After much anticipation the Sony PlayStation Vita is finally here. Is it more PSP, PSPGo or something else? Let's start it up and take it out for a drive.
Two Thumbsticks and a Microphone
One of the biggest complaints about the PSP was that it only had one analog thumbstick that made some gameplay awkward. In designing the Vita Sony listened to the gamers and added many of the things they had been asking for. Sony also wanted to make a system that would define handheld gaming. Yes they did finally add on the second analog thumbstick, giving the Vita almost the same controls that PlayStation gamers have become familiar with over the years.
But Sony went for more.
First off there is the big 5" OLED touchscreen on the front. Bright, crisp, clear, the graphics on the Vita are near home console quality. Considering it's being powered by a quad core GPU it better look good. The touchscreen itself is very responsive and supports multi-touch. There is the also much talked about rear touch panel to add to the control scheme. It works just as well as the front.
Admittedly when I first heard about the rear touch panel it sounded awfully gimmicky to me. Now that I've gotten to play around with games that use it I can see some real potential for it. For example in Namco's Touch My Katamari you can use it to perform the same commands that you use the front screen for. This allows you to squish or stretch your Katamari on the fly without taking your thumbs off the analog sticks. The game Exit Plan makes extensive use of the rear touch panel, allowing you to push items forward and distract enemies by "tapping on walls."
Second the CPU is also a powerhouse. The ARM Cortex- A9 core (quad core) processor provides enough power to allow you to have multiple apps open. You could be in game, get a message from a friend, and look up something on the internet.
All that power comes in a system that is really not that much bigger that the PSP. The PSP is about 6 3/4" x 2 3/4" x 3/4". The Vita is about 7 1/4" x 3 3/8" x 3/4". Surprisingly it weighs about the same as the launch PSP (around 9 oz).
That powerful processor make for some interesting thing that can be done with the Vita. Take for instance cross game play with the PlayStation 3. That's right you can now play games with, and against, other gamers on the PS3. One of the launch games allows you to do just that; Wipeout 2048 lets you race your own rocket powered racers against other racers playing Wipeout HD Fury.
Maybe instead you want to be able to control your PlayStation 3 with your Vita. While this was possible with the PSP, it was pretty limited. With the Vita I could watch videos, listen to music, and browse most pictures stored on my PlayStation 3. Then I got a surprise. I decided to try playing some games. While the Vita currently does not support PlayStation 1 games (Sony is working on that) I was able to play them on my PS3 from my Vita. The biggest surprise was when I went into my PS3 games folder. Most of them said they were not playable, but then I got to PixelJunk Eden. I was able to play it on my PS3 through my Vita just fine. Oh and you can do this through the internet too. I went to a Starbucks a few blocks away from my house and connected to my PS3 via the free Wi-Fi. There was a little occasional lag, but it worked just fine.
But Wait There's More.
Front and rear cameras, stereo speakers, built in microphone, six-axis motion sensitivity, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and optionally 3G. Sony wanted a system that could cover all the bases. The only thing missing is phone service. I say if you give someone enough time, they'll make an app to do just that. There is a lot to take in with this new system. Essentially Sony made a portable home console.
The GPS and Wi-Fi location service support combine for use in one interesting built-in app called Near. When you run Near it does a quick search of the local area to find other Vita Players. It then checks what games they have played. Some games will automatically offer gifts, unlocks, or even challenges from other players that you use in your own games.
I did run into a few problems. I transferred some photos, music, and video off my PlayStation 3 onto my Vita or I should say I tried to. This is when I learned how to hard reset my Vita. During the transfer it got to one of the photos and froze up completely. I hard reset the Vita and tried again, and again it froze. One of the first demos I tried to install, Lumines Electric Symphony, got stuck in an install loop. At first I just thought it was a long install, but after waiting ten minutes, I hard reset it, only for it to do the same thing again when I restarted it (every time). Eventually I had to erase my Memory Stick so I could use my Vita. The second time I downloaded the demo I had no problems. Another is less a problem than an annoyance; if you buy a HD movie from the Sony marketplace you will not be able to transfer it to your Vita. This I know is done by Sony because the file size of a HD movie is huge and allows the Vita owner to maximize the space used on their Memory Stick.
Since it is a new system there are going to be a few bugs and none of these are killers. I'm sure Sony will have fixes for them in no time. Otherwise it's a solid system.
From a system standpoint I really like the Sony Vita and can heartily recommend it. But I hear you say, "Tracy, that's all fine and dandy, but how are the launch games?"
