Now is both a great and possibly terrible time to be a video game fan.
The Nintendo Switch is coming off a hot Animal Crossing-dominated summer. Among Us is the latest viral gaming hit. The future offers a lot to look forward to with the new Playstation and Xbox consoles, as well as the developing cloud gaming sector.
These reasons and others make now a terrific time for gamers and non-gamers to engage with the medium in ways they hadn’t before, whether that means diving in for the first time or diving deeper. For many, though, these attractions will have to be put on hold because of the pandemic. With people out of work, finally returning to work, or otherwise focused on just getting by during trying times, gaming isn’t as big a financial priority as the electric bill or novelty face masks. That’s especially true since new games and consoles can cost hundreds of hard-earned, hard-to-come-by dollars.
Even folks who have the money to get a Switch may have trouble tracking one down. Stock has been low at times in 2020 because everybody and their cousin has gotten one (and quickly racked impossible amounts of debt to Tom Nook). However, a fresh experience doesn’t have to cost a lot or be near-impossible to attain, especially for gaming newcomers: Let me (re)introduce you to the Nintendo 3DS, which, perhaps now more than ever, is a perfect gateway into gaming.
A brief recap of what the 3DS has been up to: It launched in 2011 at a bonkers price point of $250 in North America, which was quickly dropped down to $170. The platform picked up steam after its slow start, went through multiple iterations, had a lot of fun games, and has done well during its lifetime. Gradually, Nintendo worked its way to what will likely be the final handheld in the storied 3DS family: The New Nintendo 2DS XL launched in July 2017, which was actually a few months after the Switch first hit shelves. Over 75 million units have been sold across all 3DS models, which is more than the Xbox One and the Switch (for now, anyway).
(If you’re confused: The 2DS came after the original 3DS consoles, but is still part of the 3DS console generation. The primary difference is that the 2DS units do not have the 3D functionality of the 3DS. They still play the same 3DS games, but without 3D. It’s just a peculiar naming convention that makes 2 come after 3 here. Anyway, generally speaking, 2DS = 3DS.)
Sadly but understandably, The Verge noted in mid-September that no 3DS or 2DS models are in production anymore, meaning the platform has been discontinued nearly ten years after its launch. This news comes via the Japanese 3DS website, and mentions of the 3DS have been mostly removed from Nintendo’s US site.
This ode to the 3DS wasn’t written as a nostalgia-induced and overly laudatory reaction to its discontinuation. I actually had the idea for this piece and wrote the bulk of it in late August (check the date on the 2DS XL top screen in my lead photo above). Whether or not the 3DS is a headline right now, I felt it was worth communicating that the handheld is a tremendous, often-overlooked gaming platform that’s still a viable purchase in 2020.
Since the 2DS XL isn’t too old, the used market isn’t that icky. Within the past couple months, I bought a purple one for $80 from a local seller on Facebook Marketplace and it was in beautiful like-new condition. The seller told me they had only played it a handful of times, and looking at the console, their story checks out. Meanwhile, Nintendo still sells refurbished 2DS XL consoles, which go for $100 and come with a one-year warranty. There are also new-in-box 2DS XLs out there from third-party sellers, with plenty of options for around $150 on eBay as of mid-November.
The original 2DS model, first released in 2013 and also discontinued this year, is even cheaper; Used units can routinely be found for under $60. That said, the slate-like, non-clamshell form factor just isn’t my jam and I don’t find it comfortable or worthwhile to play on. So, I’ll disregard it, but you should at least be aware of the option.
It is likely that no more significant new games will be released for the 3DS (not by Nintendo, anyway), but that’s fine because it already has a gargantuan and impressive library. Wikipedia’s exhaustive (but still likely incomplete) list of all 3DS games has 1,345 titles, and there are some all-time greats in that collection.
93 3DS games have achieved a Metacritic score of at least 80, meaning there are plenty of reputable 3DS games that experts love and believe are worth playing through. The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time, the N64 classic that is the highest-rated game of all time on Metacritic, has a beloved 3DS port that itself is the highest-scoring 3DS game on the site, with a 94 rating.
Furthermore, of the 20 best-selling video games of all time across all platforms, nine of them have versions that are playable on the 3DS: Minecraft, Tetris, Super Mario Bros., Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow, Tetris, Pac-Man, New Super Mario Bros., Terraria, and Pokémon Gold/Silver/Crystal (we’ll circle back to those older Pokémon games in a minute).
We’ve also come this far without mentioning one of the biggest draws of the 3DS: It can play every* game from the original DS. Access to the beloved DS library more than doubles the number of games you can play on a 3DS system.
(*There are rare exceptions that don’t fully work on 3DS, like Guitar Hero: On Tour. That game needs an accessory that plugs into the DS’ Game Boy Advance slot, a port that 3DS and 2DS models lack. That’s an extremely minority case, though, and not really worth taking into consideration here.)
There is an abundance of quality available in the combined DS/3DS library. There are six main-series Pokémon games (counting companion titles like Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum as one game), two remakes, and a bunch of spin-offs. There are also some of the best Mario games ever, like New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario 3D Land. Other noteworthy first-party Nintendo titles include Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Mario Kart DS, Mario Kart 7, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, The Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, and Mario & Luigi: Partners In Time, among many others.
