If I wanted to, I could be writing this blog post from my Playstation Vita. It has a decent web browser, and a touch screen that works. At 5″ it’s smaller than the iPad, but enormous as compared to the iPhone—even my thick and clumsy fingers can comfortably type. If I really wanted I could also tweet, update Facebook, watch movies, listen to music, or take low resolution photographs.
But none of these are good reasons to buy the Vita: It’s all about the games.
For the first time, a handheld system offers dual analogs and a graphics processor that knocks visuals out of the park. More, it comes with motion control, front and rear touchscreens, a microphone, and augmented reality features as a result of front and rear motion cameras. As far as control systems go—it only does everything.
For the last week, we’ve been playing around on an early-release wi-fi only version of the Vita. Our thumbs still hurt, and we’re a little short on sleep—but we’re glad to say that it was all worthwhile.
For the first time, portable gaming doesn’t offer just a second tier experience.
Obviously, as a portable, Vita is perfect for on the go. We’ll definitely bring it along the next time we travel, heck, it’s coming with me the next time I take the bus. But less obviously, it offers the same truly immersive experience that makes console and PC gaming so much fun. It’s great for geek parents—you can play your M rated game without interrupting your kid’s homework session or Wizards of Waverly Place TV marathon. And it’s great when your partner wants to read or watch TV, and you’re itching to hunt treasure, race cars, or take on a horde of invading aliens.
Sure, if you don’t game, it’s not likely to hold much appeal. But if you’ve ever stayed up all night to clear the last boss level, or called in sick to save the world, the Vita is well worth the ask.
The everything and the kitchen sink array of inputs the Vita comes with may raise alarm-bells for hardcore gamers—who wants another platform dominated by shovel-ware?
At first, I worried as well. But Uncharted: Golden Abyss made me a believer. The best games let you choose how you interact with them. This really does lead to a sense of interaction, as you’re tempted into new ways of playing by superior interaction. In Golden Abyss, I was blown away the first time I completed a side-quest where the game wanted me to take a picture. Tapping the screen to select the camera mode, I moved the whole Vita around—and the game’s image moved in perfect sync with me. It was exactly like shooting with my digital camera, but the picture I was taking was of the in-game environment. The same mechanism could be used later in the game to pick off distant targets with a sniper rifle—or I could revert to the right analog stick—I never did, I was having too much fun. Similarly,I could use the touch-screen to paint my way through vertical mazes of handholds, and enjoy the dizzying rush as my avatar climbed tall walls and cliff-faces. In the trickiest bits, or on the bus where I was in a dizzying physical environment myself, I could revert to the analog sticks for finer control.
Later in the game, came a dream like sequence of running rapids. I jumped into the drink to avoid an enemy, and had to rotate and lean the PS Vita to navigate my way through obstacles. If the motion controls weren’t perfect, I would have thrown the console in frustration—it was that hard. But the movement felt so natural that I had goose-bumps, and the same feeling of exhilarating speed that I feel sailing.
The graphics are unbelievable.
I really feel like Sony got the screen size just right. If it was bigger, I couldn’t reach across the touch-screen with my thumbs, or hold the whole Vita comfortably. But it’s big enough to be a thrill, and to offer a field of view that allows games to depict space realistically. And on the scale of the Vita display, the graphics rendered by the Vita are convincing and beautiful. From hair follicles to background effects like mists and flowing water, the Vita shows me a world that IMAX like, convinces me I’m there.
Most blockbuster games for the Vita are priced at either $30 or $40 for physical copies. Downloaded versions are often less. Physical copies come on small cartridges that are slightly smaller than a standard SD card. They are responsive to load, and there is none of the lag that was present with the UMD optical discs uses by the PSP—however, they are a little awkward to insert and remove from the system as the game port is a hatch covered spring eject system.
At the same time, developers are free to set pricing, and many download only casual games that offer great experiences start off around $10. Hustle Kings—a cross-play (PS3 & Vita versions inclusive) pool simulator with surprising depth and accurate physics, is $9.99. Cheaper games are available, though so far none have piqued our interest.
The Playstation Vita is a handheld gaming system and the successor to the PSP. It follows a similar oval format that rests in the curves of your hands, but adds a second analog stick, as well as front and rear cameras, motion control, front and rear touchscreens, and a mic. It has a single 5 inch OLED display that’s vivid and bright. Battery life for gaming ranges from 3-5 hours, depending on wi-fi and processor usage. Speaking of processors, its primary and graphics processors are both 4 core.
Gamers who’ve previously purchased download editions of Playstation Portable games can redownload compatible games free, and many of the PSP’s best titles are both compatible and available for purchase on the Vita—including some of our favourites like Persona 3 Portable, and Tactics Ogre.
