Should You Buy the Nintendo 3DS Or the DSi?

The Nintendo 3DS, which arrived in North America on March 27, is the true successor to the Nintendo DS family of handheld gaming systems. Whereas the Nintendo DSi simply upgraded some of the Nintendo DS Lite's hardware features, the Nintendo 3DS plays a separate library of games and includes a special screen that shows off 3D images without the need for glasses.

The Nintendo 3DS is a cutting-edge piece of technology, but should you purchase one instead of a Nintendo DSi? This side-by-side comparison of the two systems will help you come to a decision.

The Nintendo 3DS can display games in 3D, and the DSi can't

Nintendo 3DS
Nintendo 3DS. Image © Nintendo

An obvious point, but worth mentioning since the Nintendo 3DS's 3D display is one of its most talked-about features. The 3DS's top screen can display a game's environments in 3D, which grants the player a better sense of depth. The 3D effect helps immerse the player into the game's world, but it can also affect gameplay. The game Steel Diver, for instance, the player sits behind a submarine periscope and fires torpedoes at enemy subs. By using 3D, it's easy to tell which enemy subs are closer (and thus more of a threat), and which are further away. The 3D effect can also be turned down or turned off entirely.

The Nintendo 3DS has a gyroscope and an accelerometer, and the DSi doesn't

In certain 3DS games, you can control the on-screen action by tilting the 3DS unit up and down, or by turning it side-to-side. This is all thanks to the magic of a built-in gyroscope and accelerometer. Not every game utilizes these features, however, and many that do also lets the player utilize a traditional control scheme. Star Fox 64 3D is an example of a 3DS game that makes heavy (though still optional) use of the accelerometer.

The Nintendo 3DS features backwards compatibility for Nintendo DS games

If you buy a Nintendo 3DS, you won't have to leave your DS library behind. The 3DS plays DS games (and, by extension, DSi games) via the game card slot in the back of the system.

Both the DSi and the 3DS can download DSiWare

DSiWare" is Nintendo's term for original, downloadable games developed for the DSi. Both the Nintendo 3DS and DSi can download DSiWare as long as you have access to a Wi-Fi connection.

The Nintendo 3DS can download and play Game Boy/GBA games, and the DSi can't

Nintendo's "eShop," accessible through the 3DS via a Wi-Fi connection, is stocked with retro Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance titles. You can download and play these blasts from the past for a certain price. If you're a Nintendo 3DS Ambassador, you may qualify for free Game Boy Advance downloads.

You can make Miis with the Nintendo 3DS, but not the DSi

The pudgy avatars that defined the social Wii experience are now on hand to help you personalize your 3DS. Only this time, you can create a Mii from scratch--or you can take a photo of yourself with the 3DS's camera and sit back while your face is instantly rendered Mii-style! You can share your Mii with other 3DS owners, even when you're carrying the system around in Sleep mode (closed). Wii owners can also transfer their Miis to their 3DS, though not vice-versa.

The Nintendo 3DS features unique pack-in software

The Nintendo 3DS comes pre-loaded with software that's meant to show off its 3D capabilities and help you enjoy the system's features to their fullest. This software includes the eShop (wherein you can download Game Boy and Game Boy Advance Games), the Mii maker, the Mii Plaza (wherein you can organize and swap your Miis), "Augmented Reality" games like "Face Raiders" and "Archery" that use the 3DS's cameras to bring the background to life and place them in a virtual world, and an internet browser.

The Nintendo 3DS can play mp3s from an SD card, and the DSi can't

The 3DS can play mp3 and AAC music files from an SD card. The DSi can play AAC files from an SD card, but doesn't support mp3 files.

The Nintendo 3DS can take 3D pictures, and the DSi can't

Thanks to its two external cameras, the Nintendo 3DS lets you say "Cheese!" in the third dimension. The Nintendo DSi can take pictures too, but not 3D pictures. Of course, the Nintendo 3DS can also take 2D pictures.

The Nintendo 3DS costs more than the Nintendo DSi--Though not by much

Ah, here's the catch. Because of its additional processing power and features compared to older models of the DS, the Nintendo 3DS costs $169.99 USD at the time this article was written. The Nintendo DSi cost $149.99 USD. However, the Nintendo DSi XL--which features a bigger, brighter screen than the DSi--cost $169.99.

The Nintendo 3DS launched at a suggested retail price of $249.99 USD, which Nintendo dropped in August of 2011. Currently, the 3DS costs as much as the Nintendo DSi XL, though if you shop around, you are almost certain to find retailers who are selling new DSi's and DSi XL's for a lower price.