Which portable is right for you? Well it certainly all depends on what you want to do with your device, and more importantly, what kind of games you want to experience. The article won’t be discussing tablets or smart phones, though they are a viable alternative of sorts to these systems. If you want to browse the net, read books, watch movies, listen to music or have access to a myriad of apps and bite size gaming than perhaps those options are best for you. Here though we will cover the more core systems that have some of those features, but their main focus is on gaming.
Welcome to the HANDHELD DEATH MATCH WHERE ONLY ONE SHALL LEAVE THE VICTOR! Ok, that last bit was made up.
When we want to talk portable gaming and entertainment one name has to come before all others because of its strong history in this area: Nintendo. From Game Boy to the wildly successful DS system, Nintendo has been providing quality gaming on the go for longer than anyone else. The DS alone has sold over 153 million systems worldwide (!) with a whopping 59 million of that being sold in the Americas alone. The 3DS, Nintendo’s current outing, shows a slightly different story and got off to a rough start, but has really been picking up the pace lately. In fact, the latest sales figures over a year and 9 months of sales for 3DS we are sitting at a comfortable sale of 29 million units. The DS in the same time frame sold around 26 million. See that as you will, but I can’t see the 3DS ending up being anything but a sales success.
That doesn’t mean it’s right for you or even that it’s good though. What’s the verdict on it here and now in 2013? Glad you asked.
Chances are if you are reading this right now one of the key components to your decision is the types of games each option holds, and why shouldn’t it be? After all games are what it’s all really about for gamers in the end; not loyalty to a brand name. With that being said the PS Vita and the 3DS are going to hold vastly different appeal for you within this category.
It is arguable that for many the biggest draw of a Nintendo handheld is, well, Nintendo. The most iconic faces in gaming reside on their systems; so if your thing is Mario, Zelda and Pokémon than you really don’t have to read much further than this bit do you? (Actually you probably aren’t reading at all since you’ve most likely had a 3DS firmly in hand for a while now). Does the system hold appeal outside of the big Nintendo franchises though? After all many gamers, though I am not one myself, feel that Nintendo games are a little outdated and kiddy for their tastes. So surely the system has nothing to offer them right? Not quite.
First of all if you haven’t played a lot of DS games, or have never touched one, there is a gigantic back catalog of games you can play right off the bat since 3DS plays all of the DS games. Some of the finest RPG’s found in this generation of gaming (yes even on consoles) are on the little system that could and it features smash hits from pretty much every other genre. Simply put there is something for everyone on the DS.
If we just look at 3DS the offers used to be pretty slim, but lately there are an embarrassment of riches of sorts for the right kind of gamer. Below are some of the bigger titles that have released on the handheld.
- Super Mario 3D Land
- New Super Mario Brothers 2
- Paper Mario Sticker Star
- Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time 3D (Remake)
- Resident Evil Revelations (Being Ported to Consoles)
- Resident Evil The Mercenaries 3D
- Fire Emblem Awakening
- Kid Icarus Uprising
- Scribblenauts Unlimited
- Theatrhythm Final Fantasy (Being ported to IOS)
- Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask
- Mario Kart 7
That isn’t a comprehensive list and one title is a remake of an older game while the two others are being ported to other gaming devices. Aside from the HD remake they are all experiences you can’t get outside of the 3DS and they are just a sampling of what’s out there. It also doesn’t include the multi-platform releases or the E Shop and some of the fantastic games you can get on there like Dillon’s Rolling Western, Crashmo, Pushmo, Sakura Samurai and a very healthy dose of Virtual Console which lets you play SNES, NES and Game Boy games through digital downloads.
Looking at the future releases of a console is often even more telling than what’s currently out there and because of some big announcements by Nintendo recently you certainly won’t be hurting for experiences. Below are just a couple of expected releases and the expected year that they will see release here on US shores.
- Castlevania Lords of Shadow (2013)
- Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (2013)
- Pokemon X and Y (2013)
- Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon (2013)
- Lego City Undercover (2013)
- Professor Layton and the Azran Legacies (2013)
- Project X Zone (2013)
- Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney (2013)
- Animal Crossing New Leaf (2013)
- Unannounced Legend of Zelda (TBA)
- Smash Brothers 3DS (TBA)
Again this isn’t a comprehensive list and I’m sure that fans can come up with more (feel free to share in the comments). As you can see the future of the system is strong ,with Nintendo also recently stating that it’s got a lot of stuff up its sleeves it hasn’t shown yet; some of which is coming this year. With its high quality first party titles and rising support from third parties, due to strong sales of the system, it’s an appealing line up. Admittedly, there is certainly a type of gamer represented more here, but it’s hard to look at this list and not find something to like. Whether or not these sorts of games are appealing to you is going to be a big piece of your purchase decision.
