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- The Nintendo Switch is a bonafide hit, and a great console on its own merits.
- But the Nintendo 3DS family of portable systems might be a better bet for younger Nintendo fans, especially.
- The consoles are cheaper – the Switch costs $300; the most expensive 3DS is $199.
- The games are plentiful – the 3DS boasts some all-time great games in the “Super Mario” and “Legend of Zelda” franchises, plus lots and lots of others.
- For the holiday season, Nintendo is selling an $80 2DS console, which can play just about every 3DS game, bundled with “Super Mario Maker.” It’s an amazing deal.
Nintendo is on one of the hottest streaks of its 128-year history: The new Nintendo Switch console is a bona fide smash hit, with lots of amazing games available and more to come.
But while the Nintendo Switch is super-great, I’d urge you to at least think twice about picking one up.
While all eyes are on the Switch, the 8-year-old Nintendo 3DS has quietly become one of the best deals in video-game history. You can get started with the Nintendo 3DS for a lot less than the Switch, and play some of the very best games of this or any other generation. It’s especially great for the younger generation – the consoles and games are both cheaper, and there are so many timeless classics for them to enjoy.
Here are a few reasons why the Nintendo 3DS might be the console to pick up for the young Nintendo fan in your life this holiday season.
The Nintendo Switch costs $299. Meanwhile, the cheapest member of the Nintendo 3DS family of systems costs $79.
Wait, “family” of systems? Stick with me here, because this is where it gets a little complicated. Nintendo offers a selection of consoles, in different shapes and sizes, all of which can play Nintendo 3DS games.
The lineup, as you’ll see on store shelves today:
Nintendo 2DS ($79) – Not only is it the cheapest option, but it comes with a game pre-installed. You can buy a 2DS bundled with “Super Mario Maker,” a great game that lets you design your own “Super Mario” levels. The drawbacks: It doesn’t offer Nintendo’s neat glasses-less 3D feature (if that’s what you’re into), you can’t scan Nintendo’s Amiibo figurines without a dongle, and it doesn’t support buying and downloading classic Super Nintendo games like “Super Mario World,” as the others do.
New Nintendo 2DS XL ($150) – The most recent addition to the line, and probably the best balance between power and price on the menu. It boasts a clamshell design, so you can fold it up and shove it in a pocket or backpack without worrying about damaging the screen. The only real trade-off is that you lose that same glasses-less 3D feature. But honestly, you won’t miss it. It comes bundled with “Mario Kart 7.”
New Nintendo 3DS XL ($199) – The best of the best, the tip of the top. It has all the same specs as the 2DS XL, but also offers that 3D feature. It’s not strictly necessary, but the 3DS XL is for those who don’t want to limit their options.
Props to Nintendo for letting users customize their Nintendo Switch consoles – you can buy the system’s Joy-Con controllers in an expanding range of colors, adding some flair.
But if you want something that really stands out, the 3DS family might be right for you.
The Nintendo 2DS comes in a slick yellow-and-red that matches the construction zone aesthetic of the included “Super Mario Maker” game.
There’s also a $159 version of the New Nintendo 2DS that comes in a flashy “Legend of Zelda” motif, to match to included copy of “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D.” Otherwise, the “Mario Kart 7” bundle comes in a slick black-and-blue design.
3. Battery life
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The Nintendo Switch gets three, maybe four hours of battery life when it’s not connected to power, depending on what you’re playing.
Meanwhile, the New Nintendo 2DS XL and New Nintendo 3DS XL both get around 7 hours of playtime – though you’ll get less if you use the 3D effects on the 3DS. The 2DS tops out at around 5.5 hours, which is still better than the Switch.
4. Apps like Netflix
Believe it or not, the Nintendo 3DS offers apps for Netflix, Hulu, and even a web browser. Plus, the New Nintendo 2DS and 3DS have cameras on the outside that you can use to take 2D and 3D photos.
Meanwhile, the Nintendo Switch only gets Hulu and YouTube, with no sign of when Netflix might drop. That makes the apps a nice little perk for 3DS owners.
This is the big one. While the Nintendo Switch has some truly amazing games – including “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,” “Super Mario Odyssey,” and the forthcoming new “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” – it’s still in the earliest stages of building out its games library.
Meanwhile, the Nintendo 3DS has been around in some form since 2011, and there are well over 1,200 titles available at the time of writing. Better still, the most expensive 3DS games top out at $40, versus the standard $60 price tag on Switch games.
The 3DS lineup includes some of Nintendo’s top franchises, like…
The 3DS is a magnificent Mario machine. Just in terms of “Super Mario” titles, you’ve got:
- “Super Mario 3D Land,” a great 3D platformer.
- “New Super Mario Bros. 2,” a retro-tinged side-scrolling Mario game that supports two players at the same time.
- “Mario Kart 7,” a fabulous entry in the long-running racing franchise.
- “Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey,” a remake of the classic Game Boy Advance role-playing game.
- “Paper Mario: Sticker Star,” another roleplaying game with a papercraft aesthetic.
- “Luigi’s Mansion,” a remake of the ghost-busting Nintendo GameCube classic, which casts Mario’s brother in a rare starring role.
- And more besides, believe it or not.
“The Legend of Zelda” is one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises, and the 3DS is home to several amazing games in the series.
- “The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds” is an all-new sequel to the Super Nintendo’s classic “Link to the Past.” This game is easily a high point for the “Zelda” series overall, so don’t miss this one.
- “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D” is a remake of the 1998 Nintendo 64 classic. “Ocarina” brought Zelda into three dimensions for the very first time, and it’s well worth revisiting now.
- “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D” is also a Nintendo 64 remake. This is one of the oddest and darkest titles in the series, but also among the most challenging and rewarding.
Nintendo promises that a proper new game in the Pokémon series is coming to the Nintendo Switch in the not-too-distant future. This year, the Switch got “Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu” and “Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee,” remakes of the classic “Pokémon Yellow” from 1998.
Until then, if you gotta catch ’em all, the 3DS is the only game in town. The 3DS is the home to last proper games in the franchise: Pokémon Ultra Sun and Pokémon Ultra Moon. More recently, Nintendo launched “Detective Pikachu,” an unlikely mystery game set in the world of the games – and the basis for the forthcoming Ryan Reynolds blockbuster film.
From the more recent “Metroid: Samus Returns,” to the classic “Animal Crossing: New Leaf,” to oddball titles like “Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice,” the 3DS has something for everybody.
The Nintendo Switch is great, but…
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Mind you, the Nintendo Switch is still a great console, and its games library is fast-expanding. But according to Nintendo’s own data, most people use it as a portable console – and if you’re looking to buy a portable console, there’s nothing better than the 3DS.
And the 3DS family of systems could be the best bet yet for younger gamers — the consoles are cheaper, the games are plentiful, excellent, and cheap, they get better battery life than the Switch. Lots of kids would be happy to find a 3DS under their Christmas tree this season, I’d wager.
- Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Nintendo