly comment on that could have fueled its latest redesign, but there are still questions that linger. Why, for instance, would America and Europe receive the 2DS while Nintendo's Japanese office currently has no plans to bring it to its home country? Does price not matter as much overseas? Are parents not as worried about their children's eyesight? Or is the 2DS simply too large and unsightly? Such motivations remain unclear, so we must wait until Nintendo speaks directly on this matter. Furthermore, although there are reasons (both stated and unstated) Nintendo has traveled once more down the two-dimensional road, the way in which it has done so is questionable at best. Nintendo gave us an early hands-on with a 2DS prototype, and it's not particularly impressive. With the triggers situated high atop the system, our fingers had to strain to tap them, and the dated screens look ancient compared to modern handheld devices.

The Nintendo 2DS marks a strange experiment in the handheld space for Japan's venerable developer. Although it functions as an adequate entry point for younger, less-discerning players, the hardware itself is neither as comfortable nor as functional as other models. Because of the 2DS' slapdash nature, it feels as though Nintendo was eager to remove 3D technology for a variety of reasons and felt compelled to make the system appear aesthetically different to separate it from its counterparts that still contain that extra dimension. Whether the market embraces the lower-priced, awkwardly constructed handheld is anyone's guess, but what's really interesting is where Nintendo goes from here. Will we see other 2D-only models in the future? Will Nintendo embrace 3D technology when its next system hits? From the non-statements Nintendo made today, it seems as though the days of extra depth are slowly coming to an end.


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