People, we are on the cusp of a revolution. Not a scary revolution with flags and beheadings and castles, a cool revolution with mobile gaming and handheld consoles! This year we're going to see a huge shakeup in mobile gaming, with the Nintendo 3DS and the spanking-new leading the charge. But which deserves your hard-won moolah?
The Nintendo 3DS, giving it a significant headstart on the Sony NGP, which isn't due out until Christmas. But eager gamers will be agonising over whether to wait for Sony's device, or splurge on Nintendo's 3D offering. Details on the NGP are still coming in, but we've learned enough about it to bolt together a few humble opinions.
The Nintendo 3DS has an obvious selling point, right there in the name -- you can play games in 3D. A slim barrier in the screen covered in tiny slits fires two separate images out the 3DS's display. Line your eyes up with those two images, and enjoy a cool tri-dimensionalised effect.
When we went hands-on with the 3DS, we thought it worked very well, and looked really impressive. There's a narrow sweet spot, so if your head moves out of a fairly narrow space, you'll lose the 3D goodness, which is frustrating. If 3D makes your head spin, you can tone down the effect or turn it off altogether using a slider switch on the right of the console.
It's harder to pin down the NGP's gimmick, but there are some things it does different to the original PSP. For instance, it introduces a second analogue control stick, and a very cool-looking touch-sensitive trackpad on the back of the console.
That pad will be used in-game, so you can trace, drag and poke at the back of the handheld while you're playing to add an extra layer of control to the action. It sounds really intriguing, and we can't wait to see how it handles. Our only concern is that when you're playing a game with your eyes glued to the screen, you might not be able to see what you're doing.
The Nintendo 3DS packs some rather tasty gubbins into its clamshell bodice -- the 3.5-inch display up top has a resolution of 800x240 pixels (split between each eye during 3D gaming), and a PICA200 graphics processor inside. Then there's the second touchscreen, Wi-Fi, gyroscope and accelerometer too. In short, it's a capable little box of tricks.
But in terms of raw spec, the NGP has the 3DS well beaten. It has a 5-inch screen, which is so huge you could serve your dinner on it, and a resolution of 960x544 pixels, which should make for some impressively sharp-looking gaming. That screen does make the NGP truly massive though -- if you're looking for a portable console to fit in your pocket, the 3DS is certainly more slender.
The NGP's processor deserves a mention too. We're talking about a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor, which Sony is convinced will deliver truly remarkable graphics. We're not going to comment one way or another on that front until we've seen it running, but it certainly sounds like a powerhouse, and traditionally Sony's hardware has always knocked Nintendo's kit into a cocked hat on the specs front.
Both consoles will feature both front and rear-facing cameras, but only the 3DS is capable of taking 3D snaps, thanks to having two such cameras stuck on its lid. The resolution is frighteningly low however, with each camera sucking in only 0.3 megapixels. We'd be very surprised if the NGP's cameras were that rubbish.
On the move
A decent portable console has to offer something a little more than just gaming these days -- after all, these two handhelds will be competing with mobile phones and other devices like thethat offer full Web browsing, phone calls and access to app stores jammed with thousands of ultra-affordable games.
Nintendo hasn't ignored this fact -- the big Nwith a bunch of UK companies to make the 3DS more mobile. BT will be lending its nationwide hotspots to 3DS users, which will keep 3DS owners online when they're out and about in coffee shops and the like.
Sky will be bringing short-form 3D video content to the 3DS, and there are some cool extras from Nintendo too, such as Street Pass, which makes your 3DS automatically exchange info (such as your Mii, or game data) with other 3DSs that sway within range, even when both consoles are in their owners' pockets. The 3DS will also have an optional Web browser.
We don't know as much about the third-party offerings for Sony's handheld, but we do know it's going to have 3G data support built-in, so you'll be able to download stuff on the go, and social features, letting you see what your friends are up to and comment on their gaming achievements.
Both consoles offer their own digital stores -- the eShop for the 3DS, and the PlayStation Network for the NGP. Both consoles let you play games online too, so you can thrash your mates while out of range of a well-aimed elbow to the abdomen.
Also intriguing is-- an online store for downloading classic PlayStation games on Android devices running version 2.3 Gingerbread or above. We know a version of this store will be running on the NGP, so we're looking forward to being able to download all our old favourites on to the new handheld.
At the same time though, that classic gaming offering might just be another reason to buy an Android phone or tablet, and do away with the dedicated gaming device altogether...
In all that quad-core, Street Pass excitement we'd quite forgotten about the most important thing to any platform -- games.
Nintendo will doubtless be bringing all your favourite characters to the 3DS, so expect brand-new Zelda, Mario, Metroid, Donkey Kong and Kirby jollies. There are also a couple of decent third-party series signed up, including Street Fighter and Resident Evil.
We don't know exactly which titles Sony will be bringing to the NGP, but a demo reel during the announcement press conference featured Uncharted, Little Big Planet and Metal Gear Solid being shown off. We don't doubt Sony will be bringing out the big guns for the NGP's launch.
The 3DS' battery life is frankly pathetic. Allegedly, this 3D gaming powerhouse will only muster up 3-5 hours of playtime before giving up the ghost. That's not great for a mobile device, to say the utter minimum. We don't know about the NGP's battery performance, but we'd wager it won't be much better, with a 5-inch OLED display to cater for.
Both these consoles are shaping up to be brilliant bits of hardware. The 3DS' headline feature, the 3D effect, looks smashing and we think it's going to make for some enjoyable gaming thrills. Specs-wise, the Sony NGP trounces the 3DS, but it's going to be so long before it actually comes out, we don't know how impressive this hardware is going to look by the time Christmas rolls around.
So should you wait for the NGP? Probably not. We think the 3DS is going to be ace, and while there's every possibility that Sony's own handheld will blow us away, it's impossible to say how cutting-edge it's going to seem by the time it hits the shelves.
If you're undecided and have to buy just one, we think the 3DS is a smart bet. Then, while you're enjoying Mario's latest adventure in glorious no-glasses 3D, you can think about whether you have time to save up for Sony's toy as well.