This is essentially a review/comparison of the two, arguably, best handhelds ever made. I have decided to compare only the 3DS and the Vita, as opposed to DS and PSP/Vita, that is far too large an area to cover and it’s potentially more interesting to just compare the two newest iterations. So the 3DS has been on the market for almost 4 years and the Vita just had its 3rd birthday and both systems are truly fantastic. Before I go any further I would like to clarify that I own a Vita and a DSi but have played a fair amount of 3DS, and so there will be no bias on my behalf.
This comparison will look at the hardware, functionality, and the all-important games. When it comes to the games there will be no remakes, remasters or ports allowed, i.e. no Ocarina of Time or Grim Fandango. That being said, handheld games that are made in conjunction with console versions, i.e. Super Smash Bros. or Mario Kart, will be allowed for having notable differences.
Hardware is a difficult area to begin with because of how many iterations there are, particularly with the 3DS. There is the 3DS XL, the New 3DS XL, and the bizarre 2DS – which I’m not taking into account. It goes without saying that Nintendo desperately need a new marketing department, the names of their consoles are downright confusing. On the Sony side of things we have the PS Vita and the PS Vita Slim.
We’ll start with the superficial, which looks better? Well this comes down to personal preference. With both consoles turned on, and opened, I prefer the Vita because it is sleek and has a low footprint, in terms of buttons etc. Everything on the Vita is Black, with the silver rim around the outside, and thus it is very muted and cool looking. The 3DS looks nice also but is inherently more visible because of the dual screens. The buttons and D-Pad are great, classic Nintendo, but the flat analogue stick is strange. When closed the 3DS is a great looking console, particularly the color versions or the Zelda special edition, truly an awesome looking device. Similarly to the Vita, when closed the 3DS is a very nice, sleed handheld and the lack of buttons is a big bonus for slipping into your pocket. In this respect the Vita is trailing, it is significantly larger than a closed 3DS and doesn’t fit well in pockets, and then there’s the screen, which you fear getting scratched in pockets or setting down.
Let’s look at the screens of the two consoles. The PS Vita sports a beautiful OLED screen on the original version and a LED on the Slim version. Each of these screens look great but the OLED is much crisper and colorful, while also looking seamless with the glassy look of the console. The 3DS has two LCD screens, both of which are smaller than the Vita with less resolution. All in all the Vita is more powerful and has a better screen, therefore looks much better when running. Both consoles also have cameras, front and back facing cameras. Neither of those cameras are of much use, especially given that we all have phones with much better cameras, but a couple of games that make use of them, such as Tearaway. In direct comparison both have similar specs but the 3DS’s pictures look sharper and more colorful.
Then we have the buttons. The 3DS uses the classic Nintendo A B X Y buttons, along with a D-pad, flat analogue, on button, select, start and home buttons, and two bumpers. The Vita, on the other hand, has the iconic Playstation triangle, circle, square and X, a D-pad, dual analogue sticks, select, start and home buttons, and two bumpers. Both handhelds feel great and work perfectly but I always feel that the 3DS is designed with children in mind and thus the buttons all feel smaller. I’m not a fan of the analog on the 3DS and the bumpers have a very small click, whereas the Vita feels pretty much like a PS3 controller with good bumpers.
But enough about the looks. Which consoles plays better? Both consoles have gimmicks, the 3DS has a touch screen and 3D functionality, the Vita has two touch screens and motion control. The touch screens are interesting when used correctly and so far Nintendo’s games have made better use of it. Now it’s important to note that the Vita’s touch screens are its main screen and the back of the console, meaning they can’t be used as maps or inventories that way the 3DS can. Overall the Vita’s touch screens are much more responsive and intuitive but this can also be a problem. When playing certain games on the Vita, let’s say Fifa, the back touch screen can be used to shoot and it can be easy to accidentally touch the back and shoot from your own half. That being said, when you master the art of holding the Vita and stop making this mistake it isn’t an issue and using the back screen to shoot can be fun.
When the Vita’s touch screens are used properly they are amazing, i.e. Tearaway, Murasaki Baby, and Uncharted: Golden Abyss. But the same can be said for the 3DS, i.e. Pokemon, Advanced Wars, and Super Smash Bros. In the end I feel like the 3DS has fewer games with touch functionality that feels shoe-horned in but considering the placement of the Vita’s screens it does a great job with them.
Then there’s the 3D functionality of the 3DS. As is the case with the touch screen, when sued correctly the 3D can be really good and actually add something to the game. The newer iterations of the 3DS have better 3D and it can be used for longer without burning holes in your retina’s. Super Mario 3D Land, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, and Fire Emblem Awakening are the best examples of good 3D use. As fun as this can be, it is still just a gimmick at the end of the day, same as the touch screens and motion control.
