Nintendo has, for reasons known only to itself, released a whopping six different consoles within what it calls the ‘3DS family’ since the first 3DS released in 2011. That’s basically one a year.
Only three of those models are on sale right now, with the rest having been discontinued, but it’s still a pretty confusing process for prospective 3DS buyers to figure out what they should pick up – not helped by a slightly confusing naming system.
Still, the 3DS is one of the best game consoles you can buy right now, and the best 3DS games are among some of the greatest you can buy on any console, so there’s still plenty of good reason to pick one up.
With that in mind we’re going to break down each of the 3DS consoles currently on the market – along with a brief discussion of the discontinued models – to help you figure out which 3DS you should buy.
What 3DS and 2DS consoles are there?
First up, let’s break down the six different consoles that Nintendo has produced:
If that all seems a bit much, don’t worry – you don’t actually have six to pick from. That’s because the original 3DS and 3DS XL have both been discontinued, replaced by their ‘New’ variants, and are now only available through second-hand retailers.
Even the New 3DS is now ironically old. Nintendo is phasing the model out, with the console out of stock in most UK stores, and no longer listed in its official 3DS family specs comparison chart – production has even ended in Japan, though not in other regions yet.
We’re going to break down each of the three currently available consoles – the New 3DS XL, 2DS, and New 2DS XL – one by one, with advice on who each console is best for and info on where to buy them from.
Since they’re hard to find, we’ll discuss the discontinued models briefly at the end of the article, and include a few tips there for tracking them down second-hand.
But before that, here’s a quick chart breaking down the key features of all six models:
|3DS||3DS XL||2DS||New 3DS||New 3DS XL||New 2DS XL|
|2D or 3D?||2D and 3D||2D and 3D||2D only||2D and 3D||2D and 3D||2D only|
|Plays 3DS games||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Plays DS games||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Top screen size||3.53in||4.88in||3.53in||3.88in||4.88in||4.88in|
|NFC/Amiibo reader||Sold separately||Sold separately||Sold separately||Built-in||Built-in||Built-in|
|SD card included||2GB SD||4GB SD||2GB SD||4GB microSD||4GB microSD||4GB microSD|
|Charger included||Yes||Sold separately||Yes||Sold separately||Sold separately||Yes|
|Availability||Second-hand only||Second-hand only||New||Second-hand only||New||New|
Right now, this is the only 3DS you can buy new that is actually, well, a 3DS – meaning it includes the optional stereoscopic 3D effect on the top screen.
Like all the main 3DS consoles, it uses a folding clamshell design, with a touch screen on the bottom section, and a larger 3D screen for the top.
As the name might give away, the New 3DS XL boasts larger screens than the previous non-XL 3DS models, with a 4.88in display on the top, and 4.18in on the bottom. That alone would make this a worthwhile upgrade if you’re coming from one of the smaller consoles.
In terms of buttons you get the standard four face buttons, Circle Pad, D Pad, and Start, Select, and Home. As a ‘New’ 3DS, it also includes an extra set of shoulder buttons for four in total (R, L, ZR, ZL), and the C Stick, a small nubbin that just about serves as a second stick.
The other big change for the ‘New’ model is that it boasts more RAM and a faster processor than the older models, meaning you can expect slightly improved performance and load times across most titles.
There are also a handful of games that require a ‘New’ model to play, including some big titles like Fire Emblem Warriors and Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, and others that just play better on the ‘New’ models thanks to the extra buttons.
Finally, the ‘New’ models boast slightly improved 3D and support for Amiibo, Nintendo’s interactive toys that also work on the Wii U and Switch and allow players to unlock new features and gameplay options in certain games.
All that means that if you’ve got an original 3DS or 3DS XL, there’s plenty of reason to upgrade – you’ll get better performance, more buttons, more games to play, and potentially bigger screens if you don’t already have an XL.
If you’re looking to buy your first console though, the only reason to opt for the New 3DS XL is if you’re willing to pay a premium for stereoscopic 3D – otherwise, you’re better off going for one of the cheaper 2DS models.
