Playstation VitaPosted: February 24, 2012
I need to begin by saying that the Playstation Vita is a beautiful piece of hardware. It’s slick, surprisingly light (the Wi-Fi edition coming in at a mere 260 grams/9.2 oz, a full 20 g lighter than the PSP1000 and 15 g lighter than the original DS), ergonomic, shiny, and just plain stunning. It fits naturally in your hand and nothing feels out of place. Even when you maneuver your mitts around to play using the touchscreen only, nothing feels out of place. Turning on the unit reveals the crisp, absolutely gorgeous 5in OLED multi-touch capacitive touchscreen, which is easy-to-use, very responsive, and, oh yeah, looks absolutely great. All in all, the whole thing is streamlined to look stunning.
The device’s menus, while definitely unfamiliar, take very little getting used to. Every option and game and so on is represented by a bubble on various screens. You can click the bubble and you’re in; you can pick which bubbles go on which screen, and can even set the background colour of the screen, which adds to the customization. The Vita’s menus are all controlled by the touch screen and various flicks. When you click a menu, for example, the screen slides to the right and you’re brought to the game/app’s menu. There, you can check out the help file (online), look for patches, or launch the thing itself. If you don’t want to launch it, you touch the top right corner and pull back. The window is a lot like a sheet of paper, and pulling it back all the way closes the item. Very cool. The PS button comes in handy in this way as well. Mid-game you can click the PS button and the game will minimize. You can return to the Vita’s main menu and open up your trophies or friends list or whatever, putter around there, and then pressing the PS button again will open up a window cascade where you can pop back into Uncharted or whatever. Definitely very cool.
The PS Vita also comes with Augmented Reality cards which are very cool themselves. The cards work with various games (which are currently Cliff Diver, Fireworks, and Table Soccer). You launch the game, and the game tells you which cards to place down. You place a card on your table or whatever, and the Vita’s rear-camera is turned on, making your game screen the table right in front of you. Table Soccer seems to utilize this the best so far. Cards 1 and 2 are placed opposite eachother and represent goal posts. Card 3 becomes the middle of the field, Cards 4 and 5 become the stands for the spectators, and Card 6 becomes the scoreboard. You don’t need to play with all these cards, of course. You control the game’s camera by moving your handheld in and out and control the action on-screen with the touchscreen. There is something very cool about playing soccer on your dining room table for sure. While the games are pretty simplistic, they are a freebie and definitely more of a proof-of-concept more than anything. The whole AR-thing itself seems more aimed at capturing the casual gamer than the serious one, which isn’t a bad thing, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see AR becoming a big part of Sony’s gameplan with the Vita.
I’ve played bits of Uncharted and Touch My Katamari, and both make use of the Vita’s hardware in different ways. In Uncharted, you can draw a line up a ledge, telling Drake where to go on particularly long stretches. You can grab a guy and pull him off a cliff with a finger press, too, and by tilting the Vita while hanging onto a ledge you’ll cause Drake to lean out in that direction. Using the rear touchpad you can get Drake to climb up and down ropes and such (though, dragging your fingers down causes him to go up, which takes getting used to), earning yourself the “Touch My Rear” trophy. Most of the touchpad/touchscreen features are optional, in that you can still use the various buttons on the handheld if you’d prefer, which to me is a selling point. Sony could have made the very fatal mistake of making the touchscreen and pad more mandatory, and fortunately they had the good sense not to.
Touch My Katamari is a lot like the other Katamari games (wherein you control a dude who pushes a ball around, rolling things/people/planets, snowball-style), except of course allows you to use the touchscreen and touchpad. The touchscreen can be used instead of the analog sticks (though I find using the sticks easier), while the rear touchpad allows you to elongate the Katamari either vertically or horizontally, allowing you to roll more stuff up or sneak through narrow passages. Fun stuff.
The Vita is, in theory, backwards compatible with your PSP games. There is no UMD port of course, so the only games you can transfer over are ones you bought through the PSN store. The Vita has no onboard memory you can access, so you also need to get your hands on a Vita memory card (the 32gig goes for about $99 right now). Each (full) game runs about 1 gig, so unless you spring for 32 gig, you may find yourself relying more on the game cartridges than the store. There are a ton of cool apps available through the store, including a Twitter app, Netflix, Near (which lets you see who is around you and what they’re playing), and Facebook. The Facebook app however is no longer available in store due to it absolutely not working. Some critics are calling this a colossal failure on Sony’s part because they’ve touted the Vita as being a more “social” console. While it is a bit of a boo boo, not having Facebook for awhile doesn’t seem like a huge setback to me, especially Near and with the PSN itself. Sony is also working on making the PSP library completely backwards compatible and uploading them to the store. In the meantime, and this is a letdown, you cannot play PSone games on your Vita (unless you play them remotely on your PS3, of course). I felt the PSP was a fine piece of hardware which suffered from a poor release; the Vita is an excellent piece of hardware with a pretty good release, and though there have been a few speedbumps along the way, so far so good.
I was somewhat afraid of getting burnt by the PS Vita on release date. I was an early adopter of the Playstation Portable, and though I tried to rock it as much as I could, I eventually caved in and bought a DS (lite). Sony improved the unit towards the end of its lifespan, making even the PSP1000 a much better device through mucking around with the hardware. I liked this a lot, because each iteration of the PSP seemed fairly optional, like getting it would be a good idea but wasn’t necessary. Nintendo seemed to be forcing you to upgrade every time, from your DS bulky to a DS Lite to a DSXL and DSi and etcetera, up to the 3DS (and now you need to buy a circle pad pro, so watch out for the next 3DS to come with that thing built in). Overall it kind of goes without saying that no matter how much I liked the PSP, Nintendo clearly won that handheld console war.
Sony’s main strength (not surprisingly) lies in its ability to work with various media, not just games. The PS3 has definitely proven this, allowing you to stream movies and music from your network computers incredibly easily (whereas the 360 does so with a ton of lag and often taking ownership of your media collection, forcing you to troll the internet for a solution). Their greatest success so far was the blu-ray player itself, forcing Microsoft to give up on HD-DVD and plan to incorporate blu-ray in its next console. I can say that so far, without a doubt, the PS Vita hasn’t let me down. It’s fun, clean, and elegant. Every button and feature seems to have a purpose, and I’ve yet to stumble into any lag so far. Handhelds now have to compete with the Android and iOS market, trying to justify their high costs of both hardware and software vs. the thousands of .99 cent games (and various iterations of Angry Birds). The traditional idea of the handheld gaming console was that you could take the thing anywhere; you know, bust out your PSP at work when no one’s watching or whatever. While I think handhelds still need to remember that they need to stay handheld, they also need to compete for someone’s attention while that individual is at home. I own a 360, a Wii, a PS3, a DS, a computer, and a Vita; handhelds need to compete against other handhelds and against home consoles themselves. Sony, with features like Remote Play, is doing an excellent job of linking the PS3/PSP/Vita experience and that, I think, is key in this handheld console race.
Anyway, if you have a couple hundred dollars to blow, go buy the Vita. You definitely won’t be disappointed.