It’s astounding to think that just a few years ago, the Nintendo DS and the PSP were the lone mobile devices that gamers had to choose from. It must have been nice for Sony and Nintendo, to only have each other to compete with.
Then the iPhone came along. At launch, it was essentially a glorified iPod — but the 2008 arrival of the App Store changed that. Suddenly iOS was a legitimate gaming platform. The arrival of tablets and Android phones only further crowded the field. What we have today is a torrential downpour of mobile devices — all of which are gaming systems in their own rights.
So where does that leave the two old-timers? The dedicated gaming systems of Nintendo and Sony are desperately searching for ways to stay relevant. The two companies have gone in two different — yet unsurprising — directions, in trying to differentiate their products.
Let’s take a look at the choices that Sony and Nintendo have made with their latest systems; and how they stack up against each other.
In terms of design, not a lot has changed since the days of the DS and the PSP. Nintendo still has a dual-screen clamshell device, while Sony sticks with its more traditional look — whose inspiration can be traced all the way back to the Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx.
The Vita is longer and wider, and only slightly thinner. This makes the 3DS the more portable of the two, though you could argue that neither competes with a smartphone in this department.
The 3DS is also a bit lighter than the Vita.
To give you some perspective on the threat from smartphones, the iPhone 4S weighs 140g and the Galaxy Nexus is about 150g.
The biggest thing to keep in mind here is that the 3DS is using a stereoscopic (glasses-free 3D) display on the top screen, so it essentially comes out to 400×240 resolution in each eye.
From that perspective, the Vita easily has the sharper display. It’s only presented in two dimensions, but 3D hasn’t become quite the sensation that companies like Nintendo hoped that it would be.
This is another category where smartphones have the upper-hand. The iPhone 4S and Galaxy Nexus have pixel densities of around 320-330ppi.
The Vita has much more processing power than the 3DS does. Its quad-core CPU is probably clocked between 800MHz and 1GHz, easily trumping the 3DS’ 268MHz dual-core chip.
This is another area where the 3DS is getting shown up. The Vita is, without question, going to give you much better graphics.
128MB of RAM would be unheard of on a current-generation high-end smartphone. Yet that’s what the 3DS is bringing to the table. It’s trumped by the Vita’s 512MB.
Here we see one of the biggest potential drawbacks of the Vita. Sony has priced digital downloads of its games cheaper than it priced its physical games, but you’ll have to pay Sony for the privilege of storing them.
The Vita has no internal storage, and its external storage is a proprietary Sony “PS Vita card,” which will be pricey: 4GB for $20, 8GB for $30, 16GB for $60, and 32GB for $100. Those are much more costly than comparable SD cards. Sony claims that it’s doing it for “security” (aka preventing piracy), but at what point does it become hostile towards customers?
The Vita will be the first prominent dedicated gaming system to offer 3G connectivity. Much like tablets and e-readers, there will be a cheaper Wi-Fi-only option, and a more expensive Wi-Fi + 3G model (which uses AT&T).
Here we have a rare category where the two are evenly matched. We’ll need to get our hands on a Vita for testing, but both devices should be in the 3-5 hour range.
Don’t expect any 8MP cameras here; these are more throw-ins than legit photography tools. They’re just good enough to allow for game integration, augmented reality, and other fun tricks.
This is a potential deal-breaker for PSP owners. All of those UMDs that you collected through the years will be no good here. It isn’t surprising that Sony wouldn’t give the Vita a physical drive for the old cartridges, but the company also isn’t offering a Passport plan for US customers.
The UMD Passport program would have let customers get digital copies of their old UMDs; but there will be none of that. If you own a physical copy of God of War: Chains of Olympus or GTA: Chinatown Wars, you’ll have to pony up and buy a new digital copy. What was that we were saying about hostility towards customers?
The 3DS, meanwhile, comes in at the other end of the spectrum. It offers full compatibility for (almost) all DS and DSi titles. The only exceptions are games like Guitar Hero that required a peripheral.
Did we mention that the Vita has a touchpad on its backside? Though this may not sound like a mind-blowing feature, it provides yet another tool for developers to involve you in their games. It’s placed so that your fingers will be resting near it anyway, so it can provide extra controls for more complex titles.
How can you mention a Nintendo device without bringing up Mario? Though the Italian plumber has starred in many a watered-down cash-in through the years, his flagship titles are still top-of-the-line. Super Mario 3D Land is the first (original) landmark title for the 3DS, and the more of those quality Mario games Nintendo can spit out, the better off 3DS owners will be.
In many ways, these devices are targeted at different audiences. Nintendo has always been favored by young children — and the 3DS will have a library to match — but it isn’t limited to kids. Any adult game lover can be swept away by the brilliance of Ocarina of Time 3D and Super Mario 3D Land. Nintendo will need to keep producing games like that in order for its device to avoid becoming a mere novelty.
Part of that is due to processing power. The Vita is much more of a device for hardcore gamers, and it has the specs to back it up. Its biggest long-term competition, then, may lie with smartphones and tablets. Sure, the Vita makes a compelling gaming device today, but what about a couple of years from now? Do you think that the iPhone 6 or Droid Razr Maxx 3 HD+(?) won’t eat the specs of these two for breakfast? Despite the hyped launch of the Vita, the future of dedicated gaming systems has never been murkier.
With the Nintendo 3Ds less than a week away and coming in at a pricey $250, there are a number of questions being raised by consumers about the device. We’ve tried to answer some of those in our recent video posts, of which we have two more here.
In the first video the 3Ds is compared to a DS Lite, focusing on the difference in hardware from one device to the next. The DS Lite was used because, frankly the DSi didn’t make a huge difference from the Lite and I (like many people) never bothered to upgrade from it. The two have noticeable differences, but they are surprisingly simliar given that the DS Lite is almost five years old (it was released in June 2006 in the USA).
The biggest difference with the 3DS when compared to the DS Lite is the larger, 3D-capable top display, but the addition of the slide controller above the d-pad is also quite notable. Past that the buttons were improved to be more clicky, there is a lot more gloss on the interior, the coloring on the 3DS is much more complex than with older models, the stylus’ placement was changed, and the stylus holder is more secure. The 3DS also is dockable, has a WiFi on/off switch, and has the SD slot from the DSi/DSi XL.
While those hardware changes might be somewhat superficial on the whole, combined with the internal changes (WiFi, processor, graphics, on-board software, etc.) you have a drastically different product.
Gaming (with a DS game)
The 3DS is backwards compatible so that DS games can be played on it (as expected, 3DS games cannot be played on the DS/DS Lite/DSi/DSi XL). DS games cannot play in 3D on the top screen but they do benefit from the brighter, sharper screens used by the 3DS. They are compatible with the new slide pad though.
There are two things to know about using DS games on the 3DS. The first is that they don’t drain the battery as much as 3DS games, allowing the system to last a reported 6-8 hours instead of the normal 3-5. The other notable thing is that standard DS games will not take up the entire top screen (they are not as wide) so there will be black letterboxing on the sides of the top screen. The games still look very good (better than on my aged DS Lite) but they don’t take full advantage of the 3DS.
All told the 3DS has some very good steps up from the older hardware, especially my trusty, old, slightly dirty, DS Lite. The 3DS can play your collection of DS games (but not your GBA cartridges) and it will have a selection of downloadable games coming, which are transferable from the DSi if you have one. So, if you have the money and the desire, the only downside of the 3DS is the decreased battery life compared to the older models, but that’s really only an issue when you are playing 3DS games which they can’t play in the first place.