A majority of these games, by the way, will likely only ever be available on DS and 3DS. It’s not that Nintendo isn’t willing to re-release games, especially considering they just dropped Super Mario 3D All-Stars. However, DS and 3DS games are a challenge to bring to other platforms because of their unique design. The DS and 3DS are dual-screen experiences, while virtually every other console makes use of a single display. So, especially for games that utilize the DS/3DS hardware and form factor (like the touch screen) in critical ways, a port to any other platform just won’t work without significant alterations. It’s possible to fit a square peg in a round hole, but you’ll have to cut literal corners to make it work. Ultimately, if you want to play a DS or 3DS game, firing it up on the original console is the best, and probably only, way that will ever be possible.
As you may figure at this point, the DS/3DS library offers a deep look into the history of gaming. Aside from the aforementioned Ocarina Of Time remake and Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D (a remake of the Wii’s Donkey Kong Country Returns), other classics that have been revamped for or ported to the 3DS or DS include Diddy Kong Racing (as Diddy Kong Racing DS), Star Fox 64 (Star Fox 64 3D), Super Mario 64 (Super Mario 64 DS), the first six Mega Man games (compiled on Mega Man Legacy Collection for 3DS), Luigi’s Mansion (released on 3DS with the same title), and the list goes on.
The 3DS offers more comprehensive access to historically significant games than the Switch does. The Switch includes a handful of vintage titles as part of its online offerings, but it bafflingly hasn’t gotten the Virtual Console yet, which the 3DS has. For the unfamiliar, the Virtual Console is Nintendo’s library of classic games that are individually downloadable on the Wii, Wii U, and 3DS. Available on the 3DS are games for Game Boy, Game Boy Color, NES, Super Nintendo, and even Sega Game Gear. So, 3DS owners can play the original Pokémon and Mario games, as well as others that can be a challenge to find and enjoy in an official capacity on modern consoles.
The 3DS can also serve as a transition from casual mobile phone gaming to console gaming. A lot of 3DS games offer the same level of enjoyment that console titles can, all in a form factor that won’t keep you parked in front of a TV for hours at a time. By their nature, handheld games are meant to be of a more pick-up-and-play affair that are fine for shorter gaming sessions, but not as ephemeral as the experience most mobile games provide. Additionally, their low price point also makes them appealing to prospective gamers who want to take a stab at something more substantial than whatever colorful match-three game they have on their phone.
I touched on cost a bit earlier, but let’s get more into the weeds on that aspect of the 3DS’ current appeal by comparing it to the Switch and asking: What can $300 get you in each platform’s ecosystem?
The Switch retails for $300, but due to its scarcity, consoles are often marked up by third-party sellers. Let’s say you’re able to find one at retail price, though: Our $300 budget will cover a console (not including tax) that doesn’t come with any games or accessories.
That same amount of money gets you a lot farther on the 3DS. Yes, it’s an older and technologically inferior platform to the Switch, but as I’ve been trying to hammer home, it can be as fun as (or more fun than) things newer than it. So, if you can get a 2DS XL for $100, that leaves you with $200 to spend on games. That can take you a long way.
Metacritic’s five highest-rated games on 3DS (Ocarina Of Time 3D, Fire Emblem: Awakening, The Legend Of Zelda: Link Between Worlds, Shovel Knight, and Super Mario 3D Land) cost an approximate total of $83 when buying them used online (according to data from pricecharting.com). The five top-scoring games on DS (Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, Chrono Trigger, Mario Kart DS, Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, and The Legend Of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass) total around $95 used. The $40 price tag of Chrono Trigger (a sought-after Super Nintendo remake) jacked the DS figure up a bit, but regardless, the 2DS XL, five 3DS games, and five DS games total $278. That leaves $22 to get a case — which go for around $10 to $15 — and other accessories.
It seems to me like a $300 3DS bundle can offer significantly more hours of fun than can a Switch and the no games that come with it — unless you get a kick out of browsing the system settings menus and checking if your joysticks are drifting yet. If money was tight, I didn’t own any video games (LOL), and I was offered either a Switch or a 2DS XL with $200 worth of games, I’d probably opt for the older handheld.
If you’re not trying to spend $300, though, here’s one more quick money experiment, in which I pick my most fun and cost-efficient DS/3DS mini-library for about the cost of one new Switch game ($60). Based on pricecharting.com data, I’m going with Super Mario 3D Land for 3DS ($10), New Super Mario Bros. for DS ($11), Super Mario 64 DS ($14), Pokémon Moon for 3DS ($14), and The Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds for 3DS (which I personally bought on eBay recently for $14).
That brings us to $63 and gives me a group of games I would choose collectively over any individual Switch title. Even for people who already own a modern console, a relatively small investment in the 3DS ecosystem — the cost of a few current-gen games — can expand and enrich their gaming experience significantly.
Instead of mourning the 3DS’ death, let’s celebrate its life, including the life it still has.
That’s what some Japanese gamers are doing: Demand for the 2DS XL rose in Japan during Switch shortages in April. Some of the all-time greatest video game experiences can be enjoyed on the handheld today, and devices are cheap now, especially when compared to a $500 PS5. Netflix has brought renewed attention to TV shows that have been out of circulation for years, so why can’t a bit of awareness and willingness do the same for the 3DS?
Getting behind this idea of trading newness for value can make now an inarguably great moment to be a video game fan.