What Is The Future Of Nintendo’s 3DS Line?

Image From Nintendo

A few months ago, we were all wondering how quickly the Nintendo Switch would kill off the company’s existing 3DS handheld line. Now I’m beginning to wonder if the 3DS might end up outliving the Switch…

Not only did Nintendo reaffirm its commitment to the 3DS in its last Direct presentation, it has now doubled down on its older handheld by announcing the New Nintendo 2DS XL, which will be released July 28th with a larger first-party launch lineup (Hey! PikminEver Oasis, and Miitopia) than the Switch had two months ago.

From a hardware perspective, the New 2DS XL is perhaps the perfect version of the 3DS line, as it has everything you want (sleek clamshell design, updated/more powerful internals, amiibo support, C-stick controls, a massive game library with full DS backwards-compatibility) and nothing you don’t (unused/uninteresting 3D capabilities, a stiff $199 price tag). Given the impressive 3DS sales up to this point, one wonders how many more of these things Nintendo could have sold if it had released something like the New 2DS XL from the start.

From a business perspective, however, this decision seems a but counterintuitive. The Switch is a perfectly good handheld console in its own right, so why would Nintendo continue its older, arguably inferior 3DS line alongside it? Wouldn’t the two consoles eat into each other’s market share? In theory, yes…but Nintendo appears to be subtly positioning its two consoles to target vastly different audiences, in order to keep them from stepping on each other’s toes.

Ever since the beginning, the Nintendo Switch has been specifically marketed to the young adult crowd:

  •  Its initial trailer features no children whatsoever.
  • The hardware is sleek, modern, and much more fragile-feeling than prior Nintendo consoles, and not the sort of things you want to let your five-year-old touch.
  • The Switch’s flagship games (Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey) are long, large explorations that cater to experienced players.
  • The Switch also makes a play for the e-sport crowd with Splatoon 2.

Contrast that with the 2DS and New 2DS XL:

  • Aside from a few older folks playing Super Smash Bros.the introductory trailer for the New 2DS XL features only children.
  • The original 2DS was an ugly-looking slate, but it also had their air of indestructibility that was a staple of past Nintendo consoles. The New 2DS XL takes this a step farther, as its clamshell design offers more protection to the console’s screens. While broken hinges have plagued some iterations of the 3DS, I’d be willing to bet Nintendo has hardened the pivot point on the New 2DS XL.
  • Some of the upcoming games are decidedly not hardcore titles—in fact, you could argue that they are watered-down versions of the genres/franchises they represent:
    • Hey! Pikmin is a 2D pseudo-platformer rather than a 3D time-limited resource-management game, and several reviewers who went hands-on with the game described it as a “casual sidescroller,”  a game “aimed at younger siblings,”and “a good introduction to the series for young players.”
    • Miitopia is an RPG focused squarely around your Mii characters and their interactions. The story doesn’t appear to be particularly deep, and battle is a very hands-off affair (you only have direct control over one character), so longtime RPG fans may find this title a bit thin. Instead, the game comes across as a silly-fun game that will appeal to younger players who want to gather up their friends and face off against their parents/teacher/etc.
  • Outside of Pokémon competitive play, there’s no real sport buzz around the 3DS line.

Given all this, it feels like Nintendo is actively pushing its 3DS line to be its “gateway drug” into the world of Nintendo. It’s a cheaper, more-durable, and even stylish system that seems tailor-made for a younger audience, something to distract them from their parents’ Switch until they can be trusted with it. This indicates that not only will the Switch not kill off the 3DS line, but that the 3DS and 2DS could potentially soldier on for many years into the future as the Switch’s weaker-but-enjoyable younger sibling.

However, such a conclusion raises a question about how Nintendo will split its iconic franchises between the two systems. For some franchises, this is an easy one: Mario, for example, has a natural split between its 2D and 3D titles, so one could easily see the New Super Mario Bros. successors moving to the 3DS while open-world adventures like Super Mario Odyssey become a Switch staple. For other franchises, however, the division is less clear. Do larger 3D games like Zelda become Switch exclusives while smaller 2D games like the Kirby series stay tethered to the 3DS line? Do more games follow the Pikmin model and develop a casual/hardcore split? And where in the world does Pokémon fit into all this?

For now, however, it’s clear that the 3DS line still has some life left in it, and if Nintendo follows through on its apparent kid/squid adult hardware split, it will remain a strong pillar of Nintendo’s business model for a very long time.