Nintendo has released some pretty awesome games over the last 125 years (yes, it’s really that old). In the 1980’s, after the fall of Atari, the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) was largely responsible for the video game renaissance. Nintendo franchises like The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros are among the most popular in the world.

However, lately Nintendo has been making some marketing decisions that have even the most die-hard fans scratching their heads. In 2012, Nintendo announced the Wii U, a brand-new console. But…because of its name, it sounded like an accessory for the Wii, rather than an entirely new system. This had a huge impact on sales. Parents didn’t think that they needed to buy the new console if they already owned a Wii, and parents who didn’t own a Wii thought that the console wasn’t playable for them in the first place.

Well, it seems Nintendo has done it again. Last week, they announced the “New” 3DS and “New” 3DS XL. This wouldn’t be a big deal (consoles have been rereleased with upgraded hardware before)…except that they also announced that some games will be exclusive to these new consoles. So, if you buy a game for the New 3DS, it might not play on the 3DS you already own.

How are parents supposed to tell the difference between the New 3DS and the old 3DS, when they literally have the same name?

While I cannot correct Nintendo’s unfortunate branding debacles, I can try to make this whole thing easier for you. I’ve created a handy printable chart to help you figure out which console is which!

Nintendo Consoles Made Easy

Click for high res!

Or, scroll down to read my expanded explanations of each console.

Note that all of these consoles are available in multiple colors, so be sure to read the name on the box.

Consoles for your TV


Your basic Wii.

Wii – This console came out in 2006, so you’ll probably have to buy it used. It can connect to the Internet for web browsing, for online apps like Netflix, or to download digital games. Most of its games use motion controls to simulate things like golfing or archery. Early versions of the Wii also play GameCube* games and have ports for GameCube controllers, so they are like two consoles in one. However, because the Wii is an old system, don’t expect any new releases.

Wii Mini

The Wii Mini lets you play Wii games on a budget.

Wii Mini – If you aren’t willing to spend much on a console, the Wii Mini is a good option. It is a smaller, cheaper version of the Wii. Since it’s only $99, it had to cut a few corners. The Wii Mini can’t connect to the internet, which means no downloadable games and no Netflix or Youtube. Further, it will not play GameCube games or support GameCube controllers. Because it only plays Wii games, don’t expect any new releases.


The Wii U is the top of the line.

Wii U – This is the console to buy for new releases and cutting-edge software. It uses a second screen called the Game Pad, which creates a complex gaming experience. The Wii U can use Wii remotes as controllers and can play any game released for the Wii or the Wii U. Plus, its database of downloadable games includes classics from the 80s and 90s. Its display is in HD, and its computing power is far beyond the Wii’s. This is the top of the line for Nintendo’s home consoles, and it costs about $300.

Handheld Consoles


The 3DS came out in 2011.

3DS – The 3DS uses 3D technology that does not require special glasses. DS stands for dual screen. The 3DS can connect to the Internet for web browsing, for online apps like Netflix, or to download digital games. When it passes near another 3DS, it uses StreetPass to swap limited amounts of info between consoles and unlock bonus content. It can also play older DS* games. Most new handheld game releases will be playable on this console. It costs about $170.


The 3DS XL’s screen is 90% larger.

3DS XL – Basically, it’s a bigger version of the 3DS. The XL stands for eXtra Large. It can play all of the games that the 3DS can, and comes with twice as much storage space for downloadable content. Most new handheld game releases will be playable on this console. It costs about $200.


The 2DS is designed for a younger audience.

2DS – The 2DS is marketed towards younger gamers. It plays all of the games released for the 3DS, but without the 3D technology. To make the 2DS more durable, Nintendo removed its clamshell design, so it does not fold in half. Most new handheld game releases will be playable on this consoleThe 2DS costs about $130.


The New 3DS is already being referred to as the “N3DS” on some websites.

New 3DS – This is an updated version of the 3DS, to be released in 2015. It has extra buttons, better screen resolution, better battery life, and faster download times, and it will be able to communicate directly with amiibo (Nintendo’s upcoming line of computer-chipped figurines) without the use of any external hardware. Plus, its outer shell has removable plates that can be replaced with custom plates of your choosing. All new handheld game releases will be playable on this console. 


The packaging will probably look a little different when these consoles are released in the United States.

New 3DS XL – Also known as the New 3DS LL (in Japan, LL means XL). The New 3DS XL has all the features of the New 3DS, but with the bigger screen of the 3DS XL. However, the outer shell is not customizable. This is the top of the line for Nintendo’s handheld consoles, and it will be released in 2015. All new handheld game releases will be playable on this console.

Still have questions? Please feel free to leave a comment. I will get back to you ASAP.

And don’t forget to download the free printable chart! You can take it with you while you’re shopping.

*The GameCube and the DS are both Nintendo gaming consoles that are no longer on the market.

This article was written by

Courtney is Pixelkin's Associate Managing Editor. While working with the Girl Scouts of Northern California, she mentored young girls in teamwork, leadership, personal responsibility, and safety. Today, she spends her time studying adolescent development and using literary analysis techniques to examine video games.