Silly adult gamers. The 2DS is for kids.

August 30, 2013

The 2DS, Nintendo's latest handheld, alongside its older siblings. Screengrab by Hayley Tsukayama.

Nintendo turned quite a few heads this week when it unveiled a brand-new handheld, the 2DS. Or, to be more accurate, it tilted them.

What puzzled gamers was that while, at first glance, the 2DS looks almost exactly like a two-dimensional version of  Nintendo’s 3DS, the company also opted to remove something its handhelds have featured for the last decade: the hinge.

Rather than folding neatly into a clamshell that’s between 3.5 inches to 4 inches, the 2DS is rigid -- like a tablet, albeit with two little screens. That has a lot of drawbacks for older gamers, who have made the DS line one of the best selling in industry history. The hinge has made it easy to protect the dual-screens from scratches and helped them be compact enough to be slip easily in and out of pockets, briefcases, backpacks and purses.

But it’s clear from Nintendo’s advertising for the 2DS that, unlike with the PSP or Vita, its main market doesn’t include gamers who are indulging in a Pokemon battle or two on their commute. It’s aimed at young children, also known as the kind of gamer who never feels even slightly goofy for playing Pokemon -- even in public.

I wrote earlier this month about the perils nostalgia can pose for Nintendo. In this case, however, Michael Pachter, a gaming analyst for Wedbush Securities, said the company may have hit on the right kind of retro. The 2DS, he said, calls back to the easy-to-grip styling of the Game Boy. (Though, he added, he wouldn’t be surprised to see it fold again in later models.)

What really makes the 2DS strong, he said, is that it offers gamers a device that lets them play the 3D games made for the 3DS without the occasionally eye-straining depth. Many people, myself included, dial down the 3D effects on their 3DS and some people turn it off altogether. The company even warned parents when the 3DS launched three years ago that the extra effects weren’t good for the eyes of players under the age of 6.  The 2DS solves that problem, Pachter said, and well.

“It’s really smart to allow people to play all the great software out there for the 3DS and to give them a lower price point option,” Pachter said, predicting that the lower price point for the 2DS (the 2DS costs $129.99, compared to $169.99 for a 3DS) will drive demand up by 20 or 25 percent ahead of the all-important Christmas season.

He expects that the 2DS, due out Oct. 12, will do well for Nintendo as it works to stay on top of the handheld market -- though he also had grim projections for what that will look like down the road.

Handheld sales, which Nintendo saw peak at about 30 million, are projected to come in around 20 million this year. Pachter expects that to keep on dropping as players opt to do more gaming on multifunction devices -- read: smartphones and tablets -- and mobile games continue to improve.

This is a battle Nintendo and Sony will both lose in the long run.

“I still think that handhelds will remain under full frontal assault from smartphones and tablets for ever,” Pachter said. “It will probably not ever get back to 30 [million], ever.”

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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