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Nintendo 2DS XL still has advantages over the Nintendo Switch (hands-on)

The New 2DS XL is the latest 3DS, and it aims to prove there's life in the handheld even alongside the hot-selling Nintendo Switch.

Sarah Tew/CNET
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The Nintendo 3DS has been around for more than six years. And, if you think of the 3DS as an evolution of the older DS handheld that debuted in 2004, then it's actually 13 years old. Now that Nintendo has announced the New 2DS XL -- essentially a New 3DS XL without the 3D screen feature, something most games didn't take full advantage of anyway -- how will it compete with Nintendo's other just-released console, the Switch?

The 3DS is still arguably a better kid game system than the Switch, and Nintendo acknowledges this. But, can the 3DS/2DS still thrive alongside the hot new machine?

Nintendo still supports the 3DS with games because of its install base: It's sold 66 million over its six-year lifetime. So its continued support isn't a surprise. And explains why Nintendo's chosen to double down on the 3DS as a platform -- all 3DS games will play on the 2DS XL.

I got to play the new 2DS XL and a handful of new games, and then I played my own 3DS over the last few days after having lived mainly with Switch. These are the 3DS' main advantages, as I see them.

It costs less. The new 2DS XL is $150, versus the Switch's $300. Games cost up to $40, versus the Switch's $60 ceiling. Used games can be picked up everywhere. (The 2DS XL will cost AU$200 in Australia, but doesn't yet have a UK price -- that converts to about £115.)

It's smaller. The Nintendo Switch is a beast of a little system. I carry it around, but it barely feels like a handheld. The 3DS is a more on-the-go travel friendly.

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Pikmin makes the move to 2DS XL, but it's not exactly the same game you remember.

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There are still a lot of games (and especially retro ones) worth playing. Animal Crossing, Fire Emblem, Super Mario 3D Land, Zelda: Link Between Worlds, lots of retro NES, Game Gear, Game Boy and SNES games, N64 games like Ocarina of Time and Star Fox 64, indie games all over the place and Sega's arcade-perfect ports. It's also, right now, Nintendo's best repository of classic virtual console games. Now that the NES Classic is gone, this might be the best NES Classic alternative. It just doesn't plug into a TV. These games don't exist on the Switch... yet.

It's more kid-proof. The Switch needs coddling. I'm not ready to have my kids play with one on their own. The 3DS is a tough little handheld that can take some physical punishment, and is easier to set up.

Still some games on the horizon. The few games I played at Nintendo's early demo -- for the Zelda-like Ever Oasis, the simple Mii-based weird adventure game Miitopia and the 2D Pikmin platformer Hey! Pikmin, show there's still some games possibly worth buying. None of these blew me away when I tried them, but Nintendo seems committed to at least developing more games during the Switch era.

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The 2DS XL compared with the 2DS (left) and New 3DS XL (right).

Sarah Tew/CNET

2DS XL is just a 3D-less 3DS

Nintendo reboots its handheld hardware every few years: There have already been the 3DS, 3DS XL, 2DS, New 3DS and New 3DS XL. The New 2DS XL is the latest iteration.

In some sense, there's not much to say here. The 2DS XL is, really, a 3D-free New Nintendo 3DS XL. It does feel well-built, with a sturdy finish, a slightly more compact build and crisp-looking big screens. The included stylus is small, though.

When will the 3DS and Switch play nicely together? That's my only concern: the 3DS platform remaining an odd lone duck as the Switch rolls on and leaves it in the dust. To that, I still say the 3DS (or, 2DS XL) is worth it if you can find 10 games worth playing.

I can name at least 20.

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Nintendo's Doug Bowser sees a lot of life in the 3DS, even with Switch.

Sarah Tew/CNET

3DS won't overlap with Switch (yet)

Here's the problem with Switch and 3DS: The 3DS has a unique game library that the Switch won't necessarily tap into yet. And it's unclear whether 3DS games will ever make the jump. According to Doug Bowser, Nintendo's VP of Sales, "It may not be that the actual game itself will be playable on another system."

Bowser also acknowledges that 3DS systems might be a better fit for kids than the larger, more expensive Switch. "The size of the device (3DS) definitely can fit in a kid's hands better," he says, calling it "more individual... it's a book," while he calls the Switch "more of a home console."

Until the Switch gets more games, the 3DS might still be the best way to play the back catalog of Nintendo's best. And the 2DS XL could be the best system to play them on.