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New Nintendo 3DS XL v Sony PS Vita Slim

For serious gaming on the move you still need a dedicated portable console. So do you go Nintendo or Sony? We took the newest versions of each for a spin

Smartphone gaming may be better than ever right now, but for the proper console-style experience you can’t beat a proper handheld games machine.

And as far as proper handheld games machines go, you can’t beat the Sony PlayStation Vita Slim. Or at least that was the case until last month, when Nintendo unleashed a new, improved version of the 3DS XL on the world.

Rather cleverly, they named it the New Nintendo 3DS XL. And also rather cleverly, they kept all of the good bits we liked about its predecessor while making a few other bits much better.

So, all very clever. But is it smart enough to see off Sony’s King of the mini-consoles? We put them head to head to find out.

New Nintendo 3DS XL (£180)

New Nintendo 3DS XL (£180)

What’s the deal?

Nintendo went the experimental route (as it so often does) with its current portable, packing in an upper display with a glasses-free 3D effect. The new version of the 3DS XL refines that effect while making other performance, control and design tweaks all around.

Is it any good?

Yes, but it’s because of the games, not the harware itself. Truth be told, both the original and New versions of the 3DS – whether the large XL model or the smaller, standard model – feel like dated tech. The New models introduce ‘super stable 3D’, which uses an eye-tracking camera for better viewing angles, but frankly it can be a bit disorientating.

The low-resolution screens are eyesores (even with the new 3D), the processor doesn’t even churn out Wii-quality graphics, and the battery life isn’t great either (3.5-7 hours). While the New Nintendo 3DS XL does have a rechargeable battery, it doesn’t ship with a power adapter. Any 3DS, 2DS or DSi ones will work, but if you don’t already have one, you’ll be shelling out for a new one. Plus, while the New models have refined builds, they still feel like plastic-heavy toys.

Fortunately, you can partially ignore the above because where else are you going to play Nintendo’s games on the go? And what games they are: the likes of The Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Mario Kart 7 and Pokémon X & Y can be mimicked but not duplicated. The 3DS also plays old DS games, and has great Japanese RPGs from eternal studios. It’s a begrudging recommendation to some extent, because we want better hardware from Nintendo, but amazing games are impossible to ignore.

Stuff says ★★★★✩

The 3DS is a rinky-dink device, but Nintendo’s superb games help mask its flaws

Sony PS Vita Slim (£145)

Sony PS Vita Slim (£145)

What’s the deal?

Sony pushed to be more high-end with the Vita, making it a more traditional successor to its PSP, but also packed in a touchscreen and back touch panel. The Slim revision has extended battery life, new, cost-cutting display tech and more comfortable ergonomics.

Is it any good?

Sony’s handling of the Vita has spanned highs and lows. On the plus side the Slim is a nice piece of hardware, with a large LCD panel that’s colourful and crisp, although now surpassed by your average smartphone screen. The previous Vita had an OLED display but we actually prefer the realistic colouring of the second-gen device. It’s also a nice companion device within the Sony ecosystem, as you can use it to stream games from your PlayStation 4 via Remote Play – potentially a killer feature. On the downside, the Vita Slim has a paltry 1GB of internal storage, so you’ll need a memory card for sure. They’re pricey, but at least they range up to 64GB in size.

On the games front, Sony has (weirdly) mostly stopped producing its own games for the system, especially the glossy AAA titles that sold us on its early potential. But other studios and indie developers in particular are filling the gap with smaller gems that shine as personal, portable experiences. And there’s a wealth of older PSone and PSP digital games available. The release flow is waning, and we miss the big-budget games, but there’s still enough great stuff coming out to keep our thumbs busy.

Stuff says ★★★★✩

Stuff says ★★★★✩

The Vita’s better hardware, neat perks and bigger selection of titles makes it today’s top portable

If you only play one game…

For the 3DS it’s Super Mario 3D Land, obviously. It’s a tremendously creative game in a series full of them, and it finds the perfect middle ground between the best 2D and 3D Mario entries. Every level feels totally unique, and there are lots of surprises to find – so keep digging.

On the Vita, it has to be Tearaway, the latest from LittleBigPlanet creator Media Molecule. This colourful papercraft-inspired platformer is not only wonderfully inventive and endlessly charming, but it’s also one of the rare games that puts nearly all of the hardware’s neat little tricks to solid use.

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