Over the years, I’ve learned it’s impossible to predict Nintendo, and that’s why you can never count them out. When the 3DS was dying, no one could have seen the massive price cut and ambassador program that gave the system the second wind it needed to become a serious threat that went on to essentially kill the Vita. But somehow, even though I expect to be surprised by then every time, Nintendo always manages to do something completely insane that no one could ever see coming.

This week, it was the 2DS.

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If you haven’t heard of it by now, the 2DS is Nintendo’s new 3DS iteration. It’s a kid-focused handheld that strips out the glassesless 3D feature and the clamshell design in exchange for a lower price and increased durability. Which is to say it looks like it was made by Tonka and it costs $119.99, about $40 cheaper than the standard 3DS.

According to Nintendo, it also boasts slightly increased battery life, a bigger stylus with a dock on the side of the system (where it should have always been), and a sleep mode switch that replaces closing the 3DS clamshell to activate sleep mode. Additonally, the two screens are actually one large touchscreen separated by the casing, with the top screen covered to prevent people from touching it.

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It’s a smart move from Nintendo. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence around the internet and from Gamestop employees about parents holding off on the 3DS out of worry that it’ll ruin their children’s eyes. The 3DS (and every 3DS game) even has to have a little notice on it, warning that children under 7 probably shouldn’t play games in 3D, lest their corneas rocket out of their eye sockets or something. So it assuages that worry for parents.

The new design also gets rid of the 3DS’s flimsy hinge. I’m not one to jump around and move a lot while playing a handheld game, but I’ve had the 3DS top screen shift around when the bus takes a sharp turn, or the subway gets a little bumpy, I can’t imagine how bad it must be for a kid, who’s probably going to get a little hyperactive with their new toy. The brick-like design, with the covered top screen and thick top makes the 2DS look like a safer proposition for parents afraid their kids will break their $160 toy on day one.

Now, it’s not all sunshine and roses for the 2DS. Its existence and branding aren’t exactly the best thing in the world for Nintendo. The name is one thing. We all know it’s ridiculous sounding, but it’s also too clever by half. Sure its sort of a cut little pun, similar to the 3DS, but think back to when that system launched. I can remember Gamestop employees frustrated trying to explain the difference between the regular DS and the 3DS to confused parents. They weren’t frustrated because the parents were misinformed; they were frustrated because it’s sort of hard to explain why a DSi can’t play 3DS games when their names are so close.

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And that’s the kicker. Nintendo painted themselves into a corner with the name. Of course they wanted to name it something similar to the DS, the DS sold tens of millions. But now consumers don’t get the difference. The same thing happened to the WiiU.  WiiU doesn’t sound like a sequel to the Wii, it sounds like an expansion, like the Wii MotionPlus, or the Wii Speak. Even Sony has the sense to just number them.

You now have three 3DS systems on the market, alongside the DS, which is still selling pretty decently. The DS can’t play 3DS games, but the 2DS can. But the 3DS and 3DS XL play all the games that the 2DS can, only with the option to play them in 3D. And the 3DS XL has bigger screens, which don’t actually change the experience. And depending o the DS you get it also has a slot at the bottom for Game Boy Advance games from a decade ago.

Do you see where it gets confusing?

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Not to mention the fact that the lack of 3D splinters the market. There really aren’t very many 3DS games that have a heavy focus on the 3D features, but games like Super Mario 3D Land, the best selling game on the system, have levels that can get pretty difficult if you have the 3D turned off. If the 2DS takes off, we’re less likely to see games that utilize the 3D, since anyone who has a 2DS won’t be able to play. Of course, I can’t remember the last time I turned on the 3D, so it’s no great loss to me, but it certainly got a lot trickier for a developer with an interesting idea for a 3D game to get the greenlight.

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But make no mistake. The 2DS will take off. It’s launching on October 12th, the same day as Pokémon X and Y, in blue and red colours that scream “bundle with Pokémon” to me. It’s targeted at young children, who are going to want Pokémon this holiday season, and is launching with a system that addresses parental concerns while also getting pretty close to very parent friendly $100. It’s an almost guaranteed formula for sales.

Nintendo is going to have an uphill battle explaining what the 2DS is to parents, and explaining why it’s different than the 3DS, but with enough signage, I think they can overcome that hurdle.

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There’s a more interesting nugget hidden amongst the 2DS debate though. It only has one screen, and it’s shaped shockingly like a tablet. You’d need to be living under a rock to miss all the news stories about kids getting into tablets at younger and younger ages, and becoming incredibly well informed about their devices. Nintendo wants a piece of that action, and they want it bad. Kids are mostly using tablets to play games, and Nintendo can offer something app developers can’t: Pokémon and Mario.

I doubt the 2DS is ever going to steal the iPad’s thunder, but between it and the Wii U game pad, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next Nintendo handheld doesn’t launch with tablet and clamshell options. One intended for kids, one marketed to older gamers. Nintendo might pretend they aren’t afraid of Apple, but the 2DS marks the start of a serious effort to take tablet gaming back into Nintendo’s hands. After all, the Game Boy was basically a brick with a screen, and what is that if not the tablet of the late ‘80s?

 

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