Nintendo has pulled back the curtains on its plans for this fall, and despite the relatively late date they've managed to slip in a few surprises -- not least of which is a new piece of hardware.
The Nintendo 2DS, as the name suggests, offers a new take on the 3DS. While it features a fully different form factor from the standard 3DS and XL (it discards the clamshell case for something that vaguely resembles an unholy union of a Game Boy, the Wii U GamePad, and a DS), the 2DS is functionally identical to its sibling. Every feature has carried across, including the touch screen, the relative sizes of the screens, the Circle Pad, the wireless functionality and software, and the 3D cameras. Despite the slate-style design, it even retains the system's sleep function through a slider on the bottom edge that puts the device instantly into a low-power mode.
However, even though it can "see" in 3D, what truly distinguishes the 2DS from 3DS is its lack of a 3D graphical effect. This, Nintendo explains, is entirely a cost-saving measure. Nintendo has designed the 2DS with younger gamers in mind, and as such its price undercuts the standard 3DS model at $129. And lest there be any doubt about the system's intended market, consider that it's launching day-and-date with Pokémon X & Y Versions... and is sold separately. Nintendo is clearly banking on the popularity of a new Pokémon (and the first to feature the wild 21st Century concept of polygonal graphics) this fall and hopes to coax younger gamers, or at least their parents, into jumping into the 3DS market with a more enticingly priced piece of hardware.
"Nintendo was quick to explain that the 2DS is not really meant for hardcore audiences"
When the 2DS launches on October 12, American gamers will be able to choose from two predominantly black models: One with blue trim and the other with red. European gamers will have the choice of black with blue or white with red. And Japanese gamers don't have a choice at all; the 2DS won't be arriving in Japan when it debuts elsewhere, and Nintendo hasn't indicated when (or if) it will.
The 2DS features full compatibility with the entire lineup of 3DS and DS software, though of course the former games will run strictly in 2D mode. Both cartridge-based and digital software are supported on the system, and the device ships with the same 4GB SD card as the 3DS XL. Besides the major redesign of the hardware layout and addition of a Sleep switch, fans will notice a few other minor changes: The 2DS (obviously) lacks a 3D slider, and its wireless functionality is controlled through software rather than via a physical switch. Finally, the system includes only a single speaker, though stereo sound is available through the headphone jack.
In testing the hardware, I found the 2D to be considerably lighter than the 3DS. It also feels more durable; it consists of a thicker, more rugged plastic than the slick, thin shell of the 3DS, and the lack of a hinge helps make it feel more solid as well. The control layout feels considerably more comfortable than that of the 3DS, with interface elements high on the face (similar to the GamePad). This benefits the D-pad in particular. Perceptually, I found the screens seemed larger than those of the standard 3DS model despite their being the same size.
Nintendo was quick to explain that the 2DS is not really meant for hardcore audiences. Instead, they're targeting those gamers with a new model of Wii U that comes bundled with The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD. Effectively the Deluxe edition of the Wii U -- a black model with 32GB of internal memory and a free game -- the Zelda bundle differs in that its GamePad comes emblazoned with Hylian script, similar to the Ocarina of Time 3DS from a few years back. Additionally, The Wind Waker HD comes preinstalled on the system (occupying less than 2GB of the internal storage), replacing the packaged copy of Nintendo Land.
With the Wind Waker bundle, the Wii U will also be seeing a price drop of $50; both the Deluxe and Wind Waker sets will now come in at $299. Curiously, the price of the basic white Wii U model will not see a cut, remaining at $299 just like the more value-oriented packages. Nintendo representatives mentioned that the standard set has sold through pretty well and not too many units remain in the supply chain, so it's safe to assume the standard model's days are numbered.
Both the Wind Waker bundle and the eShop version of the game will go on sale September 20, despite Nintendo's previous announcement that it wouldn't be available until October. But they weren't wrong, exactly, as the retail edition of Wind Waker HD won't hit stores until October 4. Similar to New Super Luigi U, the game hits the eShop first, and the retail edition will come in a special case (in this case, one featuring gold foil) -- presumably to encourage double-dipping among the hardcore.
Along with Wind Waker HD, Nintendo has firmed up release dates for most of the rest of its fall lineup.
The Legend of Zelda Wind Waker HD (digital version): September 20
The Legend of Zelda Wind Waker Wii U bundle (Wii U price drop): September 20
The Legend of Zelda Wind Waker HD (retail version): October 4
Nintendo 2DS: October 12
Pokémon X & Y Versions: October 12
Wii Party U: October 25
Super Mario 3D Land: November 22
The Legend of Zelda A Link Between Worlds: November 22
Mario Party 3DS: November 22
Donkey Kong Returns Tropical Freeze: December 6
Wii Fit U: Holiday
Mario & Sonic: Holiday
Jeremy Parish is Games Editor of USgamer.net, a sister site to GamesIndustry International, and the US consumer flagship of Gamer Network.