Is the 3DS in trouble?

The most shocking news out of E3 2011 was the $250 price tag for the PlayStation Vita. The Vita's better graphics, bigger screen, and new functionality may have Nintendo scrambling to compete.

Jeff Bakalar/CNET

It was the first thing that came to mind while I was sitting down at Sony's press conference last week. For me, the most shocking news to come out of E3 2011 was the price of the PlayStation Vita: $250 for the Wi-Fi-only version.

A portable console that has the graphical chops to be compared to its living-room cousin is certainly impressive, but the fact that it'll go for the same price that the Nintendo 3DS is currently being sold at is worth a double take.

I've already compared the two portables side by side in terms of specs , but now having played on the PS Vita, I'm even more curious about how the public will react when it goes on sale at the end of 2011.

In terms of overall experience, the PS Vita easily trumps the 3DS in graphics, horsepower, and even areas where Nintendo originally dominated--not to mention both of the 3DS' screens pale in comparison with the Vita's 5-inch OLED monster. The 3DS wowed us with its first-to-market augmented reality games and cards, but I found the Vita's AR interface to be much smoother and robust. When trying it out last week with the Vita launch game Little Deviants, I was told the camera-enabled augmented reality demo was running at 60 frames per second. I don't have the hard numbers on the 3DS, but I'd be shocked if it runs at more than half that.

The 3DS seems much more focused on its 3D capabilities and less so on improvements to the original DS and--as it stands right now--original and compelling titles. The 3DS is certainly a more capable and powerful system than its predecessor, but the initial software I've played doesn't necessarily do a convincing job of showing that. Plus, gamers are still being faced with games that require tilting and rotating the device, which almost always breaks the 3D effect. About half of the 3DS owners I've asked say they turn 3D completely off anyway. Take the 3D capability away from the 3DS and we're left with a souped-up wide-screen DS.

These issues aside, Nintendo did use its press conference to tease upcoming 3DS titles like the inevitable Mario Kart and Super Mario games, mixed in with the likes of a Luigi's Mansion sequel, a Star Fox title, and Kid Icarus Uprising.

But then there's the issue with the 3DS eShop. First, it didn't launch simultaneously with the console, and then when it finally did last week, 3DS owners were greeted with a scarce selection of titles. For what appears to be a very lucrative and endless revenue stream, Nintendo is sure taking its time developing it.

Related links
• Full review of the Nintendo 3DS
• E3 2011 First Take: PlayStation Vita
• Hands-on with PlayStation Vita and its games

On the other hand, the PS Vita looks to address some shortcomings that the PSP was guilty of. Most notable has to be the addition of a right analog thumb stick and the introduction of front and rear touch panels. No one has ever attempted a rear touch panel in gaming, and after playing a round of Little Deviants, I realized its potential.

Then there are the rest of Vita's games. I was thrilled to be able to try out mobile versions of Uncharted (it looks almost as good as the original) and Wipeout, but I was even more intrigued by unique titles that are taking the Vita's new functionality and putting them to inventive use. Titles like Sound Shapes and Gravity (working title) were not only fun to play, but showed me the welcome diversity of developers working on the platform.

There are, however, still some details we just don't know about the Vita yet. We're not totally sure how much games will cost, nor do we know how they will be delivered. Battery life remains mostly a mystery, too. Then there's the issue of the PlayStation Network's role in all this and how seamless the Vita-to-PSN experience will be.

Games, graphics, and controls are generally what decide a console's fate, whether it be in the living room or on the go. Factor in the PS Vita's impressive comparable price tag of $250, and, yes, the 3DS does seem like it is going to have its work cut out for it. When two systems are equal in price, the one with more value should rise to the top.

We're curious to hear what you have to say. Come this holiday season, we'll probably be faced with two brand-new portable consoles for $250 each. When it comes down to it, which one are you going to buy?

 

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