Vita or 3DS?

Because I play far too many portable games not to write this.
3DS_Vita_Textile

As far as portable gaming in today’s society is concerned, the naysayers and doomsday prophets haven’t quite been proved right yet. Apple’s portable devices, while demanding a huge market share thanks to their usefulness in other areas of life, have not stamped out the need for dedicated portable gaming devices. Sales figures show as much. Call it the need for physical buttons, call it the type of development costs that go into creating dedicated experiences, call it what you may; at least for the time being, you can still get some fantastic, fleshed out experiences on dedicated handhelds.

The question is, which of the two most prominent platforms is most worth your cash? The Nintendo 3DS, or the Playstation Vita? Each has been out for at least a year by now, after all. Well, as an owner of both, I hope I can help you decide today.

I’ve broken the comparison down into five segments:

THE FEEL

When you pick up the original Nintendo 3DS it feels a little awkward in your hands, especially if yours are large. It’s not a bad design at all, especially seeing as it is based off the award-winning, mega-selling DS Lite, but it has noticeably harsher angles than that console as well as a super glossy finish that displays fingerprints a little too proudly. Without the presence of its much more comfortable upgrade, the 3DS XL, it would fall comprehensively at the Vita‘s feet in this category. It is a closer race with Nintendo’s larger model running, but the Vita still wins overall here, as its smooth contours and strategic ridges are the perfect counter to a reasonably hefty breadth. Playing a PS Vita for long sessions is a completely painless experience even if it does have its own glossy finish issues.

Particularly when trying to take pictures of it.

If only all 3DS’ and Vitas could co-exist peacefully…

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THE FEATURES

The Vita and the 3DS each tout their own set of unique features designed to make themselves stand out in the portable market. Where the 3DS is concerned, the leading feature is obvious: a stereoscopic 3D display without the need for special glasses. This can look pretty spectacular when done well and for those who like their games pretty, can help overcome the system’s rather noticeable inferiority in raw graphical power when compared to the Vita. Many people experience eye strain, however, after prolonged exposure to the feature, and although I am not one of these people (blame years of eye adjustment from switching between glasses and contact lenses), it is enough for some to opt for playing with the 3D slider all the way down, all the time. The Vita lacks the wow factor that good use of 3D can provide but it is a hard feature to miss when you’re looking at such a crisp, beautiful 5 inch OLED display.

A thing of wonder.

A thing of wonder.

The competing consoles do offer more noteworthy features outside the visuals department, of course. Perhaps the 3DS‘ best is StreetPass, an ingenious feature that is baked into just about every 3DS game worth playing. It allows the exchange of data between multiple 3DS‘ while in sleep mode and depending on the game can really be quite useful, ranging from granting you extra items to allowing you to use other people’s characters in your game to actually staging a quick virtual battle between parties. I usually pick up a handful of hits whenever I’m out and about and the console is just sitting in my bag, and with Nintendo’s habit of releasing a steady stream of fresh content for the console’s built-in Streetpass Plaza games there is always something to strive for. The Vita does have a slightly more ambitious (in theory) version of this idea, called Near, but it pretty much requires that you own the more expensive 3G model of Vita, which no-one I know owns.

Both consoles feature touch screens, although the Vita‘s is multi-touch enabled. The Vita also sports two analogue sticks and a rear touch pad, though not a lot of games use the latter. Both consoles feature accelerometers (meaning they’re sensitive to tilt), low-res cameras (although the 3DS‘ can take pictures in 3D) and microphones. Neither has ideal battery life, although the Vita stomps the regular 3DS in this regard and just edges the 3DS XL depending on settings. Sony’s console also has one of the best portable gaming features ever in its instant suspension function. Pressing the sleep button at any time will suspend play for days on end until you decide to press it again and jump straight back into the action. Both consoles have fairly competent Wi-Fi capabilities and quite decent online store layouts. The 3DS can boast of some very nice downloadable local multiplayer capabilities, meaning some of its games are capable of multiplayer with only one game cartridge present – this is most impressive in Mario Kart 7, where eight players can play on 32 tracks with only one person having purchased the game.
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THE GAMES

The crux of any console decision, the types of games you have access to on each handheld is naturally going to factor rather heavily into where you put your money down. Luckily both the Vita and the 3DS have a lovely selection of games to choose from for first time owners, not just from retail stores but available for download as well. Both consoles are backwards compatible with their respective predecessors, which opens things up further.

