The New Nintendo 3DS XL launched in North America in February 2015. The regular-sized New Nintendo 3DS hit US shores a few months later in September of the same year. And yet, while you can go into any Best Buy or Walmart on the planet and pick up an Xbox One S or PlayStation 4 Pro — despite being much newer consoles — you’re unlikely to spot a single Nintendo 3DS handheld.
Nintendo has said publicly that its latest smartphone games are meant to attract gamers to the rich, more expensive experiences on their own hardware. But how’s that plan supposed to work if the gadgets are perpetually out of stock?
I’m experiencing this headache firsthand. You see, I'm a lapsed Fire Emblem fan. But this weekend, after playing through the recently released Fire Emblem Heroes on my phone, I was hungry for a more serious Fire Emblem hit. I'd heard great things about the recent Awakening and Fates entries on the 3DS. I figured I’d buy a New 3DS and see how the series has progressed since the good old Game Boy Advance days. From Nintendo's perspective, I was more or less a perfect marketing response to their free-to-play title.
It's not physically possible to buy a New 3DS today
One problem: it's not physically possible to buy a New 3DS. This isn't hyperbole or exaggeration. It's just simply not possible to get a New 3DS, either in the more common XL size or the mythical regular version without turning to the grey market.
Online, Amazon and Walmart defer to expensive third-party sellers. Toys R Us’ links forward you to a 2DS instead. Best Buy lists several models of the New 3DS XL, but has them listed as "Store Pickup." Checking availability on any model will inform you that the handhelds are sold out within a 250-mile radius of New York City. Target has New 3DS XL models listed, but it's out of stock online and in stores, too. B&H notes that it's temporarily sold out of New 3DS XLs and expects to have more back in stock in March or April, depending on the color you prefer. GameStop doesn't have any new New 3DS XL models in stock, but will happily sell you a preowned one, while Nintendo's own online store only offers refurbished units. And while a new, limited edition Pikachu model is planned to go on sale February 24th, preorders for those seem to have already sold out.
As for the smaller New 3DS model? Well, those haven't been available at retail since last fall's Black Friday sale, and Nintendo doesn't even reference that it even exists on the official 3DS site. In fact, Nintendo has bafflingly never sold the smaller console outside of special edition bundles in the US.
Third-party sellers have plenty of grey market units to offer, if you're willing to pay
Of course, eBay and third-party sellers on Amazon have plenty of grey market units to offer, if you're willing to pay. Interested buyers will pony up a $50–$70 premium (at least) for a New 3DS XL (which retails for $199.99). Special edition variants run for far more. The standard New 3DS is even worse, in some cases selling for more than its larger cousin. But short of stumbling into a forgotten piece of inventory in a physical store, these are your only options to buy a Nintendo console right now. Neither is this a temporary or recent problem — our friends over at Polygon noted a similar absence of 3DS availability back in December. That piece ran days after Nintendo released its first smartphone game, Super Mario Run. Months later, with Fire Emblem Heroes available on smartphones, Nintendo’s play to convert mobile game lovers into handheld owners is mired by the most Nintendo problem of all: limited stock.
It'd be easy to blame the New 3DS supply on the Switch taking its place — after all, it can be used as a fully portable console in its own right — but Nintendo has been steadfastly sticking to the line that it intends on supporting and developing the 3DS hardware in tandem with its new home console as recently as last week.
Like I said, this isn't Nintendo's first supply chain problem. Months after launch, the NES Classic is still laughably rare hard to find, despite the massive demand. Nintendo Switch preorders are sold out across the board, at least in the US, as are several of the Switch controller models and accessories. On the other hand, Nintendo has pledged to have over two million Switch consoles available at launch, which is considered to be a fairly ambitious sales number for it to reach. If the Switch does turn out to be hard to find, it will probably be because of a strong launch for Nintendo. Reggie Fils-Aime, the president of Nintendo of America, has also noted in an interview with Wired that the company is aware of the unexpected demand of other products like the NES Classic, and has said that “[Nintendo’s] focus is making sure that the consumer who wants to buy a Nintendo Switch can buy a Nintendo Switch.”
But to put it plainly, with the Nintendo Switch launch right around the corner, the current inability to purchase the 3DS should seriously worry anyone without a preorder in place. Because if the Switch turns out to be as successful as the NES Classic or 3DS have been, fans could be facing yet another tough choice between a long wait or a grey market gouging for a Nintendo console.
Update February 2nd, 10:15AM: Updated article to incorporate comments from Nintendo regarding planned Switch supply inventory.