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Which handheld gaming system is right for you?


Gamers on the go have a ton of options in this day and age. There's the PlayStation Vita, the Nintendo 3DS (and 2DS), and even the Apple iPod touch, the latter of which could be considered a value option for casual and hardcore gamers. But few of us have the budget to support buying all three systems and the games on top of them. So how does one choose?

Game Library
If a piece of hardware has no support from the development community, then it's essentially a fancy brick. Gamers learned that all too well after the initial Nintendo Wii game drought, and the low popularity of Windows Phone could be attributed to the fact that it lacks the robust app ecosystem of its competitors.

3DS
The kind of games the 3DS support rarely ever get higher than a "Teen" rating from the ESRB. The majority of Nintendo's library consists of strategy, puzzle, or adventure games (i.e. Legend of Zelda, Super Mario, Kid Icarus).

iPod touch
While the iPod touch specializes in casual games that mostly involve quick swipes to entertain you on your 15 minute train ride, this handheld does have depth. Looking at Metacritic's own top 10 iOS games for July 2013 you'll see dark puzzle games like Limbo, fun tower defense games like Plants vs Zombies 2, and mature story-driven games like The Walking Dead: 400 Days. Needless to say, iOS is a popular platform for this generation.

Vita
The Vita had a rough start, but its library has bounced back, justifying its purchase. This system is the yin to the 3DS' yang if you will. Nintendo leans more toward pleasing the casual crowd while the PlayStation line appeals more to hardcore gamers. The content is generally meant for more mature audiences and the gameplay is geared toward teens and higher.

Winner: Split. While the iPod has access to a vast library of games, the system you choose should be based on taste -- what kind of games do you like to play?

Hardware
The kinds of games a system can support is dependent on the kind of hardware with which it's equipped. Graphics, controls, and various other features can hinder or help developers create games for a certain platform.

3DS
As its name would suggest, the 3DS has a no-glasses-required 3D feature that can be adjusted or completely turned off. It's a little gimmicky and can cause eye strain if used for long periods of time, but a cool feature nonetheless. The dual cameras on the lid of the system allow you to take 3D pictures and even decorate the image with stickers (like a Japanese photo booth). However, if you're looking for top-of-the-line graphics, you won't find it here.

iPod touch
One thing the iPod touch lacks that the Vita and the 3DS have are physical buttons, which might turn some hardcore gamers away. But you may find yourself surprised at the touchscreen's ability to virtually mimic standard handheld buttons. The Retina Display is beautiful, but the cameras are so-so. Games do look good, but when you put it next to the Vita -- it just doesn't compare.

Vita
Sony put everything into this machine after the previous shortcomings with the PlayStation Portable. There are buttons and dual analog sticks, a touch pad on the back, an okay camera, and a huge 5-inch touchscreen. On top of all that, the Vita comes with a quad-core processor that can play graphic-intensive games, delighting gamers that value visual presentation. A 3G version of this system will appeal to any gamers looking to play online and download new content on the go.

Winner: Vita. With its crisp graphics and numerous hardware features, it's difficult for the other two systems to compete.

Battery life and portability
There's no clear-cut winner in this arena. The iPod touch may have a leg up on the other two due to its ability to slip inside most pockets. The 3DS and Vita will require a bag or a large pocket in order to lug them around. But as far as battery life is concerned, none of these devices are winners. With an estimated battery life of 3-4 hours of playtime for all these devices, you'll want to make sure you don't stray too far from a power source.

However, the recently-announced 2DS and new Vita have estimated battery lives of 3.5-5.5 and 6 hours respectively, making them better choices for those concerned with battery life.

Price
The 3DS and 2DS are the lowest-priced systems, costing as little as $170 and $130. The iPod touch is the priciest, costing $229. That puts the Vita somewhere in the middle at $199 (pricing for the new Vita hasn't been announced yet). While the lower barrier to entry may entice parents and gamers on a budget, your bank account may be feeling the repercussions after buying a few games, which average about $30 at your local retailer. The Vita isn't much better, with games around the same price as those for the 3DS. The iPod touch -- the most expensive of the bunch -- will likely give you the most bang-for-the-buck experience over the long run, with many games available for free, and most non-free games costing anywhere between $0.99 and $9.99.

Winner: iPod touch. While the barrier to entry is steeper than the Vita or the 2DS, most game prices rarely break the $0.99 mark.

Depending on what you value most in a device from the list above should help you determine which of these systems will suit you best.

Photo: Hector Alejandro