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Nintendo vs. Sony – Portable Wars: Round 2! FIGHT!

Posted by on January 31, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Nintendo vs. Sony - Portable Wars: Round 2! FIGHT!With Nintendo’s newest handheld arriving in just a few weeks and the recent announcement of Sony’s Next Generation Portable (NGP, or PSP2 for most peeps) it’s a good time to sit down and see how these two colossi duke it out once more!

Round 1 Recap

Nintendo’s DS handheld and Sony’s PlayStation Portable launched within a few months of each other in late 2004. Nintendo positioned their weird, dual screened gaming system as a ‘third pillar’ meant to run along the Game Boy Advance and the GameCube while Sony hocked its Portable as the definitive gaming-slash-multimedia device.

The DS was a relatively low-tech approach that was roughly as powerful as the (then) decade-old Nintendo 64 home console with a stylus-interactive bottom screen that allowed for both improv analog controls (like a touch-based joystick) and menu manipulation. The games still came on cartridges and there were no moving parts, which lead to great battery life. As it turns out, built-in compatibility with Game Boy Advance games allowed it to easily succeed the GBA and become the most popular handheld of all time. (The legendary Game Boy brand has been idle since.)

The PSP launched with a befuddling marketing campaign that the PS3 would later suffer from: in their attempt to make a device for everyone, it ended up being a device for no one. While the handheld was roughly as powerful as the PS2 with a large LCD display, ports from the console were crippled by the lack of a second analog stick, making popular games like shooters extremely uncomfortable on the handheld. Sony positioned the proprietary Universal Media Disc format (essentially a disc in a guitar pick cartridge) as a great way to deliver movies – and for a time, the format blossomed while games were scarce. This quickly fizzed as people realized they weren’t interested in paying more for the UMD version of a movie over its DVD cousin (with no special features) when they could rip the latter to the PSP’s memory card and help preserve its relatively atrocious battery life. Despite some slimmer form factors, and being Nintendo’s strongest opponent in the handheld arena, consumers (and even Sony itself) had all but forgotten about the system by the end of the decade.

After six years, it appeared that the DS had thoroughly quashed the PSP, but a new player emerged that threatened to destabilize this previously walled-off fight: Apple. Through its extremely popular app store, iOS devices such as the iPhone and the iPod Touch MP3 player had easy access to super cheap, downloadable games of a quantity that dwarfed the selections of these two prizefighters by nearly an order of magnitude. Both Sony and Nintendo have been scrambling to come up with thorough updates to their aging platforms to battle this new opponent from Cupertino. So what does the crystal ball reveal…

Nintendo 3DS

By all means, this is the Nintendo DS 2. As DS sales have slid from ‘total domination’ to ‘not quite total domination’ on an annual basis, Nintendo is quick to iterate by adding cameras and downloadable apps (the DSi) or making it comically large to assist seniors (the DSi XL).

PROS:
– The 3DS’s hardware is pretty potent, allowing for great-looking titles to run at roughly 60 frames per second on its new widescreen top panel.
– Backwards compatible with all DS games, allowing for six years of gaming library from the get-go.
– Has a big analog stick for better control in 3D environments.
– Nintendo seems to be reaching out further to developers of mature titles (something their gaming handhelds have been sorely lacking) like Resident Evil to bring out a broader range of games.
– 3D without glasses! If you just don’t like 3D, or hate having to wear the glasses, the handheld allows for scalable 3D projection in games for greater depth.

CONS:
– The 3D without glasses doesn’t seem to be that great! Despite being in the bloody name, the 3D view (possible because of a layer of subpixels behind the main display) has been noted to be pretty unimpressive. Whether it’s the fact that different games require different, scaled settings to achieve their effect, the realization that the handheld cannot be moved or the illusion is shattered, the 3D illusion doesn’t provide much advantage in gameplay, or that journalists from Giant Bomb to Engadget complained of headaches after playing, the 3D ‘trick’ of this system doesn’t seem to be winning many fans. To top it off, because of the extra horsepower required to render the 3D mode, it’s been noted that the frame rate falls by nearly half from the standard 2D mode.
– Nintendo has a sketchy history in regards to providing compelling downloadable content. Intuitive online features just seem to elude them.
– The DS’s once-legendary battery life is being cut to roughly a third (3-5 hours) to push those extra dimensions.
– It just wouldn’t be a Nintendo launch without a weak software lineup. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be much compelling content for those picking up a 3DS on launch day.

Sony’s Next Generation Portable (or PSP2, really)

It would appear that Sony has really nowhere to go but up. I was very impressed by the original PSP’s presentation at launch, loving the feel and durability of the original hardware (something the smoother, candy-painted Nintendo hardware lacked in areas), but when the games failed to arrive and its multimedia playing abilities paled next to the iPod or Zune, it just failed to inspire. This new piece of hardware, however, looks like a giant stab in the right direction.

PROS:
– Incredibly powerful, near-PS3 level graphics provided by a quad-core ARM processor.
– The much-anticipated secondary analog stick and their conversion to ’tilt’ movement, rather than the sliding analog nub of the original PSP models.
– Capacitive front touch screen for smartphone-like interaction, as well as…
– Capacitive touch backing, allowing you to use your free fingers to rub the backside (!) for extra gameplay possibilities. At its PlayStation Event, Sony unveiled the ability to climb ledges by simply running one finger over another along the handheld’s back panel in an upcoming Uncharted portable game.
– Sony appears to be bringing their strong franchises to the handheld, such as Uncharted, Hot Shots Golf, and Resistance.
– A 3G hardware option for wireless/anywhere downloading will be available.

CONS:
– Only partially compatible with PSP. There will be no disc tray to insert UMDs, so you’ll need to buy the downloadable version if you want to play your favorite PSP titles on the new hardware.
– Price. While Sony hasn’t announced anything regarding dollar amounts, but for the amount of hardware they’re packing into the device and their previous snafus with introductory pricing, we hope they don’t price themselves out of the market. Again.
– Sony has yet to deliver a great portable multimedia experience. Both the original PSP and their Walkman-branded MP3 players have been pretty uninspired efforts compared to the ubiquitous iPod experience (or even Zune’s crafty interface.) Let’s hope they don’t place all of their eggs in the XMB basket and produce something that does the device proper.

Given the track record, Nintendo will probably sell billions of handhelds while Sony seems to be better aimed at tackling Apple. With details so scant at this point, we can’t post anything definitive (Yes, we can. -Ed) so as this epic war rages on, we’ll keep YOU in the loop!

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