Now that both the 3DS and PS Vita have hit retail floors, they can finally be put side by side for a close comparison. But choosing a clear winner between the two is not necessarily cut-and-dry, as victory cannot be placed on graphical prowess alone. The head-to-head battle notwithstanding, both still have their own challenges ahead of them if they hope to hold a profit for years to come. Let's see how they fare in a few different categories.
If you've played both systems, you'll likely agree that the Vita is a much stronger system in terms of graphical quality. Granted, the 3DS is a far sight better looking than the Nintendo DS, but its PICA200 GPU just can't deliver the same gorgeous visuals as the Vita's SGX543MP4+, the same chip found on an iPad, only stronger with quad-core as opposed to the tablet's dual-core. The display size also gets a nod in favor of Sony, with a solid five-inch screen, compared to largest of the two screens on the 3DS measuring only 3.5 inches. Basically, the Vita's wide screen allows it the flexibility to take any console or PC game and not have to rework the interface. The text may be smaller than on your flat panel, but it's still manageable, a fair trade-off for the bulky size of the Vita (just wear baggy pants instead of skinny jeans).
Winner: PS Vita
Both systems spout a ton of control inputs. They both have an accelerometer and gyroscope, touchscreen, the standard D-pad and face buttons, L and R triggers, and analog sticks. Of course, not all of these are on an equal plane.
The biggest beauty of the Vita is its Super AMOLED multi-touch capacitive touchscreen. It's so responsive, in fact, that sometimes my finger is a quarter-inch above the screen and it still registers my input. The 3DS touchscreen is responsive as well, but isn't designed for navigating menus like the Vita's is. There's no stylus packed with the Vita, but with its large screen, there doesn't need to be. And when the display looks so good, why wouldn't you want to touch it?
A point goes to each side for the analog controls. The Vita gets a checkmark for sporting two control sticks, but I have the give Nintendo the edge on better design. The Circle Pad on the 3DS has a smoother feel and finer registration. You'll understand what I mean when you play a game on both that requires sneaking. Plus, with the raised stick on the Vita, it gets caught on my jean pocket nearly every time I store it, unlike the closed casing of the 3DS (and yes, I wear loose-fitting jeans).
Where the Vita loses a point is with the rear touchpad—it's a clever idea, but so far has been a nuisance for any game requiring its use, as your fingers likely cause unwanted triggers as they rest behind the handheld. Of course, we'll adjust how we hold the device, but I still haven't seen a fluid implementation of this control style yet.
Winner: PS Vita (but just barely)
The software is where there is a clear separation between the two systems, but not to the advantage of who you'd expect. It's easy to say the Vita takes this one because it can deliver console-quality games on a portable device, and granted, I'm loving that as well. But I'm starting to ask myself, "Why play the game on a Vita when my PS3 is five feet away?" If Sony continues down a certain path of game development, we'll eventually feel like everything on the Vita is simply a port from the PS3.
Nintendo, however, has avoided this possible disaster. Quite the contrary, actually. Although series like Animal Crossing and Mario Kart were born on consoles, most gamers prefer the titles on portable devices, and Nintendo has taken great strides to ensure that these and many other games feel like their own entity, designed for gaming on the go. They may not be as gorgeous as Uncharted: Golden Abyss, but when it comes to games, gameplay trumps graphics.
Now, the Vita did have a much better launch lineup, and I'm dazzled by their looks as well. But what we really need from Sony are IPs designed specifically for the Vita, like Little Deviants, only something better than pretty tech demos used to showcase the Vita's features. The next wave of announced titles for the Vita is close at hand, and let's hope it can compare to the gems scattered across the 3DS' library.
Apart from the games (both retail and downloadable), both portables come packed with a bunch of exclusive apps and other digital trinkets to waste time with. Both have some AR diversions, with the 3DS adding its 3D luster to the mix, but the Vita games have a little more substance.
But the real importance here is multiplayer, and Sony has already proven on day one to still be years ahead Nintendo. I'm enjoying some Mario Kart match-ups on my 3DS, but if the best Nintendo has to offer still feels clunky to connect, then the Big N needs some serious retooling. Checking friends, comparing trophies, and quickly popping into any multiplayer (both local and online) is easy to do on the Vita and is as smooth as silk. Toss in Twitter, Facebook, and other social apps, free to download from the PS Store, and we could possibly have a perfect hybrid of a gaming device and smartphone with the Vita. The StreetPass and SpotPass for the 3DS are useful tools, especially in big cities, but for people like me who don't live in a metropolis, they go relatively unexploited. I still haven't completely figured out the Vita's NEAR program, but from it I've already made ten new friends within a three-mile radius. Points to Sony for helping me find other gaming geeks so close to me.
Winner: PS Vita
Always a big sticking point for consumers, price is a very touchy issue for new products. Nintendo learned this the hard way by overpricing the 3DS, but did wonderfully to rectify that problem, and even threw in twenty free games for those of us who dished out $250 at launch. Sony must not have been paying attention, because they are trying to sell the Vita for the same price. Now, I'm sure the Vita costs more to produce than the 3DS, but gamers don't care about Sony's loss in profit. If the price isn't right for the buyer, then Sony gets zero dollars from them. It'll take a couple more months to see how the Vita's global sale figures add up, but, until then, I wouldn't expect any drop in price. The games are relatively close in the spectrum, but it looks like the 3DS cap is holding strong at $39.99 for marquis titles, while the Vita tests deeper waters with Uncharted's $49.99 price tag.
A big cost issue to the detriment of the Vita has to do with their proprietary SD card, which starts at twenty dollars for 4GBs, and skyrockets to one hundred smackers for 32 gigs. This feels a bit like a smack in the face to Sony supporters.
Now we get to the branding, which could well be the biggest factor for both systems' successes and demises. In the handheld market, Nintendo is holding the better hand, especially with today's portable technology. You see, the 3DS caters to a much broader audience, most importantly to the preteen demographic. And while the age of smartphone owners is dipping younger every day, many parents still consider the 3DS a toy, and thus are more easily swayed to wrap it up for their toddler.
Sony, on the other hand, has a tight hold on the eighteen-to-thirty age group. The percentage of smartphone owners in this age bracket is getting close to 100%, and many of them get their gaming fixes through cheap apps on the Android or iOS market. The point is, only true Sony fans will have the unwavering desire to get their hands on a Vita, while many remain on the fence for various reasons. Unless Sony can find some way to tap into Nintendo's target audience, they have little chance of dethroning Nintendo on the portable battlefield.
In the categories given, it would appear we have a tie, which seems a fair outcome. However, the true winner will be based on the preference of the individual gamer. If you're looking for a powerful portable platform that will still have viable hardware three to four years down the road, then the Vita is the best choice for you. But Nintendo has first-party support like no other publisher and a history of well-founded domination in the handheld market for all age groups. Personally, I like having both, as each delivers a very different gaming experience. So if you can't decide or don't want to, save a little money, find a good deal, and buy them both—you'll likely find little to complain about with either one.
Date: March 13, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*