After all is said and done, the biggest factor in making a potential handheld decision is going to be “What kinds of games do you want to play?” If you like shooters a lot, for example, the Vita should be your automatic choice, Resident Evil Revelations notwithstanding, because its dual analogue stick layout is naturally superior for that purpose (having said that, the Vita currently only has decent third-person shooters like Unit 13 and Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Both of the system’s available first-person games, Resistance Burning Skies and Call of Duty Black Ops Declassified, are sadly utter rubbish). The Vita also offers slightly more in the realm of fighting games, although the 3DS is no slouch in this area. Street Fighter, BlazBlue and Dead or Alive games appear on both, for example.

The chilling Virtue's Last Reward is also available on both consoles.

The chilling visual novel Virtue’s Last Reward is also available on both consoles.

If you’ve never really enjoyed a Mario, Zelda, or Pokemon game, the Vita might also be your choice by default. On the other hand, if you enjoy the Nintendo’s typical offerings, and they do have a lot of them, the 3DS is probably the better choice. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D and Starfox 64 3D will tickle the nostalgic itch for some, as will the ability to download Link’s Awakening and, by the end of this month, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons for the Gameboy Color via the 3DS eShop. There is a sequel to Link to the Past arriving by year’s end to boot. Enjoy a bit of hectic local multiplayer with friends? The 3DS is there for you with the likes of Mario Tennis Open, Kid Icarus: Uprising and Mario Kart 7, with new Mario Party and Mario Golf games coming in the near future.

So many quality downloadable games in this picture.

So many quality downloadable games in this picture.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is now a month and a half away from a Western 3DS release, so fans of that delightfully quirky franchise (and I am definitely one) will have their hands full there. If you enjoy platformers, well, I guess you can get Rayman Origins on both consoles, but the 3DS is going to better suit your needs with two Mario titles already out (one good, one excellent) and a Donkey Kong Country Returns port coming in a matter of weeks. Of course, the Vita is home to LittleBigPlanet, so remember that too. Racing games perform better on Vita by their very nature. Rhythm games are more plentiful on the 3DS; puzzle games are a huge presence on both. If you like sports games, no question, go for the Vita. In the action-adventure genre, the Vita is more capable of giving you a console-like experience through, for example, Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed.

And if you want to play... this, you can only do it on the Vita.

And if you want to play… this, you can only do it on the Vita.

If, however, you’re like me and you tend to enjoy getting sucked into a meaty RPG or strategy game, the equation isn’t so simple. Both handhelds can boast of a wealth of options in this regard, whether via physical copy, download, predecessor back catalogue or potential on the horizon.

The Vita boasts Persona 4 Golden, simply one of the greatest games I have ever played, alongside an enhanced port of Disgaea 3 and the grind-loving, sunshine-and-rainbows original title Soul Sacrifice. I would be remiss not to mention the inherent gloriousness of a trophy-enabled version of Plants vs Zombies, either. Factor in the mind-boggling volume of downloadable PSP titles and PSone classics that straddle the two genres, then add the promise of upcoming HD remasters of both Final Fantasy X and X-2, and you’ll find that you are looking at quite a capable home for the fan of the level-up. If you can speak Japanese, this area opens up for you even more, as like the PS3 the Vita is not region-locked. Import away.

Of course, to ignore the 3DS in this area would be a grave injustice, as it is home to the incredible Fire Emblem Awakening as well as Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, Paper Mario Sticker Star and the surprisingly robust Ghost Recon Shadow Wars. In the next 12 months or so it will be inundated with the likes of Project Cross Zone, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros, Shin Megami Tensei IV, Bravely Default: Flying Fairy and, of course, Pokemon X & Y. I haven’t seen such a condensed, quality Strategy/RPG line-up on one console since, well, ever.

Fire Emblem is amazing.

