The Nintendo 3DS family has dominated the handheld console space since it launched in 2011. With glasses-free 3D in most models, 3DS has a huge library of games including Pokémon Sun and Moon, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Mario Kart 7, Yokai Watch, and many others. 3DS family has also sold 60 million consoles worldwide, way ahead of its portable rival the PlayStation Vita.
If you’re looking for a handheld console, 3DS or 2DS is therefore an easy choice. But as for which specific model to buy? That’s a much more difficult question!
Timeline of 3DS and 2DS versions
There are five main versions of the 3DS and 2DS. Here’s a timeline of all the models versions that have been released in the UK (not including colour options or limited editions).
- Nintendo 3DS (original version) – March 2011
- Nintendo 3DS XL (bigger screen) – July 2012
- Nintendo 2DS (no 3D, slate form factor, cheaper) – October 2013
- New Nintendo 3DS (better 3D, more buttons, more powerful, NFC) – February 2015
- New Nintendo 3DS XL (big-screen version of New 3DS) – February 2015
- New Nintendo 2DS XL (no 3D, clamshell form factor, bigger screen) - July 2017
3DS and 2DS feature comparison table
|Model||Screen size||3D||System power||Controls||Custom face plates?||Main selling point|
|New 3DS||3.88” (upper)
|Enhanced with face-tracking||Enhanced||Extra C-stick and shoulder buttons||Yes||Faster, better 3D, custom face plates|
|New 3DS XL||4.88” (upper)
|Enhanced with face-tracking||Enhanced||Extra C-stick and shoulder buttons||No||Bigger screen, faster, better 3D|
|New 2DS XL||4.88” (upper)
|No||Enhanced||Extra C-stick and shoulder buttons||No||Cheaper, faster, no 3D (suitable for under 7s)|
|None||Standard||Standard||No||Cheaper, no 3D (suitable for under 7s)|
|3DS (original)||3.53” (upper)
|3DS XL||4.88” (upper)
Current models: New 3DS, New 3DS XL and New 2DS XL
The original 2DS, 3DS and 3DS XL have been superseded by the New 2DS XL, New 3DS and New 3DS XL. The New 2DS XL also remains current as the only system in the family designed for under-7s. Here’s what you should know about the most current system line-up.
New 3DS: faster, better 3D, custom face plates and new design
If you want the most portable (i.e. smallest), up-to-date version of the 3DS, New 3DS is the one to go for. New 3DS offers:
- A faster, quad-core CPU, 256MB RAM (twice what’s in original 3DS and 2DS) and more VRAM
- Extra controls including a second analogue ‘C-stick’ and two extra shoulder buttons
- Better 3D, which uses face tracking for more stability
- Custom face plates to change the look of your console
- A new design with coloured A/B/X/Y buttons like the SNES
New 3DS XL: A bigger New 3DS with no custom face plates
If you prefer a bigger screen and you aren’t bothered about customising your console with face plates, New 3DS XL may be your best bet. It also has:
- Better battery life than the smaller New 3DS
- An arguably more-grown-up, less colourful design
Exclusive games: New 3DS (and New 3DS XL) also has some exclusive games, although not many. Xenoblade Chronicles 3D and Runbow will only play on ‘New’ systems. Many SNES Virtual Console games will also only play on New 3DS and New 3DS XL.
New Nintendo 2DS XL: cheaper and suitable for under-7s
One of the great drawbacks of the original 2DS was its slate form factor, which some felt made it difficult to hold for extended periods and left the screens exposed at all times. The New 2DS XL introduces the iconic clamshell design that's been common in Nintendo's handhelds for years in order to keep the screens scratch-free and make the unit more comfortable to play on.
As the name suggests, the New 2DS XL once again lacks 3D capability, which makes it cheaper and suitable for children under 7.
If you’re buying a handheld console for a small child, or just want the cheapest version available, the New 2DS XL is the best current option.
Lots of 3DS and 2DS colour options
Each 3DS and 2DS version has also offered a range of colour options. There are too many to list here, but colour options available in the UK in 2016 included:
- New 3DS – white or black (also customisable with cover plates)
- New 3DS XL – metallic black, metallic blue, orange and black, pearl white
- New 2DS XL - black and turquoise, white and orange
- 2DS – black/blue, transparent blue, transparent red, white/pink, white/red
- 3DS (original) – aqua blue, coral pink, cosmos black, ice white, metallic red
- 3DS XL – white, pink, blue, black, black/silver, black/blue, black/red
Special and limited edition 3DS and 2DS consoles
Finally, the 3DS family is made even more diverse by the huge number of special edition consoles that have been released.
Special edition consoles available in 2016 included:
- New Nintendo 3DS XL Majora’s Mask Edition
- New Nintendo 3DS XL Monster Hunter: Generations Edition
- New Nintendo 3DS XL Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer Edition
- Nintendo 2DS Pokémon Sun and Moon Editions
- Nintendo 2DS Pokémon Transparent Yellow Edition
Over 40 different limited edition 3DS and 2DS systems have been released, many of which were only available in Japan and most of which sold out long ago.