The last area to consider is the power of the machines. I’m not really into the hardware specs of consoles but I am aware that the Vita is significantly more powerful than the 3DS. This is important when it comes to the Vita getting ports of PS2 or PS3 games, using remote play with the PS4 and running amazing games like Killzone: Shadow Fall that look like they could be on a PS3. As is the case with Nintendo’s home consoles, power means little to nothing. Nintendo have never been about the graphics, except for maybe the Gamecube when they tried to rival the PS2, but they’re went back to their roots; quality over aesthetic. This is largely a moot point because the quality of Nintendo’s games do not depend on the graphics or power but when you see a game like Uncharted running on the Vita you can’t help but wish something like Mario Galaxy was possible on the 3DS.
Winner: PS Vita
I’m giving this category to the Vita because it is the more powerful machine and can run some truly amazing games, as well as having a wonderful screen, particularly the OLED. The 3DS is smaller, fits better in the pocket, has a better camera and makes better use of touch screen but it comes down to the presentation and, in this instance, the Vita looks and feels better.
This is gonna be a pretty quick category but I think it’s important to address the services provided on both systems, i.e. Nintendo eShop, PSN and other things.
The Nintendo eShop can be pretty complicated and the fact that it wasn’t even there at launch was a strange issue that further highlights Nintendo’s lacking knowledge of online gaming. Games are organised in kind of baffling ways, the category names are confusing and if you don’t know the name of a game you’re looking for your kind of screwed. Another issue is payment; paying for games can be a major pain in the backside, especially considering that Nintendo Club Cards from DSi aren’t valid on 3DS, so money wasted I guess! You also have to add money to your wallet before making any purchases, which requires a credit card or eCard – no Paypal or normal bank cards at this point is kind of ridiculous. And I won’t even begin to rant about the fact that purchases are tied to a system and switching systems/accounts is a major pain in the ass. Basically the eShop is a disaster.
On the other side of things, the PS Store on Vita is sufficient. It’s far from perfect but it works. Games can be found in alphabetical lists or genre categories that make sense. There are deals and highlighted games across the top. It’s a very streamlined process, almost to a fault. There is a serious lack of screenshots for a lot of games and that can hinder sales. But all in all it works just fine, games are easily found and easily paid for through Paypal or card, and your details are remembered so that future purchases are very simple. And of course your games are not tied to the system. It’s also important to mention PS Plus, the excellent service that has given many gamers access to wonderful titles they may never otherwise have played, so the Vita gets a major point for that service. The Vita also utilizes cross-buy and cross-play functionality with PS3 and PS4 and so many games are a 1 time purchase for two systems. Like Rogue Legacy, which you get for both and your saves are picked up on both platforms. It’s quick and works great. Then there’s remote play, which works fine with a good internet connection but the touch screens being mapped to the triggers is annoying. Of course I’d be remiss not to mention Sony’s ongoing issues with hackers. The PSN hack over Christmas was a real shot to the company that’s had so much momentum since the announcement of the PS4.
Both handhelds have a series of app’s and add-on’s that bulk up the back of the box, i.e. Netflix, Youtube, web browser, camera, and the Vita has Skype. The Vita is also losing the Youtube app so that’s a loss but the site can still be accessed through the web browser.
Winner: PS Vita
The PS Vita wins in the services department because its online functionality is far superior to that of Nintendo’s. The store is streamlined and easy to use, as opposed to the ongoing disaster that is the eShop, PS Plus is a fantastic value service and it has Skype, which is surprisingly useful. Assuming Sony are not getting hacked, PSN is an ever-improving service that works well on Vita.
The games are what all comes down to right? Right. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter about aesthetics, menu layout or online services, if there aren’t any good games to play then what does it all matter. That being said, the winner of this category doesn’t necessarily mean winner overall because that would negate the entire article and…welll….I put work into this. Plus I really do believe that the overall package is important and both these machines have awesome games, so it can’t be as simple as that.
Let’s start with the little machine that could, the PS Vita. There is a very odd perception that the Vita has no games but this is hilariously misconstrued. Truth be told, there are actually more Vita games than there are 3DS games. As of this week, there are 960 Vita games, compared to 604 3DS games – as of the end of 2014. I knew Vita had a lot of games but even I was surprised by how many it actaully was and sure a lot of them are ports or games that can also be found on PS3/PS4 but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Of course we wish the Vita had more first party support but the ports etc. only help round out what is already a great list.
What’s funny is the Vita had one of, if not the, greatest launch line-ups of all time; Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Gravity Rush, Everybody’s Golf, Wipeout 2048, Modnation Racers, Little Deviants, Escape Plan, Super Stardust Delta, Unit 13, MLB: The Show 12, EA Sports Fifa, Rayman Origins and many more. That’s an incredible line-up of games and since then we’ve seen Killzone: Mercenary, Call of Duty, Assassins Creed Liberation, Soul Sacrifice, Resistance Burning Skies, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, Danganronpa, Freedom Wars, Little Big Planet, Persona 4, Tearaway and more, on the AAA front. But the Vita is considered a failure when it comes to big system-selling games. The Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed games were big disappointments and great games like Freedom Wars and Killzone aren’t popular enough to sell the system.