Fire Emblem is amazing.

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THE PRICE

As far as Australian RRP is concerned, the 3DS leads here and has ever since its aggressive early price drop a hear and a half ago. You can get a regular 3DS or its extra large counterpart for $250, while the official price of the Wi-Fi model of the PS Vita is still $350 (it isn’t even worth bringing the 3G model into the equation in my opinion). However, both official and retailer bundles have made this difference a bit less severe for the past several months. There are still hard-bundled “Wi-Fi Vita + 4gb memory card + downloadable game” bundles around for $300, which makes things much sweeter for the prospective Vita owner. When you consider that two of the options for bundled downloadable games include Assassin’s Creed III Liberation and LittleBigPlanet Vita, things really start looking up.

However, these bundles don’t exactly solve one of the Vita‘s main pricing hurdles: the need to buy a decent-sized memory card. 4gb just isn’t enough when you consider that every available Vita game is downloadable, so RRPs of between $50 (8gb) and $115 (32gb) need to be taken into account on top of the console’s core price. Bargain-hunt all you want, but just keep in mind that a Vita essentially doesn’t function as a gaming device without a Sony-brand proprietary memory card.

From left: Vita memory card, Vita game cartridge, standard SD card, DS game cartridge, 3DS game cartridge

From left: Vita memory card, Vita game cartridge, standard SD card, DS game cartridge, 3DS game cartridge

At this point it’s probably also worth mentioning that Nintendo has recently begun offering its own downloadable game bundles encompassing the 3DS XL. For $270 you can get a console with either Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7 or Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate pre-installed on the SD card that comes inside the box. 3DS memory can be expanded rather cheaply with any standard-issue SD card to boot.
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THE FUTURE

Of the two, the 3DS has sold far, far more units worldwide, but Sony doesn’t seem like its even thinking about abandoning the Vita, which is a good sign. With all the talk of Vita connectivity at Sony’s PS4 unveiling event a couple of months ago, it seems like the complexion of what the portable means inside the Playstation ecosystem is about to change. Sony is promising the (eventual) ability to stream and play all PS4 games on the Playstation Vita via remote play, and while they have already technically promised this twice with PSP-PS3 and PSV-PS3 remote play and failed to deliver each time, the sheer combined power of the two consoles we’re talking about here may finally make this exciting idea a reality.

Oh, and you can make folders now too!

Oh, and you can make folders now too!

Nintendo is starting to show some rather neat connectivity features between the 3DS and its newest home console the Wii U, and while direct streaming is neither possible nor necessary (the Wii U already has a tablet controller for that exact purpose), connectivity plans are still in place. The quick and easy process of transferring Mii characters and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate save data between the two consoles is already showing some exciting potential in its own right. Not that anyone really has a Wii U at the moment.

As for the portables standing on their own in the near future, the Vita‘s future currently looks the less certain of the two. In terms of must-buy, potentially system-selling games the Vita horizon looks depressingly barren, a fact slightly tempered by the glut of genuinely interesting indie prospects on the Playstation Network. Yet no matter how many clever, enjoyable (and, in the case of Guacamelee, outright brilliant) smaller titles become available for current Vita owners to devour, such games do not sell Vita consoles, and aside from the aforementioned Final Fantasy X and X-2 remasters, there is precious little to get excited about on the larger scale side of things. I’m hoping for some big announcements around this year’s E3.

Me gusta Guacamelee!

Me gusta Guacamelee!

The 3DS has no such worries. I’ve already gone through some of its biggest upcoming releases in the GAMES section above, but particularly in the case of Pokemon and Zelda, the handheld has some real system-selling software arriving in the near future. Considering how terribly barren its first nine months of existence were, it is great to see that Nintendo is still capable of doing things right by their fans. If only they paid this much attention to their latest home console…

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I’m not going to go ahead and declare an overall “winner” here, as my personal preference between the two portables seems to change month to month. Truth be told, the Nintendo 3DS and the Playstation Vita are both great consoles in their own right and I can tell you that owning both definitely has its perks, but if you want to decide between them then I hope you’ve seen something in this article that helps you to make the choice.

Happy portable gaming!

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