With most launch titles, the developers are still learning the system, so right now there doesn't seem to be a killer app or "must have" game. That said, Sony does have one of the strongest set launch titles I've seen. There are so many I can't give full reviews, but I can tell you my quick impressions on them.
Sony's First Party Titles
The titles by Sony I got were; Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational, Exit Plan, Super Stardust Delta, ModNation Racers Roadtrip, Wipeout 2048 and Little Deviants.
Uncharted : Golden Abyss has you adventuring as Nathan Drake again. It brings all the action and quality of the series to handheld. With the dual analog thumbsticks it plays just as well as the console versions. One of the cool things about the integration of the touchscreen is in the climbing sequences, you can do it the old way with button presses and guiding Nathan with the thumbstick or you can use the new "painting" method. This method you use your finger to trace the path you want him to climb and he will follow that path. Another is how it uses the Near to be able to trade items you find in the game.
I'm a fan of the Hot Shots Golf series so it is great to see Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational here. The gameplay on Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational is much the same with its "three tap" style for hitting the ball. New features use the touch screen to look at the course and hole so you can analyze your shot better.
Exit Plan is an odd treat. The graphics remind me of something Tim Burton might create if he channeled Charles Addams. Gameplay is entirely touch based using both front and rear. Part puzzle game, part platformer, and all quirk. I could spend hours playing it.
Super Stardust Delta is a combination of bullet hell shooter and Asteroids. It can be played purely with normal controls or with a combination of analog and touchscreens. If you do use the touchscreens you have to be mindful of how you are holding the Vita since you can accidently set off some of your more powerful weapons with an errant finger touch.
ModNation Racers Roadtrip is the same cart racing game that allows so much customization you might never race. All those creations you make of carts, drivers, and courses allow a little more "hands on" with the touchscreen and then share them with your friends.
Wipeout 2048, as I mentioned earlier, is the rocket powered racer that you can play against PlayStation 3 players. It takes advantage of the six-axis tilt sensor to help control the ships.
Little Deviants is the only game that felt little like a clunker. It's cute little monsters in a series of mini-games, but it felt like it is more of game built just to show off all the features of the system.
Third Party Titles
The Vita is getting great third party support. The titles I have received are; Touch My Katamari, Shinobido 2 Revenge of Zen, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Army Corps of Hell, and FIFA Soccer.
Of all the games, Touch My Katamari is the one I've played the most. That's because of the way it uses the Near app taps into my competitive side. When it connects it, finds people that have beat my score on levels and downloads them for me to compete against. It also takes advantage of the touchscreen letting you use new powers of the Katamari by stretching or squeezing it to make it wide or narrow respectively.
Shinobido 2 Revenge of Zen is set in ancient Japan and tells the tale of warring ninja clans. Lots of stealth action that I like. Didn't get very far with this title though. It has some long cut scenes at the start to set up the story. Maybe further along it will open up more.
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is the same fighter game as the consoles, but with three ways of playing it now. Normal and Simple use the button and analog sticks like the console version, the third uses the touchscreen letting players move and punch with a simple swipe and touch. You could almost call it the easy mode.
Army Corps of Hell is an interesting beat-'em-up game set in hell. You are a fallen ruler and you take control of a small army of goblins to fight for you. If you love death metal bands you'll love the soundtrack to this game.
At the time of writing this review I have not played FIFA Soccer yet. I blame Touch My Katamari.
PSP Games, Minis, and PS1 Games
Sony is in the process of making the PSP and Minis available to play on the Vita, so those that you bought for the PSP you'll be able to play on Vita. Currently they have list of what games are compatible with the Vita. Strangely, right now, the only way to get them loaded onto your Vita is to download them through the PlayStation Network store. I did have a couple of games that are on the list so I downloaded them. They played just fine. If you have previous save games backed up on your PS3 you can transfer those to your Vita and pick up where you left off. Currently no Original PlayStation games are compatible, but Sony has stated they are working on making them compatible.
With the release of the PlayStation Vita Sony is making a statement. They are serious about the handheld gaming system market. With the Vita I really think they may have a system to give Nintendo some serious competition. The tight integration with the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Network also point at it being around for a while. I'm looking forward to even more titles that take advantage of cross platform play with the PS3. That right there really puts gaming anywhere, anytime, with anyone. There is so much more I could talk about for the Vita, but this review would turn into a book. It may not be perfect out of the gate, but I look forward to enjoying more on the Vita. Sony made the PlayStation Vita an easy recommendation.
The PlayStation Vita is available now. For more information on the Sony PlayStation Vita see their web site.
For game ratings see the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) web site.