Should You Buy Nintendo 3DS or the Nintendo 2DS?

Oh, yeah - don't forget the Nintendo Switch, too!

Nintendo 2DS
Wikimedia Commons

Which portable game system should you buy—the Nintendo 3DS or the Nintendo 2DS? Choosing between the two can be confusing, especially since a lot of potential adopters don't know much about how they differ.

This guide goes over the similarities and differences between the 3DS and 2DS and will help you draw a conclusion about which device best suits your needs. If you're looking for information on the Nintendo Switch, which is a whole different ball of wax, you can learn more about that gaming console.

How They're Similar

The first and most important thing to consider is that the Nintendo 2DS functions almost identically to the Nintendo 3DS.

Though the 3DS and 2DS physically look like distant cousins, their inner workings are basically the same. In other words, for the most part, anything the Nintendo 3DS can do, the 2DS can likewise do.

Specifically, they are both able to...

  • Play Nintendo 3DS game cards: When you buy a Nintendo 3DS game at retail, the game card will work on both the Nintendo 3DS and the Nintendo 2DS.
  • Go online: Both devices are capable of connecting to Wi-Fi, allowing for internet access via their built-in web browser. It also means both systems support online play where applicable, including games like Pokemon X and Pokemon Y.
  • Access the eShop and Virtual Console: Want to download indie games and major releases from the Nintendo 3DS eShop? How would like a little retro sunshine in your soul with some 8-bit NES classics from the 3DS Virtual Console? You can download whatever (available) game your heart desires using either the 3DS or the 2DS.
  • Be backwards compatible with the Nintendo DS library: If you have a sizable Nintendo DS library you'd like to re-visit, you don't have to choose between the 2DS or 3DS. Both devices are fully capable of playing Nintendo DS game cards.

How They're Different

All that said, there are still some key differences between the 3DS and 2DS.

  • The 2DS is cheaper than the 3DS and 3DS XL: The Nintendo 2DS's most alluring characteristic is probably its price: $79.99 USD. It's more than half the price of the 3DS XL ($199.99 USD).
  • The 2DS can't display 3D images, but the Nintendo 3DS can: The Nintendo 2DS is unable to project 3D images, which is one of the big reasons Nintendo is able to offer it for less than the 3DS or 3DS XL.

    Now, is the 3DS's 3D functionality necessary for enjoying its games? Certainly not—games run on the system regardless of how high the 3D slider is turned up. Rather, the 3D projection is meant to augment your experience, and some players find it's handy for gauging the depth of tricky jumps in 3D platforming games like Super Mario 3D Land.

    Speaking personally, I almost always keep the 3D off on my 3DS. It saves battery power and I rarely feel it's needed, though it admittedly makes the graphics pop in certain games, which is fun to behold.
  • The Nintendo 2DS's screen measurements are identical to the 3DS, not the 3DS XL: The Nintendo 2DS's screens are approximately the same size as the 3DS's: 3.53 inches (top screen, diagonally) and 3.02 inches (bottom screen, diagonally), not the 3DS XL's (4.88 inches for the top screen, and 4.18 inches for the bottom screen).

    Using the term "screens" is even a bit misleading. The 2DS actually utilizes one large screen that's divided by plastic borders.
  • The Nintendo 2DS Feels thicker and more "plastic-like" than the Nintendo 3DS or 3DS XL: Frankly speaking, the Nintendo 2DS is shaped almost like a plastic wedge of cheese. It's thicker near the top (where the L and R buttons are situated) and thins out towards the bottom screen. It's still lightweight (comparable to a regular 3DS) and quite comfortable to hold, though it does take some getting used to if you're used to the 3DS.

    Note: Neither the Nintendo 3DS or 2DS are packed with headphones.
  • The Nintendo 2DS can't close like the Nintendo 3DS: Something to keep in mind if you're the type that takes your portable game systems everywhere is that the Nintendo 2DS features a tablet-style design, which is quite different from the hinged "clamshell" design of the Nintendo 3DS and 3DS XL. In other words, your 2DS screens are constantly naked and therefore subject to potential scratches if it gets banged around in a bag or purse full of change and keys.

    Which One Should You Buy?

    Choosing between the Nintendo 2DS and 3DS depends on where you are with 3DS ownership to begin with. Have a look at some of these questions to think about before you decide which device to buy.

    • Have you been see-sawing over getting your own Nintendo 3DS but find price is an issue? The Nintendo 2DS is a very attractive buy. For $79.99 USD, you'll have access to the 3DS's stellar library on top of the DS's backlog of epic games.
    • Are you completely disinterested in the 3DS's 3D function? Maybe you're visually impaired and unable to "see" 3D images. Are you uncertain about what kind of effect 3D imagery has on children's developing eyes? Even though you can completely disable the 3DS's 3D slider, the 2DS is still a good option in these instances. Why pay a premium for a function you technically can't, or don't want, to use?
    • Do you already own a Nintendo 3DS or 3DS XL, and find it's constantly getting hijacked by a sibling or your kids? When it's returned, is it covered with sticky fingerprints? Do you fear Junior might get a bit rough and loosen your 3DS's sensitive hinges? In this instance, the Nintendo 2DS is a durable, child-friendly gift that will make any youngster happy and give you (and your 3DS) peace of mind.
    • Are you a collector of portables or game systems in general? The Nintendo 2DS should make an interesting addition to your collection.

    If, however, you're an older player that knows how to take care of your devices, and if money isn't an issue, you should choose the Nintendo 3DS.

    Specifically, the large-screened Nintendo 3DS XL. While the 3D functionality isn't the runaway hit Nintendo probably expected it to be, it still enhances certain games. You'd be surprised how much it adds to The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

    The 3DS's clamshell design is also preferable if you're a commuter. Putting your Nintendo 3DS to sleep is simply a matter of closing it instead of toggling a switch. What's more, when the 3DS is closed, its screens are protected. You can buy carrying cases for the Nintendo 2DS, but unzipping the case and pulling out your device is a bit of a hassle if all you want to do is check your StreetPasses.

    Whichever model you choose, be confident that both the Nintendo 3DS and 2DS are capable of playing awesome games.