Ever since Nintendo introduced the DS Lite – and really even further back than that, to the days of the original DS and Game Boy Advance SP – handheld gamers have grown kind of used to “clamshell” designs with their fancy hinged screens. I’m not too surprised that one of the common reactions I’ve seen to the newly-announced 2DS, which ditches this design for a “slate”-like form factor, is “why would anyone want this?” I was a little skeptical at first, too.
However, the more I look at the 2DS – the more I think about the more brick-like design, the form factor, and the decision to back away from the 3D effect – the more I like it. It just makes sense, given the goals Nintendo is hoping to achieve.
No More 3D
Let’s face it: from the beginning, the 3D effect has been more of a liability for Nintendo than an asset. Right off the bat, we know it cost a prohibitive amount of money – cutting the price to a range the market could bear pushed unit sales into the red profit-wise – but apart from that, it’s clear that there was a great deal of paranoia surrounding whether 3D was good for children’s health, whether it would cause headaches while playing, and so on. It’s no surprise to me that Nintendo’s now distancing themselves from a 3D-dominated future for handhelds, because the idea just wasn’t working.
I wrote an editorial last year titled “Nintendo 3DS Should Not Have Focused on 3D.” My salient points were that 3D sucks up a lot of the power that could be put to more important tasks, such as faster processing, extending battery life, and so on – all things that make the play experience and game experience fundamentally better – and that 3D never really had a chance as a system-defining feature as long as games had to be rendered playable in 2D. It seems that Nintendo has finally taken note, and realized that 3D isn’t really the selling point they originally intended it to be.
Tough Times, Low Prices
I’ve always thought Nintendo was kind of insane for releasing a significantly more expensive handheld device in today’s more budget-sensitive landscape. To put things into perspective: 3DS debuted at $249.99 in 2011, a full $100 more than DS’s $149.99 launch price in 2004. Even then, history shows that DS didn’t even really take off until the introduction of the redesigned DS Lite ($129.99) in 2006. Since then, 3DS has seen a significant price cut to $169.99, but outside Japan the handheld has performed under Nintendo’s expectations.
2DS seems to be 3DS’s answer to the DS Lite, so much so that it’s even debuting at the same price: $129.99. That’s a number that more consumers are comfortable with – after all, they’ve considered handheld gaming as worth the cost of entry at that price point before. Nintendo seems to have realized that a tougher economy calls for lower prices and fewer bloated features first and foremost to avoid overshooting their market. That’s a lesson they’re starting to learn with Wii u as well: just because you pack more in doesn’t mean you can get away with charging more… or that your product will actually be more desirable.
No Hinge = Enhanced Durability
A knee-jerk reaction I’ve noticed regarding 2DS’s form factor is that the lack of a clamshell means the screen is always exposed, which leaves it vulnerable to damage. As it turns out, that’s not necessarily the case. A hinged design is actually more susceptible to breakage.
Moving parts are almost always more problematic than solid pieces in this regard. It’s not too difficult to break a hinge off or to bump the edge of the top screen against a surface when it’s flipped up, and either of those things can render a handheld totally unplayable. That sturdier “brick”-like design winds up being a godsend more than a liability – just think back to the relative indestructibility of the original Game Boy. Now you can drop your system, it can bump against your furniture every now and then, and it’ll probably come out alive.
I’m always hearing about the low build quality of game hardware today compared to the systems of the past. I’ve even experienced it with my 3DS – the hinge is already starting to feel a bit loose. The 2DS seems to represent a movement back toward the higher build quality that Nintendo’s always been known for.
One of my enduring problems with the current 3DS models is that they feel too darn small. I get cramps when I use them for too long, since there’s not really much bulk to grip onto. The D-pad is tremendously uncomfortable to use, and while the Circle Pad is actually a friendlier alternative to a full analog stick if you’re looking for an input substitute, I’d still rather play New Super Mario Bros. with its traditional layout. The L and R buttons feel small and don’t have a satisfying tactile feel. The Start and Select buttons are also pretty awkwardly placed – a nearly universal criticism of the original design.
2DS seems to address these concerns. It’s significantly bigger and thicker, for one, which should alleviate the cramping issue. The D-pad is now situated in a more ergonomically-friendly position, making it more usable. The L and R buttons are now larger and seem to better match the more “solid” feel of their console counterparts. The Start and Select buttons now mirror their placement on DS Lite. Everything about the new design seems more pleasant on a usability level – enough that I can actually see myself transferring to 2DS as my handheld platform of choice for Nintendo content.
I don’t think any of this – bar the lack of 3D – could have been achieved with the original clamshell design. The new button layout would have been impossible to implement – can you imagine having to reach across a hinge to use the Circle Pad? Since the hinged layout relegates the “controller” components of the system to the bottom half of the device, it’s fairly limiting with regard to negotiating the balance between portability and ergonomics. Nintendo VP of Sales and Marketing Scott Moffitt even mentioned that the lack of a hinge was a factor in bringing down the price.
Bearing all this in mind: yes, the 2DS is a bit of a curveball in the design department. However, most of the form factor changes are actually for the better – they address known issues with the current 3DS design. I can’t make any definitive statements until I hold one in my hands, but so far, I’m intrigued enough to give it a shot.