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Opinion: Nintendo 3DS vs Sony NGP—FIGHT!

There is nothing quite like a good, comfy war. It is what makes the world an interesting place, and there’s nothing better than a war between two competing formats. Think of all the great format wars past: VHS vs Betamax; CD vs vinyl; 8-track vs cassette; Genesis vs Super Nintendo; Playstation 2 vs Xbox vs Gamecube; HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray. We’re all naturally fascinated by battles between giants. We’ve seen this battle play out over and over, placing our bets to try and figure out in advance who the winner is going to be. Sometimes there is no clear winner. Either way, the fun is in the speculating, so we’ll dive right into the fun of the next great war of portable gaming: Nintendo 3DS vs the Sony Next Generation Portable (which currently has no official name). I swear I’ll try to keep this as civil—and unbiased—as possible. The fisticuffs follow after the jump.

In the red corner: Nintendo 3DS!


What is it?

In a nutshell, the 3DS is the up-and-coming successor to Nintendo’s incredibly successful Nintendo DS. It has an impressive features list that includes the standard resistive touch screen, glasses-free 3D display on the top screen, three VGA resolution cameras (two on the outside, one inside), Wi-Fi (only 802.11b and g, no 802.11n support), accelerometer, gyroscope, an analog nub, and the standard D-pad, shoulder buttons, and ABXY control buttons. Software-wise, the 3DS supports Miis, 3D video support, content sharing, backward compatibility with DS and DSi software, augmented reality, and a cash-based eShop for virtual console games (as opposed to the points-based shop that the Wii and DSi use).

Where did it come from?

The DSi, the last handheld released by Nintendo, was essentially a rehash of the DS Lite, which itself was a rehash of the original, now discontinued, DS. I don’t think Nintendo really saw the DSi as the successor to the DS Lite. Yes, it had faster processors, cameras, better Wi-Fi support, and support for digital purchases, but by and large, it was still the same old beloved DS Lite.

The 3DS, on the other hand, is a completely new machine. Instead of the D-pad alone, the console now features an analog nub, similar to the PSP’s control nub. There’s the new 3D upper screen. New core and graphics processors. Motion control accelerometers and gyroscopes. It is more than just “an evolved DSi”.

Why?

“Why” is an awfully good question, but I’m willing to make the uneducated guess that Nintendo saw several looming threats in the handheld market. Primary amongst those threats was the surprising handheld contender: iOS devices, the current generation of which consists of the iPhone 4, the iPad, and the iPod Touch 4th generation. Secondary threats included the imminent PSP2 from Sony, which had been rumored in the gaming marketplace long before Sony announced the handheld. Tertiary threats come from Android-enabled devices and similar smartphones and tablets. The portable market has become more crowded than the second, third, and fourth circles of hell put together. All of these devices have a lot in common: multi-touch screens; Wi-Fi; app repositories (in the form of “stores” and “shops”). Nintendo’s answer to all of this is to offer something different, something completely audacious, and in its eyes, the next big thing: 3D.

So what’s the strategy?

What insight can we gain about Nintendo’s strategy from analyzing the range of features of services that the 3DS offers?

Nintendo seems keen to maintain backward compatibility in the DS line of handheld consoles. Yes, they may have dropped backward compatibility for the Game Boy Advanced (as of the DSi), but it is a great way to ensure that the amazing DS software library is available for use with the 3DS. The obvious big pull for the 3DS is the addition of the 3D screen. The 3D screen is supported by two cameras on the front of the 3DS that allows you to take 3D pictures and movies, or allow for 3D augmented reality. My biggest fear with the screen is that many video game companies will use it as a shovelware gimmick instead of putting it to clever use. Still, the use of a 3D screen without the need for glasses is an amazing feat.

What I find odd is that in all this, Nintendo has not explicitly claimed interactivity between the Wii and 3DS. This would be a great pulling feature for the many millions who already own Wiis. The DS and DSi support for Wii games is sparse (Guitar Hero and Geometry Wars comes immediately to mind, but no others), but it was incredible fun where it occurred. Since the 3DS has motion control, it is not inconceivable that it could be used as a Wii controller. Maybe some developers will put this to good use, but I don’t see this happening, which is a great pity.

Will it work?

“First to market” has always been a great advantage, but not necessarily the only advantage. A veritable slush of factors must be taken into account to try and determine what’s going to happen: price, positioning, features, software library, 3rd-party support, hype, visibility, desirability, the list goes on and on, and is more the domain of professional market analysts. One cannot deny that the 3D feature is a major pull, possibly its biggest pull. The set price of US$ 250 (ZAR 1,820, but expect that to almost double by the time it hits our shores) pushes it way past the current price of the DSi XL at US$ 180 (ZAR 1,310, but retailing at an effective ZAR 2,000 to ZAR 2,500), and might be a turn-off for initial consumers. I do not doubt that it will sell out in its initial run. People will pay for high desirability, and from the looks of the expected library of 3DS games (including new 3D Mario, Kid Icarus, Kingdom Hearts, Zelda, Bomberman, Nintendogs, Star Fox, and Resident Evil titles), it is going to be a incredibly desirable.

Next page: The Sony NGP…