Before we launch into the other things the 3DS does, know that it is primarily a game playing device. It certainly has Netflix you can watch and a browser to surf the net, but these are nowhere near as good as what you can find on Vita and especially is dwarfed by tablets and smart phones. However, Nintendo does have a few features outside of playing game carts. Other than the aforementioned Netflix and a Nintendo Video that are nice distractions the 3DS comes packed with augmented reality games and a feature called StreetPass and SpotPass.
Now certainly they don’t sound like much, but when you pass by another gamer with a 3DS and both of you have StreetPass enabled you’ll not only get their Mii to help you in a little RPG lite game included with the system, but you can also receive various things from games you both have. These can be anything from new characters, levels, messages, items and so forth. It adds an element of community and fun to the system that takes full advantage of the Nintendo brand of charm and nostalgia. SpotPass is similar, but instead works by passing by Wi-Fi hotspots that will do a quick download of some sort to your system.
3DS also comes with a pair of pretty terrible cameras on inside and outside that allow you to take pictures in a not so glorious .3 mega pixels. As a consolation the photos are 3D and Nintendo has patched in the ability to shoot ten minutes of 3D video. There is a photo editor that comes with the system that, especially for children, is fun to tool with. In addition there is a program that lets you record and alter sound, similar to what the DSi had.
The 3DS battery hits around 3-5 hours of straight gameplay and up to 8 playing your original DS games. The XL gets more battery life though how much more is debatable. I’ve read in numerous places that it adds roughly 2 hours of gameplay though I’ve also read that it’s exactly the same as 3DS. I have never played one so I can’t confirm or deny, but if you want to get the most battery than XL is your guy. Either way this is nowhere near as impressive as the DS’ 10 hours of game time and a bit of a let down honestly considering the base model is roughly the same battery life as Vita which is far more powerful.
The biggest feature that the 3DS boasts (which ironically is the least attractive to many) is the 3D. You can adjust a slider and experience the games in full blown 3D without the need for glasses. Personally I had no headaches playing the system for long periods of time like some and I thought that it certainly added something to certain games, but it wasn’t a mind blowing experience. Just a neat gimmick that honestly I could do without, but if 3D is important for you look no further because you can only get glasses free 3D on the 3DS.
Overall when it comes to features, it’s like I said before: 3DS is for playing video games mostly. If you want to experience other types of media out there than your probably better off looking elsewhere.
This is the last category for each system and possibly the most important for the budget minded consumer (i.e. me). The 3DS is an attractive proposition at the price (though it wasn’t always that way) and comes in two separate models to choose from.
Original flavor 3DS is $169.99 and comes with a 2GB SD card along with a stylish charger stand and augmented reality cards to play mini games with. The great thing about the package is it is literally a pick up and play console with no extra expenses besides perhaps a game and later on a case to hold the system.
The 3DS XL retails for $199.99 and is simply a bigger version of the 3DS, though it certainly has a more aesthetically pleasing look to it and the form factor is just much more comfortable to hold. There are slight issues with resolution as the pixels per are the same which simply means the graphics stretch to fit the screen and you will see a slight difference between the two with the 3DS winning out. Battery life with the XL has been reported to be larger with the 3DS XL and the buttons, analog, and strip along the bottom are all higher quality than the base modle. It also comes with the AR cards and a charger, though a stand is not included this go around and you’ll also get a 4GB card rather than the standard 2GB on the original system. (If you are in the UK Nintendo made a baffling decision not to include a charger at all with XL so there is something to consider if you’re outside the States).
Speaking of storage space the 3DS uses the dirt cheap storage of SD and SDHC cards, the latter of which can reach up to 32 GB in size. When we get to the Vita you’ll understand why this might be the deciding factor for more than a few folks.
Playing against Nintendo in the handheld market has always been a losing venture, but PlayStation has hung in there like a champ with the original PSP. Personally I felt the system had a lot going for it with more full bodied console style games as well as a lot of great niche RPG games. It never garnered the attention that the DS did with only 71 million systems sold worldwide, not that those numbers are anything to sneeze at. Sony’s uphill battle here has always been selling a more expensive handheld that can do more, but that just didn’t have as much third party support or the pick up and play sensibilities of its competition. Does PS Vita solve these things and deal a knockout punch to 3DS this time around? Let’s find out shall we.
Again the lifeblood of any console, portable or otherwise, games are what makes a system. PS Vita is a beefier system, which will cover why in the features section below, but what it means for us is that we can have more robust and in depth experiences closer to what the console can do. Here are the bigger games that have been released thus far.
