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Cohabitation: Why there's room for the 3DS and PlayStation Vita in a post-iPhone world
by Andrew Testerman

Yesterday, Nintendo announced they will be drastically cutting the price of the Nintendo 3DS from $249.99 to $169.99 starting in August. This comes as little surprise, considering the 3DS’s already-slow sales, and the PlayStation Vita’s similar price for significantly more hardware. The upcoming price drop, along with the Vita’s rumoured 2011 launch, paint a rosy picture for handheld gamers come this autumn. Some in the industry, though, still wonder if it’s all too little, too late.

Gaming on iOS or Android has taken a good chunk out of the portable market (Nintendo has basically said so itself), and it bears asking if consumers want to carry yet another device around when their phone can already do the job. Why break out the DS and fire up Dragon Quest IX when Cut The Rope is just a few taps away?

Personally, I think they’re apples to oranges, and here’s why.

Let me begin by saying that I quite enjoy mobile gaming on my phone. The Tetris app was one of the first things I bought when I got my Droid 2, and I’ve got through many a waiting room with the help of Peggle. I appreciate the convenience of playing a game when I only have five minutes to spare, and agree with the assessment that the handheld gaming landscape has improved since the iPhone helped usher in a new paradigm of gaming on the go.

That said, I don’t believe that the DS and PSP will fade into obscurity, simply because I can play a few rounds of Angry Birds in the time it takes me to actually start a game on my DSi XL. Whilst less convenient than their phone-based brethren, games on handheld consoles like the DS and PSP still possess several qualities that titles found in the App Store or Android Market do not.

For starters, games found on DS and PSP generally offer meatier, more substantial experiences than phone-based games. True, titles like Infinity Blade and Zenonia 3 push closer to the sort traditional, deeper gameplay found on handheld consoles, but games like that are few and far between, and many of the top-selling titles on the App Store are short, time-killing experiences. By contrast, games like God of War: Ghost of Sparta or Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia provide full gaming experiences whilst still being suited to the portable realm. Though iOS and Android devices offer many options when it comes to gaming, a good deal of them are small, intermittent affairs.

And, really, it’s just as well. Whilst it’s easy to decry iOS and Android games as simplistic and lacking in depth, that fact is that deep, 'full' games like Uncharted or Super Mario World would not fit as well into the phone gaming space, when every level and gameplay moment has the potential to be interrupted by a simple phone call. As nice as it would be to have a multitude of Metroidvania or RPG titles in the phone gaming space, many who play phone games don’t always have the patience or time for a developing experience in the same way as they might on another system.

Then there’s the matter of phone hardware itself. One of my pet peeves about my phone is charging it more than once a day if I’m using it heavily. What with talk time, text messaging and internet browsing, I’m generally lucky if I can make it until the afternoon without plugging in my Droid, and extensive gaming can only further drain the battery. If I’m on a road trip or a plane journey, I generally feel better about using my DS for gaming simply because I know that, when I arrive, I won’t be stranded with a dead mobile phone. Also, whilst companies like Gameloft can do their best to emulate console controls on a touchscreen, 'core' games like shooters or precise platformers generally feel better with buttons; there’s a reason why people are making such a big deal about the Vita’s second analogue stick.

Nowhere is it written that this surge of activity in the phone gaming space will mean the death of Nintendo and Sony’s stake in the portable realm. Rather, it means that gamers have a greater breadth of content to choose from than ever, with room on the market for both the casual experiences on mobile phones and in-depth experiences on DS and PSP.

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- Andrew Testerman

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