Every generation, gamers are faced with a choice. This is a choice of great importance, one that determines not only how they will play games for some time. That choice is which console to purchase. Some lucky gamers get all the consoles, but for the majority, choosing which hardware to make your own is a daunting decision. So many factors go in to choosing that you could easily hurt yourself Googling. That is why I’ve taken it upon myself to assist in answering the question “Which handheld console is right for me, the 3DS or the Vita?”
When approaching handheld gaming, I’m going to rule out smart devices since they are devices that also game, not gaming devices. For the current generation of handhelds, Nintendo and Sony are both duking it out for control over your pocket. Which deserves prime pants real estate: the 5” dual touch device packing specs that rival home consoles, or the two screen 3D wonder backed up by a bevy of classic titles and hardware backward compatibility?
The top screen of the 3DS is slightly larger than the previous generation and has a higher DPI count. This makes 3DS games look much higher definition than the previous models, but the odd ratio also makes upscaling DS games look worse. Playing a DS game on a 3DS after using a DSi or DS Lite even is like having someone rub their grubby fingers on your glasses. There’s a way to display the game in its native resolution, but then it only takes up a small portion of the whole screen, and why would I settle for less screen real estate? The poor upscale quality and Pictochat are the reason I still bring my DS to large get-togethers.
The top screen on then 3DS also does stereoscopic 3D, effectively delivering the 3D from the console name. Seeing this in person is phenomenal… when it works. Nintendo includes a 3D strength slider to adjust for people holding the screen at different distances, or not being able to comfortably see 3D in full strength. For the most part, everyone who I have talked to uses the 3D function for a few seconds with a new game just to see what it does, and then promptly turns it off. The main reason is because of headaches, and this is something Nintendo warns about with the console. So without the 3D, we really just have a higher resolution DS, which isn’t a bad thing at all. I only wish the upscaling of DS games was not so awful.
On the other hand, the Vita has a 5” touch screen with 2:1 higher resolution than the PSP. This allows for much easier, cleaner looking upscaling than on the 3DS. The higher resolution screen is definitely taken advantage of by the beefier processor and GPU. The quad core processor and GPU mean that the Vita can display games that look very nearly like they came from a console. The screen is also touch enabled, which allows for more intuitive controls of not only the Vita OS, but in some games. The only place the hardware went wrong was in its inclusion of proprietary memory and the rear touch pad.
The 3DS includes an SD card slot to expand the memory and those are dirt cheap these days. The Vita, on the other hand, has proprietary memory for the Vita and you’re looking to pay 3x more for the same amount of memory. I foolishly believed they had learned their lesson with the failure of both UMDs and Memory Stick Pro Duos with the PSP, but I suppose Bluray’s victory over HD-DVD bolstered their proprietary argument. The rear touchpad is also a bit of a sore spot for me, though I haven’t decided if it’s a hardware or software problem. For example, In Uncharted: Golden Abyss, you throw grenades by hitting the back touchpad and maybe I have monster hands, but I was throwing more ‘nades than Cave Johnson in a lemon factory. Either the touchpad needs to be smaller, or the software needs to have a fix.
The Vita also features a 3G data connection option, though it is not used for all data transfer. The prospect of gaming truly on the go and from virtually anywhere is exciting, but is a feature that’s sadly not enabled at this time. Perhaps sometime in the future, though even if it were, the $15/month price tag on 250MB of data would be enough to make me think twice about using it.
Also, Nintendo sells a second circle pad for the 3DS as an accessory that not only needs its own battery, but communicates via the IR port. It makes the console fit better in your hand — and believe me, the 3DS needs that — but it just seems silly, especially when they didn’t include that in the XL version.
So what about the software available for each of these consoles? Not the games, we’ll get to those in a second, but the other stuff. Nintendo seems to be taking its commitment to gaming seriously, as it offers very little in the way of third party apps. Nintendo Video provides a seemingly random selection of music videos, original shorts, and trailers for games. I’m personally not enticed by any of these offerings, but seeing the Captain America trailer in 3D was neat. The 3DS now features Netflix, with Hulu Plus coming soon, with the promise of 3D videos coming to the 3DS, something the Vita can’t do.
