In what almost seems like a really late April Fool’s Joke, Nintendo did indeed decide to randomly roll out a significant new piece of hardware last night, a so-called “third option” in their self-contained market, as the New 2DS XL will slide in between the existing 2DS and the New 3DS XL.
“This new addition to Nintendo’s portable hardware line demonstrates our commitment to the hand-held market,” said Reggie Fils-Aime, President of Nintendo of America.
Nintendo finding huge success with the Switch and burgeoning success on mobile begs the question of what exactly is going to happen with their handheld division moving forward. And nowhere in the playbook did a new $150 version of the 2DS seem like it was in the cards, which is why this seems so completely random. And the timing? I’m not even publishing this article until morning because I was pretty sure no one was going to see it at 10 PM on a Thursday.
The larger question is the more important one though. What are Nintendo’s future handheld plans? The running theory was that Nintendo would continue 3DS support through this year, then phase out and hopefully merge its handheld division with the Switch, which would seem like the logical choice for Nintendo’s next portable handheld in addition to being its new home console. But introducing a new DS-family system in late July of this year implies that perhaps the dedicated handheld parade will continue for quite some time.
I’ve always talked about this being a core problem for Nintendo going forward, even if the Switch did end up being a hit. The problem is that if Nintendo does merge its handheld and console divisions into one piece of hardware, that’s a lot of lost sales. The 3DS sold 65 million units while the Wii U sold 13 million, so can something like the Switch make up that entire gap? That’s a tall order.
But anyone who has played the Switch knows how great handheld mode is and they’ll have one thought if Nintendo continues to support 2DS/3DS-exclusive development: Why can’t these games just be on the Switch?
This may be a Japan-facing move. The home console market in Japan is dismal and getting worse, but the 3DS has been huge over there, so Nintendo doesn’t want to let that market go. It may also explain the odd timing of this announcement, given that it was a more reasonable hour over there. But still, there are fundamental problems with continued DS-family support when the system is six years old and Nintendo’s hardware and software focus has now almost explicitly turned to mobile elsewhere.
If Nintendo maintains longer-term dedicated handheld support, they will be competing with themselves in mobile gameplay with the Switch vs. the 2DS/3DS vs. their own smartphone/tablet games. Something has to give, but is Nintendo ready to give up their handheld division which has never stopped performing incredibly well for them since the Game Boy era? Perhaps not, but then that seems like that would directly negatively impact the potential reach of the Switch, a system that would reach new heights with the likes of full Fire Emblem, Monster Hunter and Pokémon games in its catalog.
It’s a complicated situation and it’s nearly impossible to guess what Nintendo is going to do, considering their current course of action is to announce things like new handheld hardware on a random weeknight. Logically, the Switch should be the only handheld system Nintendo needs going forward, and if they didn’t want that to be the case, well, maybe they shouldn’t have developed a product that was clearly poised to cannibalize their other hardware.
Maybe the New 2DS XL and its ilk will not be long for this world, or maybe Nintendo has some grand master plan we can’t see, but for now, Nintendo’s commitment to producing overlapping hardware remains incredibly confusing.