Let’s face it: pessimism is louder than optimism. This is particularly true for the game industry. A developer will announce a game that fans have been clamoring to see for years, only to be faced with staunch opposition and criticism upon said announcement. Consoles will be released after tons of pre-release fanfare and then flounder once they hit store shelves. Resistance against the norm is what keeps this industry moving forward and while conflict is always good for innovation, hostilities can sometimes drown out even the best of products. Playstation Vita and Nintendo 3DS know this lesson all too well. Both systems encountered poor retail launches, severe game droughts and continued rampant fanboyism that will often claim “doom” at the sign of any trouble. However, while both of these systems have faced their fair share of adversity, Vita and 3DS have managed to mold themselves into compelling products over the past year. So, for a moment, let’s drown the cynicism and throw enthusiasm a lifesaver. Here’s why the video game handhelds of today deserve your hard-earned simoleons.
Why should you own a Nintendo 3DS?
Seeing is Believing
Upon seeing the Nintendo 3DS for the first time at E3 2010, I was absolutely floored. I’ll never forget watching the Ocarina of Time title sequence remastered, running in glasses-free 3D, and thinking “I need this”. Regardless of your fanboy affiliation, glasses-free 3D on a video game handheld was something truly revolutionary that’s only managed to get better over time. While many people turn the handheld’s 3D slider down during long gameplay sessions, simply having the option to experience classic games like Kid Icarus, Excitebike and Star Fox 64 in eye-popping 3D is enough to warrant a purchase.
If there’s one way in which Nintendo has proven to me that they are finally taking a step in the right direction when it comes to downloadable content, it’s the eShop. What started out as a barren storefront with only a few Game Boy ports and a handful of good DSiWare games (here’s looking at you Art Style) has now flourished into a digital mini-mall complete with a multitude of compelling products. Nintendo’s own Pushmo, Dillon’s Rolling Western, Sakura Samurai, Ketzal’s Corridors and HarmoKnight prove that downloadable games don’t have to be shallow experiences while the digital storefront allows third-parties to release innovative games like Mighty Switch Force, VVVVVV, and the recently-released Fractured Soul without the risk of a possible retail bomb. The recent addition of full retail games like New Super Mario Bros. 2 to the eShop certainly didn’t hurt the situation either.
“Lately, people at the Nintendo building have been leaving their work stations and wandering around other floors for no apparent reason with their 3DS to use the StreetPass conection with the other employees”, remarked Nintendo global president Satoru Iwata during a press event last year, “Normally, I would tell them not to do this, but…I am one of those people leaving their work stations”. The Nintendo 3DS’ built-in StreetPass feature, which allows users to exchange data from games and applications simply by passing one another with their systems in sleep mode, has become the reason to carry your handheld with you on a daily basis. What if that guy on the train happens to have a killer Kid Icarus Uprising weapon to Streetpass you? Maybe he has the last pink puzzle piece needed to complete that 3D diorama commemorating Kirby’s 20th Anniversary? While Nintendo attempted something similar with “Tag Mode” in Nintendo DS games like Nintendogs and Dragon Quest IX, the feature required both players to have the corresponding game and their handheld in sleep mode in order to work. With those barriers eliminated, they’ve managed to make a relatively simple function of the system both a compelling reason for 3DS owners to play daily and a key selling-point to gamers who want to join in on the fun.
Swapnote Me Maybe?
Expanding on DS’ Pictochat feature, Swapnote allows 3DS owners to share hand-written messages with one another via Streetpass or Spotpass. Vita owners can keep their message functionality: the ability to send funny hand-drawn pictures on Nintendo-themed stationary is just a better, and more fun way, to communicate. I’d share some of my personal Swapnotes with you all, but then I’d have to kill you.
It’s Got Mario
Vita and the iPhone may have their fair share of quality titles but the fact of the matter is this: you will never be able to play Mario on them. If there’s one thing that manages time and time again to keep Nintendo afloat in even the most treacherous of waters, it’s their franchises. Nintendo’s library of exclusives from Animal Crossing to Zelda is second-to-none. This is not an opinion, this is objective fact. How Nintendo has handled each of its franchises in recent years is certainly a topic up for debate but there’s simply no denying that their games have sales appeal, staying power and, most importantly, a history of being high-quality. When it comes down to it, whether you want to play Sakurai’s re-imagining of Kid Icarus or just the latest installment in the Pokémon series, you’re going to need to pony up and buy a 3DS.
Why should you own a PlayStation Vita?
Like My Status
As someone who thrives in the realm of social media, having dedicated apps for Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Youtube and Nico Nico Douga (if you’re in Japan) is something that’s extremely important to me and I know I’m not alone. Shockingly, the Vita remains the only handheld game console with this functionality. Do you have the urge to brag about your most recent win in Marvel vs Capcom 3 on Twitter? Feel like sharing a screenshot of a particularly beautiful scene in Gravity Rush to Flickr? No problem. While many hardcore gamers may find this functionality unnecessary, the truth of the matter is that these apps should really be standard in every handheld so the fact that Vita has them is a big “like”.
True Dual Analog Control
Sorry Nintendo, but Sony has you beat in this department. Sure, 3DS owners can buy the Circle Pad Pro add-on for their 3DS (dubbed the “Frankenstick” by the good people at 8-4 Ltd.) but Vita has dual analog control right out-of-the-box. It’s surprising that it’s taken a handheld this long to release with full dual analog functionality but credit must be given to the system that did it first: Playstation Vita. Dual analog control finally allows players to experience the portable counterpart to their favorite console games without any control compromise whatsoever. PSP attempted to deliver console quality experiences on a handheld but its little brother has finally managed to make good on its initial promise thanks to its two sticks.
Cross-Play is Awesome
Being able to play with your friends on the PS3 via your PS Vita is a huge deal that a lot of current Vita owners take for granted. Cross-play blurs the line between console and handheld experiences even further and it’s a feature that’s unique to Sony’s Vita.
Drop a Beat
It’s becoming increasingly clear that gamers looking for a system to satisfy the DJ inside of themselves should look no further than Playstation Vita. By launching with Q Entertainment’s Lumines Electric Symphony and then continuing the groove with titles like the brilliant Sound Shapes and the otaku fan-favorite Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F, the Vita has managed to solidify itself as the go-to handheld for quality music games. The Playstation Vita’s ability to play music in the background while playing games is also, to put it lightly, pretty freakin’ awesome.
There’s no question about it: the PlayStation Store on Vita is the best digital storefront on any handheld game system. The store gives users the ability to not only download every PS Vita game, but a massive number of PSP games and PS1 classics as well as PSN exclusive titles like twin-stick shooter Super Stardust Delta and the infinitely clever (and my personal favorite game on the system) Where Is My Heart? It’s even got a full-fledged video store with content ranging from Hollywood blockbusters like The Avengers to the latest episode of Glee, all available in HD.
Analysts can ring the death knell all they want: there are still plenty of reasons to go out and pick up a handheld gaming device. And, as long as developers continue to support these devices with quality content that can’t be experienced anywhere else, there will always be a market for them. The onset of 99¢ iOS games may have changed the gaming landscape for good but the continued advances on the handheld front by both Nintendo and Sony are what’s changing it for the better. Now, I’ve simply stopped worrying and learned to love the handhelds.
Special thanks to MaxatdesigN for the header image!