- Resistance Burning Skies
- Gravity Rush
- Little Big Planet Vita
- Uncharted Golden Abyss
- Persona 4
- Escape Plan
- Disgaea 3
- Call of Duty Black Ops Declassified
- Assassin’s Creed Liberation
Like the 3DS I didn’t list titles that were ports that could be found elsewhere. It’s worthy to note that the PSV has a lot of these and they are probably the better looking and performing ports when it comes to portables. I also didn’t mention the crazy amount of PS2 and PS1 games that you could download onto your Vita from the PSN or cross play games like Sly Cooper 4 and All Stars because you can play them on your PlayStation 3.
Again a certain type of gamer is represented here: one who values the more graphically inclined games that have bigger names and more console like experiences. Especially if you own a PlayStation 3 and want to play every game in their respective franchises than you can stop reading, you’ve found your portable. It’s worthy to note that at least one game on that list, Call of Duty, was universally panned by critics as a terrible game so maybe don’t count that one.
Looking at the future of what’s been announced for the PlayStation Vita is where things get slightly more grim for the system.
- Tearaway (2013)
- Soul Sacrifice (2013)
- Killzone Mercenary (2013)
- God Eater 2 (2013)
- Dragons Crown (TBA)
- Phantasy Star Online 2 (TBA)
- Ratchet and Clank QForce (TBA)
As you can see there isn’t a lot here announced and much of it isn’t clear whether it’s coming out this year or the next. This was mostly due to the fact that Sony completely ignored their handheld in their E3 press conference and hasn’t really announced much since. There may be a bunch of stuff currently unannounced that we will see at this year’s E3, but going off what’s here it’s slim. Overall the PlayStation Vita appeals to a different crowd than the 3DS, but a lack of support from third parties and indeed Sony itself is concerning to say the least.
Still there are several experiences on these lists that will last you a long time and I’ve heard Persona 4, even though it’s a port, is not to be missed.
This is where the PlayStation Vita is obviously superior to the 3DS in many ways. First off the bat, and most importantly to many, the portable has two analog sticks. This means that more traditional camera controls can be implemented bringing our portable experience closer to the console version and just allowing more forms of input. In addition the PS Vita boasts a super sexy OLED capacitive touchscreen, two cameras (front and rear), rear touchscreen and a bevy of motion sensing and facial tracking suites. What does all this mean? Games will look better, control better, and have a lot more inputs than the 3DS.
The PS Vita is also cross compatible with the PS3 with a few games even being able to use it for a controller (Little Big Planet 2 and All Stars) and some games you are able to play directly against your PS3 brethren even though you are currently jamming on the Vita (All Stars). Cross game saves are also a great feature that exists for a couple of games that allows you to take your save with you and one network id is used across all systems so trophies carry over as well. Cross Play lets you buy a copy of one game and automatically get another so there is a much higher degree of the two systems connecting than say the 3DS and the Wii U.
Like the 3DS the cameras are a terrible quality with .3 megapixel resolution. The PS Vita is also capable of augmented reality though it doesn’t need the cards included with the 3DS and is, by all reports, superior in its execution to Nintendo’s. It also does Facebook, Skype, Netflix, Twitter, and Foursquare as well as Music Unlimited, Flickr, YouTube, Hulu Plus and Crackle. 3DS was also promised Hulu Plus, but it has yet to appear even though promised in 2012. As you can see if you want to do more than just game than you’ve found your system. As long as you don’t want to do it at long stretches away from your home, as the battery is officially stated from Sony for 3-5 hours of gameplay. That doesn’t allow for extended periods of play away from a charger, so if you take your handheld on long trips it’s something to take into consideration.
All around the PlayStation Vita can just do more and thanks to its OLED screen looks really sexy doing it. The form factor is impressive and aesthetically it looks more mature and svelte than its competition.
At first glance the PlayStation Vita is a fantastic price as you are getting a lot of features for your buck. In fact, when the price was announced at last year’s E3 it was to raucous applause (real this time).
There are two different SKUs of the PlayStation Vita. The first is Wi Fi only and can be yours for just $249.99 or you can go with the 3G version (with an applicable data plan through AT&T) for $299.99. With the amount of things that the system can do that is closer to a smart phone or tablet (assuming you don’t have one of these) it’s an attractive price when you add in the fact that it’s also a powerful gaming machine.
Add to this the recent announcement of PS Plus on the PlayStation Vita and the whole package becomes that much more attractive. For $17.99 for 3 months or $49.99 for a full year you get hundreds of dollars of free games which you can download to your PSV and the membership works on both your PS3 and your Vita. Currently games like Gravity Rush, Uncharted and others are available free of charge during subscription. True, you lose these games if you lapse service though paying again will re-enable you to play and download them. If you’re a huge PlayStation fan this is just a no brainer and was the smartest thing Sony has done since the Vita’s release.
