It's official, Sony is now the proud parent of two handheld video game systems. Today marks the launch of the PlayStation Vita, the ambitious new portable system with bleeding edge technology and the bells and whistles to boot. By now early adopters have had a chance to tear through a line-up of games as diverse as Uncharted, wipEout, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Touch My Katamari. The battles begin.
You can't go anywhere these days without hearing somebody's opinion and prediction on the handheld, leading to some nasty fights on the internet. No matter what happens over the next few years one thing is definitely true: The TurboExpress has won the war.
Released in 1990, NEC's TurboExpress was an extension of the TurboGrafx-16 brand. It
promised gamers a glimpse into the future, where you could use the Turbo games you already owned on a top-of-the-line handheld system. With a high price point and bad battery life, the TurboExpress only moved 1.5 million units before calling it quits. It was eclipsed by Nintendo's 8-bit Game Boy, which sold close to 120 million units in its lengthy lifetime.
But despite that routing, the TurboExpress is the one who should be celebrating. These days the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita are copying nearly every move from NEC's failed playbook. Don't believe me? Here are just a few of the similarities between this generation of handheld game systems and the TurboExpress.
The $250 Price Point
The TurboExpress was released at a whopping $250 (or $430 if you add inflation), a steep price during an economic downturn. This was even more expensive than NEC's home console, the year-old TurboGrafx-16. The high price point scared off a lot of consumers, which ultimately doomed the system to being yet another also ran.
Both the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita launched at the $250 price point. This is much more expensive than Nintendo's Wii and the same price as Sony's six year old PlayStation 3. The Nintendo 3DS seemed to flounder at $250, which forced a drastic $80 price drop a mere four months after launch. Both the 3DS and the Vita are being released in the middle of rough economic times and are widely considered to be too expensive given current situations.
It Used Game Cards
The TurboExpress used the same HuCard that powered the TurboExpress. This was a credit card-sized card that fit in a CD jewel case. The HuCard was
similar to the BeeCard, made famous on MSX computers. Although it was never able to hold as much memory as a Super NES or Genesis cartridge, the HuCards were easy to store and fit nicely in your pocket.
Both the Nintendo 3DS and the PlayStation Vita use game cards, similar to the Turbo's HuCard. In fact, Nintendo has been using a game card format for seven years. The Vita marks the first time Sony has released a system using a non-optical format. Much like the HuCard, both the Vita and 3DS allow for easy storage. Sony's brand new boxes are simply adorable.
High Quality Screen
NEC bet big that consumers would be impressed by their high quality screen. It was a thing of beauty, especially when
compared to the Game Boy's black and green display. It pushed nearly 500 colors at once and offered an impressive 400 x 270 screen resolution. It was unlike anything on the market at the time, which explains the high price point. NEC was right, the TurboExpress did impress consumers ... just not enough to get them to spend $250.
Both the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita offer their own high tech screens. Nintendo's new handheld incorporates glasses-free 3D experience. The Vita, on the other hand, is pushing a huge OLED multi-touch screen using 24-bit color and 960 x 544 screen resolution. You'll hear a lot about the Vita's amazing display as Sony tries to sell people on the Vita. I suspect people will be impressed with the visuals, but will it be enough to spend $250?
TV on a Handheld
NEC wanted to make the TurboExpress about more than just HuCards and video games. Early on the company released a TV tuner, which brought Home Improvement, Step by Step and
Dinosaurs to the palm of your hand.
The Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita aren't just interested in bringing you television shows, both handhelds are ready to deliver the full multimedia experience. Both systems will be able to watch TV shows and movies thanks to the Netflix app. You are also able to surf the internet, opening up a whole new world to the handheld. Both systems support Wi-Fi, while certain models of the Vita support 3G. Regardless of whether you own a Vita or 3DS, you can have a lot of fun NOT playing games on your portable system of choice.
Not Very Portable
The TurboExpress was huge. Not only was it tall, but it was also incredibly deep. Thankfully it fit comfortably in your hands while you played, but the same cannot be said about putting it in your pocket. Only those
with the baggiest of pockets could pack the TurboExpress around. And even if you can get it to fit, the heavy tech would weigh down your pants. Trust me, nobody wants that.
Neither the Nintendo 3DS nor the PlayStation Vita are a comfortable fit in your pocket. The 3DS has a better chance of fitting into the pocket, but even then you're stuck walking around with a huge bulge in the wrong place. Adding the second circle pad to the Nintendo 3DS makes it the opposite of portable. Nintendo seems to be feeding into the non-portable nature of the device by offering a desk stand with every copy Kid Icarus: Uprising.
Questionable Battery Life
Sadly the impressive screen and powerful hardware of the TurboExpress came at a steep price. The console took six AA batteries, giving players just over three hours of solid gaming. That's right, three hours. This is especially bad compared to
other portable systems of the time. Even if you completely ignore the Game Boy, you're still left with the Game Gear (5 - 6 hours) and Atari Lynx (5 hours).
Both the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita suffer from short battery life. If you have everything turned on, you can only expect 3 - 4 hours out of a single charge. This is significantly lower than previous generations, which has some consumers openly wondering if the power boost is worth the hit to the battery life. Thankfully we're long past the days of using AA batteries. These days all you have to do is plug the system in. That's will save you a fortune.