If it’s your first 3DS, it’s worth noting that for some reason the New 3DS XL doesn’t come with an AC adapter included – so you’ll have to buy one separately. Both of the other models include a charger in the box.
The 2DS is a bit of an anomaly, but its main selling point is simply that it’s the most budget-friendly DS model around.
Nintendo released the 2DS in 2013 as a cheaper version of the 3DS, dropping the stereoscopic 3D effect to keep prices low, and appease parents worried about exposing their kids to the 3D effect too young.
That’s far from the only change though. The 2DS dropped the DS line’s iconic clamshell design, instead opting to lay out both screens on top of one another in a single block with a gradient to it.
It’s more ergonomic and comfortable to hold than it looks, but there are still some downsides: it’s less portable because it doesn’t fold over, and you’ll probably want a carry case to keep the screen free of scratches.
It’s also important to note that the 2DS is neither ‘New’ nor ‘XL’. That means it has smaller screens (3.53in on top, 3.02in below), and doesn’t include the C stick, extra shoulder buttons, or the faster hardware, so there are a few games it simply can’t play.
One final minor change is that it uses regular SD cards rather than microSD, though as with both of the other consoles it comes with a 4GB card pre-installed.
The big upshot is that it’s really, really cheap. You can usually find one for £79.99/$79.99, often with a game included, and it’s available in a load of different colours and designs, making it even more ideal for kids.
Essentially, this is the DS console to buy either if you’re on a tight budget, or if it’s for a younger kid – it’s less likely to break, and cheaper to replace if it does.
Nintendo’s latest DS console is somewhat of a compromise between the other two – and as far as we’re concerned, it’s the best of the lot.
The New 2DS XL takes the same clamshell design as the New 3DS XL, though refines it slightly with slimmer bezels around the screens (making the whole console smaller and lighter) and some adjusted button, LED, and cartridge slot placement.
Like the 2DS it drops the stereoscopic 3D effect, but it still boasts the XL size screens, additional buttons, Amiibo support, and faster processor and RAM of the New 3DS XL. That means that just like that console it can play every DS and 3DS game – it just can’t show them in 3D.
Essentially, the New 2DS XL pairs the design and functionality of the New 3DS XL with the 2D screens of the 2DS – and the corresponding reduction in price, which leaves this priced neatly between the two other models at £129.99/$149.99.
For most people, this is the model we’d recommend for offering the best of both worlds – it’s almost as budget-friendly as the 2DS, and almost as feature-rich as the New 3DS XL – especially if you don’t care much for 3D.
Finally, let’s spare a thought for the 3DS consoles left behind. Nintendo has officially discontinued two models and seems to be phasing out a third, but it’s still possible to pick them up second-hand, so they’re worth discussing.
If you want to buy any of these discontinued models, you might want to check out our guide to buying old games and consoles, but we’ll also include links to help you find them on eBay.
First up, the original 3DS, which came out way back in 2011. This features the same screen sizes as the 2DS (3.53in on top, 3.02in below) but uses the clamshell design and has the 3D effect.
As an older model, it uses the slower processor and RAM, so can’t play New 3DS exclusive games and also doesn’t have the C stick, ZL/ZR buttons, or Amiibo support. Still, as the oldest 3DS it’s also generally the cheapest to pick up second-hand, and we’re fans of its glossy metallic design.
Released less than a year after the original, the 3DS XL is a slight redesign that incorporates larger screens – the same size as in the current XL models.
Other than that, and a slight aesthetic change, the design is pretty much the same as the base 3DS – though it does boast a slightly longer battery life.
Released alongside the New 3DS XL, the New 3DS is slowly being discontinued – they’re increasingly hard to find, and Nintendo has already ceased production of the console in Japan.
The New 3DS boasts all the same tech and design of the New 3DS XL, it’s just packed into a smaller chassis and has smaller screens – though it’s worth noting that they’re slightly bigger than those of the original 3DS.
If the New 3DS XL is a bit out of your budget but you know you want to play games in 3D, this is probably your best bet – it’ll play all the New 3DS exclusives, and has the expanded button layout and Amiibo support. You just have to make do with slightly smaller displays.