It isn’t all sunshine and lollipops for the Vita though. The biggest hidden cost and catch when it comes to the PSV is Sony’s baffling decision to go with proprietary storage again. Memory is just so much more expensive than something like SD and the biggest size, 32gb will set you back a whopping hundred dollars. That is staggering when you consider I can buy an entire terabyte of HD space for the same amount. It was the worst decision Sony could have made and significantly raises the cost threshold. With 3DS you get a fully capable system ready to go out of the box with plenty of space and easily (and more importantly cheaply) acquired extra memory. While PS Plus is a fantastic deal you have to store those games somewhere and since the cost of the memory is so high you’ll often find yourself using your PS3 as an impromptu storage unit swapping games back and forth to take them with you.
Verdict and Analysis
There really is no verdict here. If you read the above descriptions and you found one system more appealing than the other than you’ve got your answer. Really it’s going to come down to what kind of gamer you are and what kind of experience you want to have with your handheld.
However, I’d feel like I was copping out a bit if I didn’t give some kind of verdict, so what I will do here is give you MY opinion. Keep in mind this doesn’t mean that this is where you will end up on the spectrum. If you like the opposite system better than don’t take it as a personal insult or affront to your life that I like the other one. I’m happy if you’re happy. That being said for me personally there is a clear winner. Here is how it breaks down for me:
Pros: Better controls, more functionality, console type experiences, PS Plus, Better screen/aesthetics
Cons: Terribly priced memory, Not much support for system, Long load times for handheld, Not as many games
Pros: Lots of games, lots of support, more exclusives, more portable than PSV, DS Backwards Compatible massive selection of games
Cons: Not as much functionality, not as good of screen, only one analog stick
Winner: Nintendo 3DS
There are several reasons that I think that, for me, the 3DS is a more attractive handheld. First and foremost there are just more games I want to play on the system with Fire Emblem being up there as one of my most anticipated; add to that a portable Smash Brothers and it’s kind of hard to compete with. I’m not as big into Mario, though I enjoy the series it doesn’t drive my purchases, but Zelda and things like Project X Zone is hard to turn away from. In addition I didn’t get to play as much DS as I’d have liked when I owned one due to finances, so I’d love to dig into the beefy back catalog that exists there.
I owned a 3DS at one point and vastly enjoyed things like StreetPass and SpotPass as well as liking a stupid RPG mini game called Find Mii way more than I should. The system had to be sold last year in order to pay an electric bill during some dark financial times, but it impressed me enough that I wanted it back.
Value wise for the $199 XL model I plan on eventually purchasing it’s just more of an out of the box type of system. With the Vita your baseline cost is at least another $50 to the price if you want a ok sized memory card so realistically you are looking at $300 for a system (though there are bundles out there that have a 4GB in them for $250). For me one of the biggest drawbacks of the Vita system is the ridiculously priced memory and I think many would agree.
Nintendo is also really good at offering separate experiences on their handheld than they do their consoles. What this means is you get games you can’t play anywhere else and it makes the system have more exclusives by default. Much of what’s on Vita thus far is exactly what’s on a PS3, for better or worse. Don’t get me wrong, I only own a PS3 and am a huge Sony fan. I think they have the best console exclusives out there as far as the two bigger systems go. However, their handheld suffers from lackluster ports and slightly watered down experiences that aren’t even done by the same developer that made the game so big on consoles.
Another big negative to me is Sony’s apparent lack of interest in truly supporting the handheld. Last years E3 they had a chance to blow us out of the water, but instead showed two pictures of some games titles and then All-Stars, which is also playable on PS3. They devoted nearly 30 minutes to the Harry Potter book, but they couldn’t take the time to blow it out for their struggling handheld. Nintendo didn’t do much better at E3, but has since rectified that with a bevy of announcements through Nintendo Direct. Sony has still been mostly silent regarding their handheld and that doesn’t bode well.
Overall it goes back to my first point: It’s all about the games. I don’t follow a brand and never have, I just follow the games I want to play wherever they lead me. The 3DS just has more of those types of experiences that hold value to me.
So there you are. Which system do you plan on buying (or already own)? Any of the games above your most anticipated? Hit us up in the comments. Just try and be nice, no flame wars about what system is better. The wonderful thing about individuality is we all have things we prefer over others. It doesn’t mean the other gamers point of view is an less valid to that person. Remember: 3DS or PSV we are all gamers.