What the Vita can do, however, is integrate into your social networks better. It offers foursquare, Twitter, Facebook, Skype and Flickr integration in addition to Netflix, Hulu plus, Crackle, and Youtube for video. You can also play movies you’ve put on your Vita memory card, something the 3DS still doesn’t have. The inclusion of YouTube is one of the most exciting features, because now I can pause a game, YouTube a tutorial, and flip back to the game without ever having to pull out my smartphone. It also features access to Music Unlimited to purchase songs, in addition to playing MP3s you’ve loaded onto the device. Now why would you care about all of these extra things that you know your smartphone can do today? To be honest, I’m not sure, since most people have smart devices, though these features could be invaluable for those that do not. Being able to say you can do these things is one thing, but I’ve yet to see someone using their Vita to do all of the things it can do, perhaps because smartphones can do them faster, are more connected, and have longer battery life. If you don’t have a smartphone, however, the Vita is a godsend.
I’d like to give Nintendo credit for sticking to games, but if you’re really looking for extra software, the Vita has you covered for almost any need.
This is arguably the most important category. A console can be the most powerful, user friendly, full featured contender in the race, but with no games to back it up, it is doomed to fail. Just ask the Dreamcast.
The 3DS has been out over a year now, and has had time to accrue some great titles, most notably of which are Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land. Both titles were developed with the 3DS in mind, integrating not only the 3D display, but the gyroscope and accelerometer as well. In addition, Resident Evil Revelations takes hardcore gaming to the 3DS in a big way, being lauded as the best portable Resident Evil yet. Rounding out its list of great new titles is Kid Icarus Uprising, a revival of a very old, classic series from my childhood in a radically different way. All of these titles use the hardware well and look great doing it.
Not to be outdone, the Vita features Uncharted: Golden Abyss, a full-fledged Uncharted game that cuts no corners and delivers a comparable experience to the one found on the home console. Nathan Drake moves just as well as he has on the PS3, though that back touchpad wastes grenades if your fingers stray too far. The hands-down best Vita title yet is Gravity Rush. This new IP is one that will be around for some time, featuring an interesting art direction, innovative gameplay, and environments far larger than should be possible on a handheld title. For lovers of classic PSP titles, a new Lumines game is out and it looks prettier than ever before.
At launch, and throughout each of these consoles’ respective lives, ports or remakes are bound to come up to push hardware sales and garner interest. This generation is no exception. The 3DS came out of the corner swinging with Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, a graphically updated of one of the most beloved Zelda games of all time. I’d be willing to bet more than a few people bought a 3DS specifically for this title. Super Street Fighter IV also made the cut and feels almost identical to the console version. The lack of a second stick meant almost nothing in a 3D fighter that’s bound to a solid line, but it certainly does in Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater. Just like Metal Gear titles on the PSP, not having a second thumb stick really cripples Snake’s agility as the player is scrambling to remember exactly what buttons do what.
The Vita’s ports feature Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, and all of the games included look and play spectacularly. Including not one, but three games on the cartridge sells this game about at well as the gameplay does. Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 is about the same as Super Street Fighter IV—nothing really new, but a comparable experience to consoles. And Mortal Kombat has roughly the same story. Eventually, ports are going to be more common, as the Vita is toted to be a platform that can receive PS3 code with minimal changes, but as of now, pickings are slim.
Both consoles also feature some form of backward compatibility, although Vita's is certainly more disappointing. It's compatible with PSP and PSOne games, but only when downloaded from PSN, so if you bought UMDs for your PSP, you cannot transfer those games. The PSOne capability is also an upcoming, promised feature that has not quite made it to the handheld. The 3DS offers direct hardware backward compatibility, though it has the issues mentioned earlier. Though GBA games are listed, only ambassadors (early adopters of the console before the price drop) have access to those games at this time.
