With the launch of the Switch, Nintendo has almost entirely moved on from the disappointing Wii U. But the same can’t be said of the Nintendo 3DS. The Switch may occupy a place that straddles the line between a home console and a portable, causing some overlap with the 3DS line. Even still, the future for the handheld looks surprisingly bright, at least in the near term. This month sees the launch of not just a new hardware iteration with the New Nintendo 2DS XL, but also a handful of exciting releases, the kinds of games that feel ideally suited to the dual-screened handheld.
Here’s what Nintendo fans have to look forward to on July 28th and beyond.
New Nintendo 2DS XL
Quite possibly the last revision of the aging hardware, the 2DS XL sits squarely in the middle of the 3DS lineup at $149.99. For a more complete look at the device, be sure to check out my colleague Sam Byford’s review, but in brief: the New 2DS XL is one of the best handhelds the company has ever made. It’s both light and comfortable, and the top screen is now flush with the system, creating a much cleaner effect. For me, the loss of the glasses-free 3D mode — the one technical sacrifice in the New 2DS XL — doesn’t mean much since I never use the feature anyway.
That said, there are a few minor design niggles that make me prefer the larger New 3DS XL. I’m not a fan of the way the 2DS’s hinge juts out when the device is closed, for instance, and the speakers are located in a spot that’s often covered by my hands, necessitating headphones. Also, the tiny tray that pops out so you can slot in a game cartridge or swap the microSD card is incredibly flimsy. As a parent of two young kids, I don’t trust it at all.
These are mostly minor, and very personal complaints, however. The New 2DS XL provides virtually the same experience as its more expensive counterpart, but for $50 less. In some ways it even improves upon it. The stylus, for instance, sits perfectly flush with the handheld, meaning it might be the first DS stylus I don’t end up losing. If you somehow don’t already own a 3DS, or are looking to upgrade, this is the one you should buy.
Launching alongside the New 2DS on July 28th is one of the stranger titles Nintendo has released in recent memory. Miitopia is a turn-based, fantasy-themed role-playing game that stars the company’s Mii avatars. Everyone from villagers to evil wizards to your party of adventurers is represented by one of the strange little characters, and you get to choose many of their roles. In my version of Miitopia, my Mii avatar was joined by a team of fellow Verge editors as we fought to take down a dark lord who was also my wife. At one point, we had to save a baby with the face of Mr. Burns.
As an RPG, Miitopia is fairly simple. You can assign classes to each party member, and purchase new gear and unlock abilities as you progress. Combat largely consists of the typical rhythm of attacks, magic, and healing. What makes it especially interesting, though, is how you also have to manage the relationships of your adventurers. They’ll become close with each other based on how they interact in battle, and whether or not they room together when you take a break at an inn. As characters become better friends, it opens up new abilities. Friendly Miis will heal each other in combat, and warn each other before a particularly devastating attack.
More than anything, though, it’s just a lot of fun to watch things play out, especially if you set the game to star people you know. Much like in the quirky life simulator Tomodachi Life, Miitopia throws your Miis into all sorts of bizarre situations. They’ll go on vacation together, and give each other gifts. At one point Verge culture editor Chris Plante gave former Verge reporter Rich McCormick a present in the game (it was a picture of himself), while my Mii watched through the window, becoming jealous almost to the point of tears.
What Miitopia lacks in terms of the depth RPG fans might expect, it makes up for by being downright strange and often hilarious. It also has a built-in screenshot button so you can capture the best moments.
Hey Pikmin doesn’t make the best first impression. For one thing, the game — which also launches alongside the New 2DS XL — is a drastic departure for the series. Instead of a cute and approachable strategy game, like previous iterations of Pikmin, it’s a more typical side-scrolling platformer. It’s also kind of an ugly game; the 3D graphics are particularly low-res, with bland environments and menus that wouldn’t look out of place on a Nokia flip phone.
But if you can get past that, Hey Pikmin reveals itself to be a clever blend of typical platforming and the Pikmin series’s unique creature management. Like in the main games, you control a stubby astronaut named Captain Olimar, who has the ability to command tiny plant creatures called pikmin. In Hey Pikmin, Olimar is pretty useless — he can’t even jump — so the creatures are essentially tools to help him navigate the world. He can throw them at enemies as a form of attack, and use groups of them to push obstacles out of the way.
What makes the setup work is the cleverly designed levels, which are one part puzzle, one part Metroid-style labyrinth. Figuring out how to use the pikmin at your disposal to navigate an area can be tricky, and each stage is home to multiple hidden paths where you can collect useful treasure. My favorite stage involves a running stream that acts like conveyor belt, pushing you through an underground cavern and forcing you to make quick decisions.
Hey Pikmin also is a game that could really only exist on the 3DS. Its levels are very vertical, perfect for the 3DS’s stacked screens, and it’s controlled entirely using the analog nub and touchscreen. Hey Pikmin may not be nearly as flashy as a new Mario or Zelda, but it’s the kind of quirky game that regularly makes Nintendo handhelds such a delight.
Metroid, Pokémon, and beyond
Following the 2DS XL’s launch, Nintendo will be releasing two of its most high-profile portable titles of the year. September will see the first classic-style 2D Metroid in a decade with Samus Returns, while the enhanced remakes of Pokémon Sun and Moon will debut in November. Beyond that, we don’t know much of what to expect, but Nintendo has said it plans to continue to support the 3DS line for the foreseeable future. “It’s something that we’re going to continue to drive this year [and] next year,” Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé told me back in April.
The 3DS is clearly closer to the end of its life than the beginning, but it’s also in a good place. It has a large enough install base — which has surpassed 66 million — that Nintendo still sees it as a viable and vibrant platform on which to create new experiences. Those range from guaranteed best-sellers like Pokémon to oddball gems like Miitopia.
There will likely come a point when the 3DS winds down and the Switch takes over. But we’re not there yet.