The next generation of hand-held gaming will soon be upon us, and it may change the way we think about interacting with games.
Nintendo’s 3DS, with its glasses-free 3-D screen, is set to launch this March, while Sony’s freshly announced NGP, "Next Generation Portable," is quite possibly the most technologically sophisticated portable gaming device ever made; it's slated to hit stores this holiday season. Both will offer unique experiences for gamers-on-the-go, but each device was built with a different design philosophy.
Let’s take a look at some of the key differences between the two devices.
The first thing you may notice is that the NGP is substantially more powerful than the 3DS. In fact, the NGP boasts specs that are more akin to small tablets. At the heart of the NGP is a quad-core ARM Cortex A9 processor that makes even the newly released dual-core Tegra 2 look sorely outdated. Add in a 5-inch high-resolution OLED touch screen, motion sensors, a plethora of wireless connectivity options and an innovative touch sensitive panel, and you can easily see that the NGP is following in its predecessor's footsteps as being the next-generation handheld juggernaut when it comes to the amount of tech a device can pack.
Nintendo is arming the 3DS with slightly older tech to keep costs down, a strategy that has worked in Nintendo’s favor with its incredibly popular Wii. But that doesn't mean that Nintendo’s latest handheld isn't capable of pushing out beautiful graphics, and it has the advantage of being able to output games in 3-D without the need of glasses. The 3DS will also have a 3-D-capable camera built into the device.
Both handhelds will have wireless capabilities to connect to other gamers, but they will be handled a little differently on each platform. Nintendo’s SpotPass and StreetPass will allow passive connectivity to open WiFi networks to update notifications and system information. StreetPass will also connect remotely to nearby 3DS systems if they have StreetPass enabled and will allow for behind-the-scenes Mii swapping—and whatever else a developer can think of.
Sony is cramming as much wireless tech they can into the NGP, including GPS and 3G wireless connectivity, allowing gamers to see what others are playing in the area in real-time. Gamers will also be happy to hear that Nintendo will be streamlining their notoriously cumbersome friend-code system, which may lead to an increase in the number of online titles for the platform.
Much like Apple’s App store, both will also sport online stores where gamers can buy games and download them directly to the system. 3DS owners will be able to download Gameboy titles retrofitted with 3-D functionality, while Sony is rolling out its Playstation Suite to the NGP-and to select Android smartphones to allow cross-platform downloads of classic Playstation 1 games.
Make no mistake about it; the NGP is geared toward hard-core gamers who are looking for the full Playstation 3 experience in the palm of their hands. The NGP finally has what gamers have been begging for since the introduction of the PSP; a second analog stick. Sony is matching the 3DS touch screen with one of its own, and is also throwing in a capacitive touch panel on the back of the device, a first for mobile gaming. The back panel allows gamers to interact directly with a game without having their fingers obstruct their view of what’s going on. Both the back panel and touch screen can also be used in tandem to allow even more interactive possibilities. The NGP will also come equipped with motion sensors to allow gamers to control their games via movement, a method of control implemented in many popular smart phone games.
Nintendo is also implementing motion sensors into the 3DS, but they aren’t trying to bring more complexity to their system with the addition of more control inputs. Instead, they are focusing on further immersing players into a game's environment with the addition of 3-D. 3-D may seem like a novelty on the surface, but increased depth can help players when trying to determine, say, the timing of their jumps in a platformer, or when the best moment is to turn in a racing game. Early hands-on previews have been fairly positive, and many people say the screen as something that you have to see to truly appreciate.
So, which handheld will be better? It comes down to which device suits your needs the best.
The 3DS will probably follow in the footsteps of its predecessor and continue to appeal to youth, casual gamers and die-hard Nintendo fanboys with its wide variety of games that can appeal to both gamers and non-gamers alike. The NGP, on the other hand, will be the closest to a home-console experience on a handheld yet. Sony hasn’t announced an official price for the NGP, but cutting-edge tech usually results in higher prices, which may turn off many but the most dedicated gamers. Sony may have to take a loss with each system sold—like they did initially with the PS3—to stay competitive with the 3DS' $250 price tag.
Another thing to keep in mind is how much the handheld gaming market has changed since Apple ushered in a new era of bite-sized gaming with its iOS platform. Will dedicated gaming handhelds be able to hold their own against the iPhone and Android platforms, or will an era of portable gaming pioneered by the Gameboy be trampled by Angry Birds-addicted smartphone owners?
It's too early to tell, but one thing is certain: 2011 will be an interesting year for portable gaming.