Does the PlayStation Vita breathe new life into handheld gaming? Read on to find out.
The PlayStation Vita hasn’t been selling well in Japan, which has left me disappointed as I’ve been looking forward to it’s North American release. Sony’s excuse is that the launch lineup is geared for more of a “Western” audience, which might be the case. The launch titles and future releases (that have been announced, at least) seem to be tailored to fit the tastes of North American and European gamers (Uncharted, Resistance, Bioshock, Call of Duty, etc.). However, there are plenty of quirky Japanese titles and games made by smaller developers that will be appearing on the Vita in the near future, which is great for me since I have an odd taste in, well, everything. After picking up my Vita on launch day, I feel that I can safely say it has met my expectations.
The Vita is huge, and is almost like having a controller with a built-in 5” touchscreen in your hands. I say almost because a controller would be a lot more comfortable to hold than what is essentially an over-sized PSP. After using the Vita for a couple of hours I became accustomed the shape of the device and most of the discomfort has worn off; my hands get a little cramped after playing a game for an extended period of time. The analog sticks can also take some getting used to, which is primarily due to the fact they’re rounded on the top and provide less area for your thumbs.
The touchscreen is very responsive and gorgeous, but I would recommend investing in a screen protector as you’ll be running your greasy fingers over it a lot when navigating the Vita’s “LiveArea” interface and with some of the games (Uncharted: Golden Abyss, especially). What comes as a big surprise is how well the rear touchpad works. In the games that I’ve used the rear touchpad (Uncharted, Touch My Katamari), I was impressed with the results and found it to provide some added satisfaction with the gameplay.
The front and back VGA cameras (640×480, 0.3MP) are a nice touch, but I don’t think they’re completely necessary. Like the 3DS, the Vita comes with augmented reality games that put the camera to good use. I’ve found the concept of augmented reality gaming to be intriguing, but I have yet to see it actually applied well. I initially enjoyed the augmented reality games on the 3DS and Vita, but after an hours worth of gaming the thrill was gone.
Sony loves it Sixaxis technology, so of course the Vita comes equipped with it. The Vita’s Sixaxis motion sensing system works just like the Sixaxis controllers found on the PS3, so the concept shouldn’t be new to most gamers. I’ve never been a big fan of motion controlled gaming, but Sixaxis has never really bothered me. I mean, I think it’s rather pointless, but I don’t find it to be a nuisance.
In sum, while the Vita does utilize technology (motion control, touchscreen, etc.) that most core gamers find to be unnecessary, the concepts work rather well despite their gimmicky nature. Out of the games that I’ve played, the touchscreen, Sixaxis, and rear touchpad weren’t used that often and weren’t even required in some cases. When these “gimmicks” were used, however, I thought they worked fairly well and didn’t interfere with my overall gaming experience.
Wi-Fi Only Model vs. 3G/Wi-Fi Model
The concept of a handheld gaming system that contains cellphone-like qualities isn’t a new concept (remember the Nokia N-Gage?), and it should come to no surprise that Sony is taking advantage of the advancements in cellphone technology. Granted, the Vita can’t make phone calls, but the 3G model allows for the use of apps and messaging services similar to what one would find on a modern smartphone. I can understand why people would be interested in this concept, but again this is another Vita feature that is relatively useless. Smartphones are the hot seller these days, and the number of people that own one is increasing every year. It can even be argued that handheld systems are going the way of Jack Thompson’s career, and that smartphones and tablets are the future of mobile gaming. It’s because of these reasons that I would recommend the Wi-Fi-only Vita as apposed to the 3G/Wi-Fi version, unless you can get a hold of the 3G/Wi-Fi launch bundle which is (sort of) a pretty good deal. I guess the only good aspect of the 3G model is that subscribing to one of AT&T’s DataConnect plans ($15 250MB, $30 3GB, $50 5GB) is completely optional, and there are no contracts so you can stop and start the service whenever you want.
Battery life is perhaps the most important aspect of handheld gaming, and sadly the Vita’s battery life is fairly mediocre. This really shouldn’t shock anyone, though, as the Vita is almost like a handheld PS3. Anyway, the battery lasts around the same amount of time as the 3DS’s battery: 3-5 hours depending on what you’re doing. The way I view it, 3-5 hours is pretty good. When I’m faffing about and want to play a game while I’m waiting for something (the train, a meeting, a blowjob) I’m not going to spend hours and hours playing a game like I do at home. However, the Vita’s short battery life makes it terrible for long flights and road trips unless you can found an outlet somewhere to charge the system. I’ve heard rumors that an extended battery pack will be coming out for the Vita, but I’m not getting my hopes up.
This is where the PlayStation Vita is the most strong, unless you have a lot of PSP UMDs (Protip: Keep your PSP). Not only is it possible to purchase digital Vita games for less than a physical copy, but the smaller titles found in the “minis” section of the PlayStation Store are what handheld gaming is all about. I’m sure Sony will be expanding the Vita’s PlayStation Store at some point, as well. The only drawback to just buying digital Vita games, though, is that one will have to throw down a decent amount of scratch to get a respectable memory card. Because I prefer physical over digital in most cases, I’ll be purchasing the major Vita titles that I’m interested in at a store and leaving my memory card storage for whatever awesome indie titles and (hopefully) PSOne titles make their way on to the system.
The Vita’s launch library is quite large, mainly due to the fact some games were released a week prior to the official February 22nd 2012 release date because of the “early adopter” limited edition bundle pack Sony released on February 15th. Most launch libraries are fairly unremarkable, and feature only one or two solid titles. The Vita boasts a decent offering of launch titles, though many are ports of console games, and a couple are over-priced “enhanced” games original offered on iOS devices for .99 cents (Dungeon Hunter: Alliance and Asphalt Injection).
Below is a list of games currently available for the Vita. I haven’t most of these titles, but I’ve placed an “*” next to the games that I recommend.
ModNation Racers: Road Trip
Michael Jackson: The Experience
Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition
Uncharted: Golden Abyss*
Shinobido 2: Tales of the Ninja
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3*
Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus*
Touch My Katamari*
Dungeon Hunter: Alliance
Army Corps of Hell
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend
Everybody’s Golf 6
Dynasty Warriors Next
Super Stardust Delta*
Lumines Electronic Symphony*
Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack
Plants vs. Zombies*
The lineup is fairly eclectic, but I’m sure most core gamers won’t be very impressed. Fortunately, though, games like Little Big Planet, Silent Hill: Book of Memories, Street Fighter X Tekken, Ys IV, Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention, Resistance: Burning Skies, Persona 4: The Golden and an untitled Hideo Kojima game are on the horizon for the Vita this year.
Verdict – Buy It
The PlayStation Vita could be the last great handheld system to ever be released. It’s becoming more evident every year that the future of handheld gaming is with smartphones and tablet computers. The Vita is a solid system and shows a lot of promise despite it’s gimmicks, and I don’t think most people will regret purchasing the system. However, while I was initially pleased with the Vita’s pricing, I honestly think it could use a price drop at some point this year. Acquiring more third-party developers and titles that aren’t ports wouldn’t hurt, either. Thankfully, with the potentially great exclusive titles coming out soon and spiffy online marketplace, the Vita’s future is looking pretty bright.