The real deciding factor for games on these consoles comes down to two questions: How much do you love Nintendo IP, and what kind of gamer are you? Nintendo and Sony aim at two different markets—family/kids and teen/adults respectively—and it shows in their games lineup. Only one 3DS game is markedly violent, as opposed to the Vita’s lineup. If you’re looking for more adult games, you’re more likely to find your cup of tea on Sony’s platform. That being said, Nintendo pushes its core IPs quite hard in both handhelds and consoles (notice how Mario and Zelda are the top 3 games?). Though that may mark a lack of originality to some, the games still sell and are beloved by quite a large number of people, myself included. Zelda, Mario, Samus, and the lot all hold a connection with me, and it’s one that’s quite powerful.
Even taking those IPs away, the 3DS still holds dominance over Vita in the amount of games it offers. Perhaps the story will be different next year, but as of right now, the 3DS is winning this category.
I don’t really need to say much about this data, other than we’re seeing now what we saw in the last generation—a clear lead by Nintendo. Not only does this mean that the 3DS is more popular, but it also means that the online community will be larger. The implications of this are far reaching, as I’m sure Vita has people using it, but I can’t seem to find anyone when I’m looking for people online.
To be fair, this data is skewed, as the 3DS has been out quite a bit longer than the Vita. Perhaps a more meaningful dataset would be their respective launch sales:
And here again, we see Nintendo leading the pack, and this was before the price drop to $169.99. Each console had arguably lackluster games on launch day, so why did Nintendo beat Sony?
I’d say this probably has to do with the poor performance of the PSP. For far too long did PSP owners like myself say “Just wait, in a few more years, we’ll have some great games from great developers.” And so we waited. And waited. And waited. And then the Vita came out and some of us said “Not again.” This position is completely understandable, and Sony has something to prove with its latest hardware. Nintendo has great first party support and decent third party support. Sony needs to show its commitment to its handheld games by introducing some great, worthwhile titles. Games like Uncharted and Gravity Rush are a start, but they’ll need more than two to convince someone to make the investment.
Numbers don’t lie. 3DS wins this one.
The 3DS has the same problem that DS had—friend codes. They’ve gotten better over the years, but I still fail to see why I can’t just have a username and give people that. It’s silly. The Vita, on the other hand, is connected to PSN, which has a large built-in infrastructure and a community to go with it. The only downside is that Nintendo’s multiplayer community was never hacked and Sony is still reeling from the blow that hacktivists dealt two years ago.
The other side of this is how the handhelds connect to other devices. The 3DS should connect to the Wii U, and feature cross platform gaming, though no specific examples have been given yet. The prospect of being able to get a new experience with my handheld while someone plays on the console are wonderful, and I can’t wait to see what they do. The other side of this is the Vita’s connectivity to the PS3. It can turn the PS3 on, stream media, and turn it off. There’s also already two or three announced titles that support cloud saves and game transfers seamlessly between the PS3 and the Vita, allowing you to literally take the game with you anywhere you go. The same game, just on two different platforms that talk with one another. They even demoed Playstation All Stars Battle Royale playing 2 people on PS3 and 2 people on Vitas connected to the PS3. If they are already this far along, it’s going to be exciting seeing how far Sony and the developers will push it.
Both promise console connectivity, but Sony is more concrete about its plans and has shown off what it can do and how already. Sony wins this one.
Verdict: Long story short, handheld gaming is about playing games, not listening to music, streaming video, or updating your statuses. It’s also not about which console induces the most TechnoLust. What’s the point of stellar hardware if there are so few titles to enjoy? It’s that reason why I’m declaring the Nintendo 3DS the recommended console for this year. Playstation Vita has so much potential, but too much potential, too little action is what killed the PSP, and I know myself and others are nervous about that happening again. The 3DS offers a decent library, is natively backward compatible (though at a cost), and costs less than a Vita. Until Sony and other developers show off what the Vita can do and why it’s worth the extra money, Nintendo is King of the Pockets yet again.