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New Challenger: Ready, Fight!

That’s it! The moment finally came! Two gaming giants are now sizing each other up, ready for a bloody, cut-throat battle. Who will dominate the market? Who will leave with their tail between their legs? Most importantly, who will come out on top after another skirmish in the Sony vs. Nintendo war? As I opened the box containing my PlayStation Vita last week, I was struck by several things; the size, the vast array of features and the dual thumb sticks. What never even crossed my mind was: “This is going to kill the 3DS”, or: “Wow, the Vita pales into insignificance next to the 3DS”. There is this weird obsession with the idea of “the best”, or winning and losing in the hackneyed “console war”. Yes, that’s right; my opening metaphor was built on sarcasm! I intend to show you why these two handheld systems are chalk and cheese, and why, as a self-respecting gamer, you’d have to be mad to write off either of these consoles before giving them a chance.

Look at them snuggle, it's cute!

I confess I was quick to jump on the bandwagon of people claiming not to understand the 3DS when it was unveiled; after all, it’s only a DS with some faddy feature stuck on, right? Wrong. I maintained this stance right up until the moment when I decided that, as a responsible human being, I should at least hold this new piece of technology in my hands before condemning it for all time. While I was not blown away by what I saw, Super Monkey Ball just isn’t my game, my interest was piqued sufficiently for me to sit up and pay attention. The moment I knew I had to own a 3DS was when Luigi’s Mansion 2 was announced. If I’d had the money I would have paid for the console then and there. However, the forced waiting proved to be a blessing in disguise, as the Limited Zelda 25th Anniversary Edition console was later announced for November. I bought it the day it came out.

Since the dark days of its release, the 3DS is now going from strength to strength with an incredible array of games on the shelf and many more waiting in the wings. I cannot be the only person to have gone weak at the knees at the sight of Etrian Odyssey 4 in the broadcast last week, Nintendo’s way of reminding gamers that the Vita wasn’t the only thing with something to say on the 22nd. Not forgetting that Kid Icarus: Uprising launches in March. The sky really is the limit now they’ve overcome the pesky hurdle of that hollow launch line-up. And the thing itself is pretty good!

The anticipation is already killing me...

Having played around for a good week with my Vita I have decided I enjoy Nintendo’s StreetPass much more than Sony’s Near, which requires fiddly connections to wi-fi or 3G before it will talk to nearby consoles. The proximity-reliant 3DS feels much more exciting because you can interact with people as you walk around town without knowing, only to be confronted with a veritable treasure trove of new Miis. Ok, I am exaggerating slightly, but I’ve had StreetPass Miis arrive in the strangest of places; hats off to the Danish guy I collected whilst driving down the motorway over Christmas!

You might notice I have yet to regale you with tales of how fantastic the 3D is. Well then! My favourite part about the 3D is I get to decide when I use it or not, and that Nintendo have clearly spent a lot of time making a console that has a strong selling point with the 3D, but that is just as brilliant even when you overlook that feature. I often sit and dribble in awe as I blast zombies apart down corridors that stretch into the distance right there in my hands. Once developers properly get the measure of the 3DS, some seriously impressive graphics will turn up on the 3DS and take everyone by surprise, I can tell you.

These are 2D images of a 3D game. In your hands it's at least 500% more awesome!

Now what about the Vita? It only has one screen, but two touch pads. The 3DS has two screens and one touch pad. That’s a lot of things to look at and touch. But one of the Vita’s major selling points is the presence of two thumb sticks. Nintendo has been mocked, berated and defamed for the decision to include only one circle pad on the 3DS, then again when they announced the Circle Pad Pro. I was sceptical about it myself until, once again, I had it in my hands. I really should trust Nintendo more, shouldn’t I? The pleasant thing about the 3DS Circle Pad is its concave shape, gently grasping your thumb so you’ll never slide off; this is a problem I have experienced with the Vita already. Despite its high-friction rubber, an intense session of Super Stardust Delta will usually see my thumb err onto the touch screen at least once, annoyingly triggering a missile launch. It is swings and roundabouts, but I prefer the feel of the 3DS and accessory in my hands over the sleek design of the Vita.

The screen is where the Vita really comes into its own. I have never seen games look so good as on this piece of kit. The vivid colours bring games to life so much that it is almost a shame when some of the games turn the brightness down when you play; I want Touch My Katamari to make my eyes bleed, that’s what crazy Japanese games are for! WipEout 2048 looks incredible; if they made a zone mode screensaver for the Vita, I would just sit and watch it. As it is, I spend the first few moments of each foray into the game watching the opening cinematic. It looks incredible. Alas, it wrenches my heart to cover that beautiful window to another world in finger marks and smears, but such is the gamer’s burden: he must play! And play I do.

Zone Mode is just so damn sexy.

This brings me rather conveniently to the Vita’s launch games. Sony made the right decision to get some big-name titles out with the console itself. The fact I can currently play an Uncharted game on the bus, and will soon be playing Bioshock and Resistance titles as well, is almost enough to make me forgive them for the memory card problem. It still gripes that I paid 50€ for a chunk of memory that should, by rights, come in the console itself. Even the 3DS comes with a 2Gb card free of charge, and that never seems to fill up. A few downloads from the PlayStation Store and it’ll be back to the shop for another deep dip into the wallet for me. Like the download-only PSP, it feels like a brilliant console with one severe limitation. Whoever starts producing cheaper versions of the memory cards stands to make a lot of money, even if they only sell for slightly less than the official Sony ones.

All complaints aside, both of these systems are incredible pieces of tech. Nintendo with its slow-moving long game plan and Sony with its push for quick success have both produced something that makes me shed a tear for the monochrome days of the Game Boy. Both systems boast games both out and announced that will take portable gaming to the next level and raise the stakes for future releases. So next time you catch yourself about to tell someone which of these consoles is better, make sure you know what you are talking about beforehand. If Sony can get past the relative disappointment of the Japanese sales figures and Nintendo can keep releasing such awesome games as Super Mario 3D Land, we stand to live through the most exciting time ever for handhelds. Don’t hate one or the other; they both have good and bad sides, but are both ultimately amazing little machines.

Video games were a part of Chris's life from the Mega Drive onwards. He has many happy gaming memories, including the first time he collected all the chaos emeralds in Sonic 2, collecting all SSBM's trophies (yes, all of them) and, more recently, collecting far too many platinum trophies on his PlayStation 3. In the real world, he has a degree in French and is currently living in Frankfurt, Germany. Follow him on Twitter @DPrime_Chris

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