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New Nintendo 2DS XL review: Nintendo's New 2DS XL handheld deserves a big hand

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With the Switch, Nintendo seems to have a bona fide hit on its hands: It's still all but impossible to find in stores, and a promising new slate of games shown at the E3 gaming show has only ramped up interest.

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8.4

New Nintendo 2DS XL

The Good

The New Nintendo 2DS XL is basically a 3DS XL, minus the 3D, with a slightly improved design. It gives you access to a huge library of great games, including past DS, NES and SNES classics.

The Bad

The tiny stylus is very awkward to use. There's little new here for anyone who already has a 3DS in their bag.

The Bottom Line

It doesn't bring anything new to the table, but the new 2DS XL delivers a fantastic Nintendo portable gaming experience at a great price.

But even though the Switch does double duty as a home and mobile console, Nintendo is still cranking out new derivations on its pure portable line. The New Nintendo 2DS XL is the latest and, in many ways, the best Nintendo portable yet. It retains the big twin screens of the earlier (and still available) New Nintendo 3DS XL, but loses the gimmicky 3D effect that's effectively unused in most games.

Best of all, the 2DS XL has a slightly trimmed-down version of the 3DS XL clamshell design, rather than the weird flat frame and tiny screens of the budget standard 2DS model. It's available now in the US, UK and Australia for $150, £130 and AU$200, respectively.

With an unparalleled design, Nintendo's already-impressive game library -- it plays nearly every 3DS and DS game, in cartridge or download form -- and an affordable price, there's little here not to like. But like the recent PlayStation 4 Slim and Xbox One S, this is really just a more affordable repackaging of an existing console: Effectively, it's a 3DS XL price cut, rather than anything really new. So while it's a great product with a fantastic game library, there's no burning reason to buy it if you already have one of the preceding models.

This review was originally published on June 26. It has been updated to reflect the 2DS XL's availability in the US and UK.

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The 2DS (right), New 2DS XL and New 3DS XL (right)

Sarah Tew/CNET

Refined design

The 2DS XL moves away from the two-screen flat tablet design of the original 2DS released back in 2013. Instead, it's the folding handheld style used for most of the DS range. What's more, it does it while looking and feeling better than any other DS that came before.

The dimensions are almost identical to the 3DS XL. Both pack the top 4.9-inch and bottom 4.2-inch dual screens (the bottom one is a touchscreen); both sit at around 6.3 by 3.4 by 0.8 inches (160 by 86 by 20mm) when closed. But the 2DS XL is markedly lighter than the 328 gram 3DS XL, tipping the scales at 238 grams (8.4 ounces). The two sides of the unit will close together cleanly into one gradual curved edge, where the 3DS's rounded top half left a sizable crevasse.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The matte plastic finish and raised ridging on the top side feel better and cleaner than the glossy pearlescence of previous generations. The hinge is exposed, so the actual top panel is smaller, which in turn makes the top hero screen look bigger. The cartridge slot is hidden behind a subtle curved panel, to stop you accidentally popping out your game. All told, the 2DS XL feels like a refined version of a classic, because that's what it is.

Depending upon your region, you'll be able to nab the new 2DS in either black and turquoise or a very BB-8-ish white and orange. Both options are quite eye-catching, and the turquoise and orange details break up the flat colour slabs very nicely. Personally, I opted for the black and turquoise, because if something is living in my bag, it's not going to stay white for long.

I do take umbrage with one aspect of the physical design. You've got the supersized 2DS, right? Bigger screen, bigger case. So why for the love of all that is holy is the stylus so short? A side-by-side comparison with the 3DS XL stylus reveals the 2DS XL stylus is only half an inch shorter, but boy is that incremental measurement important. It means the difference between comfortably holding the stylus as you would a pen or needing to use some sort of cramped, arcane, twisted claw gesture on a stylus made for ants. Or, more likely, small kids' hands. But if you're a grown-up with grown-up hands, go for a third-party option.

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Sadly the new stylus (bottom) comes up short.  

Luke Lancaster/CNET

Gamer's delight

Turn that sucker on and you'll see the usual Nintendo DS experience. With full connectivity, the Nintendo online store experience and decades of Nintendo games at your thumbs on the virtual eShop (not to mention the existing 2DS/3DS game lineup) it's really benefiting from stepping into a mature ecosystem. The likes of Pokemon Sun and Moon, Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart 7,
as well as keystone Zelda games like Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask and A Link Between Worlds, are all more affordable than ever, especially if you're willing to scour the used game section. While it's not offering any reason for existing DS owners to switch horses midstream, it's definitely doing its darnedest to win over people who haven't picked one up yet, or have an early-gen DS looking a little long in the tooth.

Note that the 2DS XL can also play SNES Virtual Console games that don't work on older 2DS and 3DS consoles. 

Alas, there are still frustrations Nintendo hasn't fixed. Transferring downloaded games from one 2DS/3DS console to another is still a Sisyphean nightmare. Meanwhile, with Virtual Console plans on the Switch still largely in the air, it's unclear if any online 2DS/3DS purchases will work on that device. (Don't get your hopes up.) And online play still involves Nintendo's confusing friend codes system, too.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

On the inside

One thing you'll probably notice early on is that the matte finish doesn't extend to the inner faces of the 2DS XL. It's a shiny affair, and one that's very reflective in direct light. It's wanting for a brightness toggle, but it was really only unmanageable in extreme situations.

The biggest thing you're missing out on is the no-glasses-required 3D experience, but I use "missing out" loosely. While it's impressive to see the depth effect at work at first, I found that the novelty soon became distracting enough that it was almost permanently switched off on my 3DS.

Except for the dearth of 3D, though, the 2DS XL carries over all of the features from its earlier counterpart. But it also corrects some of the 3DS XL's most annoying deficiencies: The microSD slot (a 4GB card is included) is located right next to the cartridge slot, so you don't need to remove the unit's battery cover to access it. And unlike the 3DS XL, the proprietary AC adapter is included in the box. It's just too bad Nintendo didn't take the opportunity to go USB-C here, as it did with the Switch.

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Like the New 3DS XL, the 2DS XL has extra shoulder buttons. And a proprietary charging port.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Nintendo doesn't make any official claims on the 2DS XL battery life, so we weren't expecting anything better than the New 3DS XL, which would run for anywhere from 3.5 to 7 hours, depending on the type of game. In fact, playing Professor Layton (a nonintensive puzzle game), I got closer to 8 hours. However, the much more graphically intense Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask drained the battery in just over 4 hours. That latter time frame was about what Eurogamer got on Mario Kart 7, too -- albeit with all the settings maxed out in torture test mode. In standby mode, mine kept a charge for days. Of course, if you get the chance to plug it in overnight, all the better. 

Otherwise, the 2DS XL keeps all of the features of its 3D brother: the C stick, extra ZL/ZR shoulder buttons and NFC support for interacting with Nintendo Amiibo figurines are here, as is Wi-Fi, front and rear cameras and parental controls. 

Game on

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Majora's Mask on the go? I don't mind if I do.

Luke Lancaster/CNET

Yes, the Switch is great, and it's the first Nintendo console that doubles as a portable, too. But the 2DS XL has a far larger game library, it fits in your pocket and it's got marathon battery life. Oh, and it's half the price. 

Put another way: If Nintendo is offering you essentially the same experience as a 3DS XL for less cash and in a better package, you grab onto it. Grab onto it with both of your adult-sized hands and run. 

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8.4

New Nintendo 2DS XL

Score Breakdown

Design 9Ecosystem 8Features 8Performance 8Value 9