Portable gaming revisited: The 3DS and Vita matter, but for different reasons

Nintendo's 3DS and Sony's PlayStation Vita have taken on very different roles since their respective launches. Here's why you should still care about the ever-changing portable gaming landscape.

Crashmo on the 3DS Intelligent Systems

The 3DS hits its stride
We have a rule: if a game platform has 10 good games, it's worth getting if it's affordable. That "rule of 10" means the Nintendo 3DS is finally worth investing in, if you care about great portable Nintendo games. The game library's filled out at last, and it's now, without a doubt, the best Nintendo platform of the moment. Game for game, it might even be the most impressive platform so far in 2013.

Despite not having the stellar battery life of the Nintendo DS before it, the 3DS is backward-compatible with DS cartridges and has a library of digitally downloadable games that make it a pretty enticing summer travel toy. It might just become your favorite gaming platform, too.

It's always been the same story for the 3DS. Nintendo needed to just make the games it does best and make sure the 3DS had plenty of them. Basically, the good games on the 3DS are all first-party titles, with the exception of a few good third-party games -- but that list is growing as the platform gains some popularity.

There are already great Nintendo 64 ports (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Star Fox), Wii ports (Donkey Kong Country Returns), sequels (Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, Mario Kart 7), and franchise staples (Super Mario 3D Land). There are a number of Virtual Console games from the Game Boy, NES, and Game Gear eras. And there are a lot of unheralded small-scale indie games in the eShop.

The 3DS won't ever be what the DS was before it, but its extra graphics punch, its analog stick, and a collection of classic games make it more of a gamer's handheld. Enjoy the games, and know that Nintendo will at least keep the system stocked with its core titles. Don't expect more than that, and you'll probably be as happy as we are.

Guacamelee! on Vita Drinkbox Studios

PlayStation Vita: Indie mecca
When it first launched, Sony's PlayStation Vita portable console seemed to have all the angles covered. It debuted alongside a great lineup of titles and Day 1 access to digital-only software on the PSN Store.

However, what played out over the next year was nothing short of disappointing. While the system had the processing chops to produce breathtaking graphics, a dearth of compelling software froze the platform in its tracks. Month after month seemed to roll by, and there was nothing worth playing on the Vita.

All that has started to change, and one could argue that the signs were there all along. The Vita is becoming the go-to portable platform for great independent games. First, the console's solid performance is perfect for the characteristically less graphics-intensive games that come out from indie developers.

The Vita's memory card requirement is a drawback, no doubt, but the limitations work out with the smaller size of indie games.

And just as we write in praise of the Vita's indie chops, Sony has opened a new "Indie Channel" in the Vita PSN Store, highlighting all of the best titles -- most of which are under $10 -- from independent game developers.

A few things to keep in mind: indie games are released on their own schedule, different from what normally is a Tuesday release for other games. There's also a fair number of PSN games that offer PS3 and Vita access simultaneously. Some games even allow you to sync saves across both platforms so you can continue your game on the go. Finally, being a PlayStation Plus member is starting to pay off. Sony offers plenty of indie games at a discounted price, plus a few titles for free once you join.

 

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