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

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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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