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Matt Braga gives you a preview of the two hottest handheld gaming consoles set to duke it out this year

Two of the industry’s biggest names, Nintendo and Sony, are set to release new gaming handhelds this year that promise to be faster, better and stronger than anything we’ve seen yet.

First up is Nintendo’s newest handheld, the 3DS. Successor to the company’s wildly popular DS and DSi models, the 3DS boasts improved graphics, more enhanced online connectivity, and system software that closely resembles their student-friendly Wii console.

However, the big difference here is that Nintendo hopes to entice potential gamers with the wonders of glasses-free 3D. Using what’s called a parallax barrier display, the 3DS can simulate a 3D image without the need for traditional glasses, something that Nintendo hopes will make for more immersive and innovative games. Players can even use the handheld’s built-in cameras to create and share 3D images.

And that’s something that no one else — not even the iPhone — has.

But that’s not to say Nintendo’s implementation is perfect. Players must face the screen from a very precise position, even slight movements can break the illusion entirely. The ‘amount’ of 3D effect can be lowered, or even turned off entirely, but it doesn’t bode well for what is undoubtedly the 3DS’s defining feature.

Meanwhile, Sony announced the successor to their PlayStation Portable handheld in an announcement last week, codenamed “Next Generation Portable”, and early reports indicate this is going to be one impressive device. With a quad-core CPU, support for 3G cellular data and a five inch high-resolution OLED screen, the NGP is the most capable mobile device yet.

That translates to bigger, better games — titles that Sony claims will be nearly equal to the PlayStation 3 in terms of graphics quality. But what’s nearly as impressive is how those games will be played. Just like your standard PlayStation 3 gamepad, the NGP has two analog joysticks, and full SIXAXIS motion-control capabilities — not to mention a touch panel on the back of the device.

Of course, all that high-tech hardware will come at a price — one that will undoubtedly exclude all but the most dedicated student gamer. Sony hasn’t discussed pricing just yet, but when released by year’s end, it’s unlikely you’ll be paying anything less than $400 for this thing — at least.

As far as games are concerned, you know what to expect; both companies are preparing their big franchises for launch, ranging from StarFox and Mario on the Nintendo side, to Little Big Planet and Uncharted from Sony.

The difference is that you’ll be playing those Nintendo titles a lot sooner. With a release date of March 29, and a suggested retail price of $249.99, the 3DS will be first to the market — just in time for exam season, too.

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