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Summary:

Still mulling over what gaming console to get for your loved one? This holiday, the best option is a handheld.

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photo: Nintendo

Are you thinking about buying a gaming console to put under the tree for you or your loved one this holiday season? Hear me out for a second, because I’ll let you in on an important piece of advice: Skip the PS4 and the Xbox One this season, and grab yourself a handheld gaming device instead.

I know, I know: This goes against everything that traditional gaming advocates say about having the latest and greatest console. A handheld certainly won’t make your neighbors gasp in awe or make your hair whoosh back with the sheer thrill of next-generation technology, but if you actually want to have something you can play the day after Christmas, then snagging a Nintendo 2DS, Nintendo 3DS or a PlayStation Vita will bring you a significant amount of bang for your buck.

Here are a few important reasons why grabbing a handheld may be the best for you or your loved one this holiday season:

Great value

A handheld’s main attraction this holiday season is far and away its price: with next-gen consoles costing as much as $500 for the machine alone (not counting bundles that can stretch into the $800 range), it’s a steep commitment for the holidays — especially on a budget.

At this point in the console cycle, handhelds may be a little older, but they have mighty appealing prices on the shelves. The Nintendo 3DS XL usually retails for $199, but Black Friday sales have seen it dip down under $150. Not to mention the regular-size 3DS at $169 and even the 2DS, which is one of the biggest bargains this holiday season with a $99 Black Friday price.

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As for the PS Vita, both the Wi-Fi and 3G versions of the consoles have experiences healthy price cuts, and now retail for $179 and $199 respectively — not including many bonus goodies and bundles that actually make the console cheaper.

The bottom line doesn’t lie, and a handheld will allow for a great Christmas gift without breaking the bank.

Games, games, games

Another strong edge that handhelds have over next-generation consoles are their extensive and increasingly impressive game libraries. With many game titles to choose from — and often on sale, no less — there’s a guarantee that you’ll find plenty of playable games that provide great experiences.

Nintendo is just getting into the swing of things with its 3DS, which has probably had some of the most impressive game releases in the last six months. Animal Crossing, Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Scribblenauts Unmasked and Pokemon X & Y have all done well both critically and commercially for the company, and they all offer something different to gamers. Granted, there won’t be a lot of first-person shooters or sports games to be had with the 3DS, but it’s lots of fun.

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The PS Vita, on the other hand, has arguably had its best title released for the holidays. Tearaway, an inventive platform-style game created by Little Big Planet studio Media Molecule, is currently getting raves for its unconventional use of the Vita’s touch screens and gyroscope, and is likely to be a must-own for the console. Among other great top-shelf titles, the Vita also has access to an amazing library of independent games, including the luchador-themed Guacamelee, survival horror Lone Survivor, and the AI platform game Thomas Was Alone. The PS Vita is decidedly grown up, in a good way, so there will be plenty for people who aren’t interested in Nintendo’s candy-coated aesthetic.

Console compatibility

A lesser-known factor that boosts the handheld’s appeal is its compatibility with its sibling systems in the living room. If you already own a Wii U or are considering a PS4, then the corresponding handheld will likely be a great benefit to your gaming experience.

Nintendo has become increasingly interested in bridging the gap between its handheld and console businesses, and it’s been most successful between the 3DS and the Wii U. While cross-compatibility has been largely limited to special features, stickers and data transfers, rumor has it that Nintendo is interested in supporting cross-play between the devices. Many fans hope it will finally happen when Super Smash Brothers becomes available for both systems,  but it’s exciting to see Nintendo finally breaking down its rigid views on playability.

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Of course, while Nintendo is dipping toes into cross-compatibility, Sony has fully dove in with the PS Vita and the PS4. At this point, Sony has indicated that the PS Vita will be used for handheld remote play, much in the way the Wii U takes advantage of its tablet peripheral. And it extends beyond just owning two of the same game — streaming is expected to be supported. If a PS4 is in your future, then the PS Vita will be a smart, low-cost companion that will make the gaming experience more open.

Strong future

Finally, handhelds are just in the beginning of their prime: there’s a lot to look forward to. The 3DS has hit its stride near the end of 2013 and the Vita is just about to hit its prime — there’s plenty more good stuff happening down the road.

It takes a long time for consoles to hit that magical moment where the price, the games, and longevity align, and now is that time for handhelds. It’s the choice for a gamer who wants to play games, not just have the latest technology.

  1. Handhelds compete with mobile devices at this point ,the question that needs and answer is why pay for a handheld when you have your phone.

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    1. Because you can’t play Super Smash Bros 4, Fire Emblem Awakening, Street Fighter 4, the new Pokemon games, Zelda, Ace Attorney 5, Shin Megami Tensei 4, and Monster Hunter 4 on your phone.

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    2. Phone gaming is not the same quality as a dedicate handheld. Some games are just plain meant to have physical controls, and touch screens just don’t cut it.

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  2. A much better idea is to use a decent Android phone with a GameKlip, a PS3 controller, and the Sixaxxis app from Dancing Pixel to play games like GTA III, GTA Vice City, GTA San Andreas, Dead Space, The Bard’s Tale, Dungeon Hunter, Modern Combat 4, et. al.

    And you can use emulators like RetroArch and FPSe to play console games of yore, too.

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  3. Nothing beats a dedicated handheld gaming device if games are what you want. All of the games highlighted are not available on mobile devices and some are cross buy if you already own a ps3 for the vita. Plus with a handheld you have a dedicated battery life not killing your phone half way through the day. Playing a couple of games that are hardly worth the time but also eats up your phones battery life is not a better option to a dedicated handheld.

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  4. I’ll buy a better graphic card for my PC and I’ll be fine.

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