On release, the PS Vita line-up is already strong, with games ranging from casual pick-up-and-play like Hustle Kings, to hardcore gems like Drake’s Fortune: Uncharted—Golden Abyss, where players take on the role of an Indiana Jone’s like treasure hunter in gameplay that mixes puzzle solving, platforming and shoot ’em up action. Future releases and third-party support look promising.
Unlike the PSP, Sony has designed the PS Vita with copyright protection in mind. This will hopefully ensure long-term profitability for third party developers, many of whom abandoned the PSP platform. The downside of this is that the PSP uses both a proprietary game cartridge and memory card format. Memory cards designed specifically for the Vita are comparable in price to class 10 micro SD cards, ranging from $20 for a 4GB to $60 for 32GB. Sony says memory cards are optional, and many game developers have left space on the primary cartridge for game-saves—however, must games need an extra megabyte or two of extra card memory. And, to use any of the Vita’s additional features—playing movies, music, or downloaded games—requires a memory card.
Is There an App For That?
According to Sony, Vita means life, and life is all about connection. So the console features a few cool features that incorporate social networking into gaming.
These range from Near, which lets you see what nearby gamers are playing, to the ability to host parties that allow for cross game voice chat. In addition, many titles feature social network integration, from your Playsation Network friends list to Facebook et cetera—so your game can automatically tweet the fact that you’ve just made 50 head-shots and disturb your friends and coworkers. I suspect we’re a little outside of the Vita’s target market here, but know my nephew would love this. I do appreciate the fact that unlike Microsoft’s XBox platform, the network is free of cost. Parents or those wishing to keep their nerdiness private can adjust the level of information they want Vita to share. Thank goodness.
In addition to social network integration, the Vita features apps ranging from Google Maps to Netflix. It also has an excellent built in video content player and a passable MP3 playing application. Because the screen is fantastic, we’ll be using the Vita over our iPhone and even our iPad when watching movies on the go (we always feel like we’re holding the screen at a drive-in theatre when we watch movies on the iPad—does anyone else find this?). Google Maps works as expected, and more third party applications are expected to follow. Which is cool—but I doubt we, at least, will use many of them. The ones we do expect to use are things like Livetweet—why dig your phone out of your pocket to catch up on twitter when the Vita is already in your hand?
Sadly the video and music applications are hampered by a difficulty in adding and managing conent on the device. We use our PS3 to watch videos all the time, taking advantage of it’s ability to stream content wirelessly from our PCs throug DLNA. However you need to plug the Vita directly into your PC, Mac, or PS3, and then use Sony’s content management software to copy media. It takes forever.
That being said, applications run great on the Vita. You can have up to five things running at once, and overall the systems interface is easy to use—despite it’s hideously ugly main-launch screen which features childish 3-D bubbly icons that wobble about nauseatingly. Once things are running, you can press the PS button to pull up a menu and select from open applications. It’s much easier on the eyes, and I’m ashamed to admit to leaving everything I use open all the time, just to avoid the Home Screen.
We’ve yet to have a hang-up, stutter, or crash.
The app that we’d most like to use, but so far haven’t found much use for is Remote Play. What it does is allow you to take remote control of your PS3 via the internet from anywhere (your PS3 turns on when connected to, and cannot perform other functions when being remotely controlled). We’ve used this on the road to watch movies we’d loaded onto our PS3, and likely will again, but the real idea behind remote play is to allow you to play your PS3 games on the Vita—an idea that has us drooling. So often we’re stuck in some airport or hotel, when we’d rather be in our living room finishing off Final Fantasy. However so far very few games support remote play, and because this feature never took off on the PSP, we wonder if the feature has a future on the Vita.
Whether or not it’s worth it is likely a matter of how much you game, and whether you’d have the opportunity or desire to play it
We used to use our PSP a lot on the road, but never picked it up at home because everything was so much better on our bigger consoles.
Already though, one of us will often pick up the Vita and play a bit during the day, or while the big TV in the living room is in use. For this reason, the Vita was an attractive option to us—and we haven’t regretted picking one up.
So far, the 3G version is yet to be released or scheduled for Canada, but I suspect the additional up-front cost and 3G data cost of either $15 or $25 a month would have made it an unattractive prospect—it’s not that often we find ourselves without wifi—unless we’re somewhere exotic where 3g service is expensive and unreliable.
Update: We just noticed these great PSP Vita cases from Waterfield Designs, and wanted to point them out. We’ve featured Waterfield cases before, and it’s no secret that they’re our favourite way to transport our gadgets! Check them out here: http://www.sfbags.com/products/ps-vita-cases/ps-vita-cases.php
(this image Waterfield, all other images our own)