Different Strokes

To even the most casual of observers, it’s clear as day that the Vita and 3DS are worlds apart. It doesn’t take much to understand we’re dealing with two vastly different machines, one more powerful than the other, and side by side comparisons would reveal as much to just about anybody. But instead of looking at their RAM and godray output, what interests me most are what these decisions mean for each handheld.

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In most cases, if one is making a 3DS game, they’re making a 3DS game. While ports of the up and down variety have made appearances, most attempts at producing worthwhile 3DS software begin as system exclusives. The nature of the 3DS hardware dictates it. Existing somewhere around the GameCube-era in terms of power, it’s difficult to produce a game that fully takes advantage of what’s on tap and then bring it over to other machines. Now, is that a strength or a weakness? I’d argue it’s both, and continue to argue (if you’d be bothered to stand around and let me rattle on) that it’s a good thing. While balancing their efforts between the 3DS and Wii U has likely lead Nintendo to the predicament they’re in today, it doesn’t take away from the fact that we’re playing some excellent software. I can’t imagine there’s any debate regarding the sanctity of games that take the capabilities of the hardware in mind. That kind of development just doesn’t happen on hardware that can have its games spread across multiple formats.

What makes such unique hardware work so well is a library of titles you can’t find anywhere else. There’s a certain excitement surrounding platform exclusive titles, and while there are downsides (companies rarely wantto limit their audience), the capabilities of the 3DS allow for titles that work as portable experiences. Developing for a handheld isn’t just about “shrinking down” the console experience. Developers who know the audience they’re crafting the game for can create far better works than those who have to address the needs of players across multiple systems.

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The Vita is a beast. Despite its struggles, it is an incredible machine capable of bringing the home console experience along for your daily commute. While the 3DS is instantly locked out of portable versions of one’s favourite console games, the Vita remains a viable option. The rub is that the publisher needs to make that decision, and the way things are looking, this is becoming less likely as we move forward.

While I’m not displeased in the slightest by a lack of console ports, Sony’s decision to craft a handheld so similar to its home console has created an odd aura that surrounds the Vita. People seem to want those home experiences on the go, and if it can’t match it, they’re upset. Mortal Kombat on the Vita drew lot of heat for visuals that weren’t on par with its PS3 counterpart. Suddenly the perk of gaming on the go wasn’t enough for some.

While I don’t carry those feelings, one can’t ignore the fact that these expectations play a role in what games are produced for the Vita. A market that previously expected titles that were a generation or two behind in terms of technology are now demanding games that can stand toe to toe with the home market. It’s quite the risk, and we’re witnessing publishers trying to figure out just what to do with the Vita. The Japanese titles I know and love are still coming, but with that country still reluctant to buy Vistas en masse, it’s difficult to read just where the thing is heading.

What makes the situation particularly sad is that the ground-up Vita games are so spectacular. Gravity Rush and Soul Sacrifice are wonderful games that take advantage of the portability, but still bathe you in the visual delights you’d find on the PS3. While Japanese support is expected, it’s been surprising how the Western indie community has embraced the Vita. Here its architecture works in its favour, allowing developers to sell the product once but still support two devices.

Despite their different approaches, I find both the Vita and 3DS’s design decisions to make sense in today’s market. Smart phones present a challenge on how to develop a handheld for consumers, and I’m more than happy with Sony and Nintendo’s distinct spins. Most importantly, it’s fun enjoying the best of what they have to offer.

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