The Nintendo 3DS is an excellent handheld gaming system, but the 3D feature isn't integral. The third dimension can look very convincing, but you need to keep your head and the 3DS very still when using it, and many gamers turn off the 3D after playing for a while. Nintendo's 3DS XL has the same problem, and at £150, it costs almost as much as a Sony PlayStation Vita now (the Vita is currently pitched around £160).
You probably wouldn't want to give any of these devices to a small kid for fear of damage from abuse, and the 3D screens come with a warning for children aged six and under. Nintendo tackles these issues with the 2DS, a less expensive £99 handheld with a flat (rather than clamshell) design, no 3D support, but compatibility with every feature and game available on the 3DS.
The 3DS XL or the PS Vita might be more appealing to you, but the 2DS is a good option as an affordable, accessible, and feature-filled game system you can safely give to your kids.
Shaped like a thin wedge of cheese, the 2DS sports a slightly rounded top that's wider than the curved bottom. The face and back panel are mostly black, with a red or blue band around the edge (the red version looks particularly Gouda-like). The wider top edge hosts the game card slot, the power port, and shoulder buttons. The thin bottom edge houses the headphone jack and a sleep switch that puts the 2DS in a power-saving standby mode, just like closing the clamshell Nintendo handhelds does. On the triangular right edge, there's a place for the included stylus, an SD card slot, and a lanyard hole. On the left there’s a volume slider and another lanyard hole.
The face of the 2DS contains the displays and all of the controls of the 3DS XL, placed similarly to where they would be with the clamshell handheld unfolded. The 3.5in upper and 3in lower screens (both of which are actually parts of the same LCD panel, covered by a plastic bezel) sit in the centre of the handheld. The display is flanked by a circular analog pad and digital direction pad on the left, and four face buttons (A, B, X, and Y), Start, and Select buttons, and the power button with power and charging indicators on the right.
A front-facing camera sits above the top screen, and there’s a pair of cameras around the back that let the 2DS capture 3D video despite not being able to display it. (The 3D video feature is more useful for augmented reality features in certain games, which are fully functional on the 2DS). A large Home button lives below the bottom screen.
Since it doesn't fold like the 3DS or 3DS XL, the 2DS dwarfs the other two handhelds in their closed positions. The unfolded 3DS XL is larger, and the 2DS is less pocketable. For a device with 3.5in and 3in screens, it feels downright clunky when compared to the 3DS and its identical screen sizes, and even the 3DS XL with its big 4.9in top screen, and the PS Vita with a 5in OLED touchscreen. This is a trade-off that comes with the nice price; the 3DS XL and Vita cost £50 to £60 more respectively, and the original 3DS costs £35 more and offers a much sleeker, smaller body. The lack of a hinge makes the 2DS seem sturdier than the 3DS, though, at least in the sense that the most vulnerable spot on the clamshell design is now gone. However, this handheld feels more plasticky and less solid than the 3DS and 3DS XL.
The controls are fortunately untouched from the 3DS and 3DS XL, and the face buttons and analog pad are as large as they are on the 3DS XL. The shoulder buttons are slightly larger, and are concave so they feel much more comfortable under the fingers while you play. Depending on your tastes, the controls might sit too high on the front of the 2DS and too close to the shoulder buttons to feel comfortable. This is mostly an issue for adult users with larger hands. Kids should find the 2DS much easier to hold and play with.
Anything that you can do on the 3DS, you can do on the 2DS – except for seeing images in 3D, of course. 3DS games will render in 2D, and with the exception of a few minor puzzles in some games that rely on the 3D effect, like Super Mario 3D Land, this won't affect gameplay. You can still play original DS games either in card form or downloaded to an SD card. A respectable number of downloaded games fit on the included 4GB card, but you can expand up to a 32GB card to get a massive library of 3DS, DS, and Virtual Console titles onto the system.
The StreetPass and all Mii Plaza features and optional games that go with them work here. You can still use the 3D camera (the camera app defaults to 2D, but you can switch to 3D mode to take photos and videos to view on a 3DS), and the front-facing camera, the web browser, and even Netflix are all the same. Basically, the 2DS is a 3DS that doesn't display 3D.
The 2DS is clearly Nintendo's attempt to make a more accessible handheld for kids. It succeeds in putting parents at ease with its lower price and hinge-free design (and 2D screen, if the effects of 3D are a concern).
The 3DS and 3DS XL are still far superior handhelds for adults who want to play Nintendo handheld games, but at just £99 the 2DS gives little hands a sturdy, inexpensive game system with loads of games.
So there’s certainly an appeal here, and while the 2DS might not be your ideal do-it-all gaming handheld, if you have a young kid or a tight budget, it's your best choice.