Nintendo 2DS XL Review: A Fantastic Handheld at a Great Price

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Even with the monstrous success of the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo's 3DS handhelds are as alive and well as ever. The company just refined the popular portable once more with the $149 New Nintendo 2DS XL, which retains the best features of the New 3DS XL while ditching the 3D functionality in favor of a lower price and slimmed-down design.

The result is an excellent version of Nintendo's long-running handheld, though one that feels dated in a post-Switch world. Still, if you don't already own a 3DS or simply can't plunk down $300 for a new console, the New Nintendo 2DS XL is a fantastic and affordable entry point into one of the best game libraries of all time.

The Nintendo Portable, Perfected

The New 2DS XL is one of Nintendo's sleekest handhelds yet, and is arguably better looking than any version of the 3DS. With a black plastic design highlighted by blue buttons, it's unassuming enough to be played in public while still giving off a fun, Nintendo-ey aesthetic.

It also simply feels great, thanks to a matte coating and feathery 9-ounce frame that makes it both lighter and less smudge-prone than the glossy New 3DS XL. The one drawback to the New 2DS XL design is its fairly bulky hinge, which now houses the system's front-facing camera (why Nintendo's handheld still has a blurry 480p selfie cam, I don't know).

However, it's a small trade-off that lets the New 2DS XL do a lot in a small package. The new handheld manages to offer the same screen size as the larger New 3DS XL, just with a lot less bezel and no 3D. It reaps all of the benefits of the "New" 3DS family, including a right analog nub for better camera control, two additional shoulder buttons, built-in Amiibo support and improved processing power that lets it play a few New-exclusive games.

The New 2DS XL also makes some notable quality-of-life improvements over its more premium sibling, including a protective flap that keeps your game cartridges from accidentally popping out. Unlike the 3DS XL, the New 2DS XL actually includes a charger, and allows you to swap microSD cards without having to unscrew the back panel with a very specific screwdriver.

Since the 2DS XL isn't much bigger than an iPhone 7 Plus, I've been stuffing it in my pocket and bringing it on trips that I normally leave my Switch at home for.

These changes make the New 2DS XL one of Nintendo's most complete, delightfully portable handhelds yet. As much as I love my Nintendo Switch, playing it on the train is a somewhat laborious process of taking it out of my bag and then pulling it out of its case. But since the 2DS XL isn't much bigger than an iPhone 7 Plus, I've been stuffing it in my pocket and bringing it on trips that I normally leave my Switch at home for.

Does 2DS Hold Up Today?

While the New 2DS XL looks and feels great, it's still powered by the same dated 3DS software that first debuted in 2011.

After months of using the Switch, the 2DS' menus felt slow and clunky, and I found myself yearning for the ability to take screenshots or instantly pop into my friends’ list. And although the 3DS game library is fantastic, I couldn't help missing the Switch's console-grade graphics any time I played some Hey! Pikmin or Pokémon Sun at a smudgy 400 x 240 resolution.

The good news is that folks upgrading from a non-"New" 3DS will enjoy slightly faster load times and download speeds. Games such as Mario Kart 7 and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds looked every bit as crisp and colorful on the 2DS XL as they did on my 3DS XL. But if you're expecting the New 2DS XL to perform like a modern piece of tech, you'll be let down.

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An Incredible Game Library

Despite being a bit underpowered, the New 2DS XL grants access to a phenomenal library of games that's still growing today. The 3DS lineup is highlighted by essential hits such as A Link Between Worlds, Super Smash Bros. and Animal Crossing: New Leaf, as well as some of the finest Mario, Pokémon and Fire Emblem games ever made.

Nintendo isn't slowing down 3DS support anytime soon, with such big first-party titles Miitopia and Hey! Pikmin arriving at launch and new Metroid and Pokémon games coming this fall.

The handheld also has a healthy stable of indie and third-party games, plays older DS cartridges, and, unlike the Switch, allows you to download a variety of NES, SNES and Game Boy titles. Nintendo isn't slowing down 3DS support anytime soon, either, with big first-party titles Miitopia and Hey! Pikmin launching alongside the 2DS XL on July 28 and new Metroid and Pokémon games coming this fall.

MORE: 13 Big Games Coming to Nintendo Switch

2DS vs. 3DS vs. Switch

The New Nintendo 2DS XL makes Nintendo's handheld lineup bigger and more confusing, so which one should you buy?

With its 3.5 x 3-inch screen, the $79 Nintendo 2DS is the entry-level model. It features a non-foldable design that's ideal for kids, but with mono speakers and no 3D functionality. It can't play the handful of "New" exclusives that are out there, including Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, as well as any downloadable Super NES game. At $149, the 4.9 x 4.2-inch New Nintendo 2DS XLis a notable step up, with 82 percent more screen, extra buttons and a faster processor within a pocket-friendly clamshell design.

The $199 New Nintendo 3DS XL sits at the high end, with all of the features of the 2DS XL as well as the ability to play games in 3D. While the 3D effect adds some nice depth to certain games, I almost always keep it off when playing my New 3DS XL. You won't be missing out on much if you don't pay $50 extra for it.

There's also the $299 Nintendo Switch, which is a more powerful console that you can both play on your TV and take on the go. Its library isn't nearly as robust as that of the 3DS, but it's already home to such big hits as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2. And while the Switch is more expensive than Nintendo's dedicated handhelds, it also offers the gorgeous graphics and snappy performance of a full-on home console.

MORE: Nintendo Switch vs. PS4 vs. Xbox One: Which Console Should You Get?

Bottom Line

My biggest gripe with the New Nintendo 2DS XL is that it simply feels dated compared to the Nintendo Switch. But not everyone can afford (let alone find) Nintendo's new $300 console, and for half the price, the 2DS XL serves as a worthwhile alternative for kids, folks on a budget, or simply anyone who's yet to experience the excellent 3DS library.

Even without the nonessential 3D functionality of the more expensive 3DS XL, the New 2DS XL's design improvements make it even better than its bigger brother. And while the Switch's game library is still filling out, the 3DS lineup already hosts incredible exclusives, lots of good indies and tons of retro games. The $79 Nintendo 2DS is a much cheaper entry point (especially for younger gamers), but if you're willing to pay extra for better features, the New 2DS XL is the essential version of Nintendo's enduring handheld.

Photo Credit: Shaun Lucas/Tom's Guide

Michael Andronico

Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.