In its 3 years on the market the Vita has gone from being touted as console-style gaming in your pocket, to the niche “indie machine”. The label of indie machine is seen as a knock on the Vita but the truth is, it’s exactly what happened with my Vita. I started out playing Uncharted, Killzone and Jak & Daxter but now I play Rogue Legacy, Murasaki Baby and Machinarium. The Vita is at its absolute best when its playing awesome games like these that can be played in short bursts or completed quickly. While it can play excellent AAA games, the Vita is made for “indie” games and the hardcore gamers that play it continue to support it. The Vita has the highest attach rate of any console.
Next up is the Nintendo 3DS. Unlike the Vita, the 3DS had a pretty poor launch line-up, the best of which are Super Street Fighter IV, Madden NFL, The Sims 3, Nintendogs + Cats, Rayman 3D, and Lego Star Wars. So, as you can tell, slim pickings. But as is customary with Nintendo, the games slowly began to roll out and with each amazing title we forgot the poor launch. So 4+ years later and the 3DS has an insane catalog of games that can rival any system out there.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Bravely Default, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Harvest Moon, Kid Icarus: Uprising, Kingdom Hearts 3D, Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, Mario Golf, Mario Kart 7, Super Smash Bros., New Super Mario Bros. 2, Professor Layton, Pokemon, Resident Evil, Super Mario 3D Land, Tekken, The World Ends With You, and of course, Tetris. These are just a handful of 3DS games that are truly awesome. Between Mario, Zelda and Pokemon, Nintendo can pretty much win any race but add in the likes of Fire Emblem, Animal Crossing and Bravely Default, and you have a line-up that has something for everyone.
Like I said earlier, I didn’t want to consider ports or remasters and so the likes of The Ocarina of Time and The Walking Dead cannot be considered.
The Winner: Nintendo 3DS
As underrated as the PS Vita’s game library is, the 3DS simply has more amazing titles. The Vita may have more games and a better standard overall than the 3DS, but it doesn’t have Mario, Pokemon, Zelda or any of the amazingly iconic titles that have made the 3DS the juggernaut it is.
Now here’s a very important category, which system is worth the cost?
The Nintendo 3DS has multiple models at varying costs, ranging from $163-$388 (Per Amazon.com). Considering you can buy a PS4 for $399 and an Xbox One for $365, a New 3DS XL at almost $400 seems very steep. So I think the high-end 3DS models would be hard to justify purchasing, unless you were willing to buy every great game the system has to offer. However, the biggest issue with buying the 3DS is the frequency of games. Yes the system has a plethora of awesome titles but they don’t come all that often, you can expect 2-4 big games a year and those in between are usually pretty iffy. So the 3DS is a long-term purchase that is a bit costly for anyone who isn’t a fan of its core franchises.
The PS Vita can be purchases at around $199, the Borderlands bundle. You can also get the system by itself for less, or pay $290 for red Vita Slim, 8GB memory card, 6 games and more. Unlike the 3DS, the Vita doesn’t have tent pole franchises to continually come back for and this has hurt the system commercially. But what it lacks in big franchises, it makes up for in new games every single week. Games that are made for the Vita make fantastic use of the system and show off the muscle it has, i.e. Killzone, Freedom Wars, etc. The Vita gets many games of its own, ports and remasters. If you’re a gamer that plays every day then the Vita is well worth the cost and, even though it doesn’t have franchises, the Vita still has a litany of awesome big titles, as mentioned earlier.
The Winner: PS Vita
Needless to say both the 3DS and the PS Vita are worth the cost. This one simply comes down to the fact Vita has more games and allows you to play more. Obviously both systems have way more games than anyone can play but the Vita gets really good games every week, whereas the 3DS is much less frequent. For its $160+ asking price, the PS Vita is amazing value for money.
Overall Winner: PS Vita
The PS Vita is a sleek, well designed piece of hardware. It has a simple but effective ecosystem that makes games easy to find, easy to play with others, and works in perfect sync with the PS4. While the PS Vita may not have the incredible library of games that the 3DS has, it has a wonderful library that is truly understated. Be it tripe-A blockbusters like Uncharted or Killzone, unique indies like Murasaki Baby or Rogue Legacy, or PS1/PS2/PSP classics like Resident Evil, Jak and Daxter, Grand Theft Auto, Sly Cooper, Duke Nukem or Crash Bandicoot.
The Vita has a great library of games that compliment it’s fantastic design and value for money. It may have sold only a fraction of what the 3DS has but the Vita has a loyal fanbase that supports it like no other. The 3DS is an amazing system that you 100% should buy, but the PS Vita is the best handheld on the market.