One night the Playstation 3 (PS3), Playstation 2 (PS2), and Playstation Portable (PSP) are out drinking. Across the bar, the PSP spots a hot iPad. Knowing he’s getting up there in years, PSP figures he has something to prove to PS3 and PS2. After a couple more rounds of liquid courage, PSP walks over to Miss iPad. The two leave the bar. About a month later, PSP receives a strange text message from Miss iPad. “I’m late.” Now you know the story of the Sony Vita.
Recommend this product?
In all seriousness, this system seems like the product of a one-night stand between an iPad and the PSP. At nearly twice the weight of the PSP, Sony packed a lot of tech into this piece.
Lets start with what made the PSP great. The PSP had the feeling of a condensed Sony Dual Shock controller. You had your familiar X, Square, Circle, and Triangle buttons on the right and the direction pad on the left. The L2 and R2 were stripped from the system to allow a more streamlined approach to gaming. The PSP featured an analog nub for shooters and other titles. The 16:9 screen ratio was great for watching widescreen movies on the go.Ok, so the analog nub may have been a poor addition to the list. Still, the rest of the PSP seemed pretty tight.
The Vita fixes the PSP’s analog nub by using raised analog sticks. These have a tendency to get caught when I try to stick my Vita in my pocket. At least there’s two sticks, which makes shooters much easier to play. There’s still no L2 or R2 on the Vita. Instead, that iPad influence manifests in the form of a front touchscreen. Many games integrate by letting you use the touch screen for dodging, sniping, or any other interaction that doesn’t quite fit on the other inputs. If you need more input methods? The Vita features a rear touch pad. Depending on the game you’re playing, The rear touch can add to the experience or try your patience.
Like many tablets, the Vita features an internal Six-Axis motion sensor. This means tilting the system can be applied as input for games. In addition to this, the Vita features a 3-axis compass. While I generally don’t use my Wi-Fi model for safari, it’s an interesting concept.
As the PSP was a portable PS2, so is the Vita the portable PS3. Graphically, the games look and sound like miniature versions of their PS3 counterparts. I was amazed to play games like WipeOut running at the full 60 frames per second on the Vita. While the Vita only renders at 960x544, it still keeps up and holds its own against the PS3.
Sure, the hardware sounds nice, but how’s it work?
The Vita’s home screen is a completely touch based interface. You can set it up to use the sticks, but navigation was optimized for touch. Just flick up or down to navigate through home screens. Like an Android tablet, you can create as many home screens as you need. You can fit ten icons on each page of the home screen. The drawback to this is having thirty-one games installed. In my case, I have more titles than I can fit on a single home screen. Finding the game I want can take a little bit of time. I also like to sort titles, so the lack of a folder system makes this an even greater challenge.
The reason I sort titles is because the Vita can play games from so many sources. You can play the following formats: Vita, PSP, Minis, PSOne, and PSMobile titles. Sony made sure you’d have no shortage of titles. Each type of game uses the Vita slightly different.
Vita titles are the most robust. These were designed for the Vita. Some manage to use the front touch screen as well as the touch pad in the back while utilizing all buttons. The controls here can get intense. Gravity Rush (a current favorite title) manages to use the Vita’s motion sensor to allow you to aim while shifting gravity.
PSP titles cause the Vita to play like its predecessor. The right analog stick can double for the left. This may sound good, but it really doesn’t do anything to improve up the PSP’s gameplay. PSP games also render with a stretched, full screen approach. This distorts some PSP titles on your Vita. Sadly, the Vita does not play UMD’s, so all PSP titles will have to be downloads from the PSN store.
Minis were originally cross compatible games for the PS3 and the PSP. These titles often look like PSOne titles, but are usually ports of other games you’ve played for free on the internet. There are very few minis that I can say that I’ve played for more than a couple minutes.
PSOne titles are exactly what they sound like. They’re games from the PSOne that were converted to downloads, then pushed to the PSN store. If you’re still a fan of Resident Evil 2, you can grab it for when you’re on the go. It’s that simple.
Recognizing that consoles may go the way of the dinosaurs, Sony added the PS Mobile format. These games are touchscreen only titles. They feel like games meant to play on a tablet or smartphone. I haven’t found any that use the rear touch pad. I expect Sony will push the PS Mobile format for other devices more and more.
Another Vita style of play was first introduced by the 3DS. Augmented Reality (AR) breaks into the Vita using the rear camera. The system comes with six cryptic cards that you lay on a surface as described by the game’s instructions. Once complete, the screen will replace the card with some form of structure that you can move around. In Cliff Diving, this just happens to be a cliff. Like the 3DS, if you don’t have sufficient lighting, the Vita will not recognize the cards or say that you’re out of range. This gets annoying, as many of my games were paused because I was “Out of Range”.
The big question is how much love your Vita will get. Sadly, in its first year, the Vita has less than eighty games. Sony has had a bit of difficulty greasing the production wheels on new titles. For the games that are there, the Vita has a decent library. My Vita came with Black Ops, which does a great job of dropping you in a warzone and telling you to survive. If you’re a fan of Spore, Ecolibrium has you balancing predator, prey, and food sources in your own ecosystems. Even classics like Uncharted and Ninja Gaiden make their way to the Vita. So, the issue isn’t that the games are low quality, the issue is the number of games.
A major issue with the Vita is that most titles are download only. The current media resembles a micro-SD card. You can fit quite a few games in your pocket, or just install them to your Vita. Sony prefers the latter method, because it keeps costs low. If only the savings were passed on to the player. Still, game discovery is a pain. The Vita’s PSN store has you thumbing through tons of content. Searching for something specific was a snap with the old PS3 market, but after updates in August 2012, you now have to search letter by letter for the game you want.
Another marketing issue is that the best games don’t often get prominence in the marketplace. A game must either be a big title (like Assassin’s Creed: Sons of Liberty), or it falls to the back of the store and ends up in a bargain bin. While “New to the Marketplace” sounds good, the fact is that the interface is so dumbed down that any power searches are impossible. If you know what you want, good luck typing the right words to find it. The easiest way to find content for your Vita is to search for it on the PS3. The interface is larger and you can find what you want.
The next problem with the Vita is the same problem the PSP had. Cost. The system runs $250 (for the Wi-Fi version). The initial price isn’t the issue. The issue is what comes with it. The first Vita offered was a stand-alone system. This means that you had to spend an additional $20 for a 4GB memory card for game saves and downloading games. With an average game size of 2.5GB, that 4GB memory card fills up fast. If you want a decent memory card, you’ll have to buy the 32GB card. This fits quite a few more games, but will cost an additional $100. Sony used the same marketing strategy with the PSP, only it was $100 for an 8GB memory card (at the time).
At least Sony is offering the Playstation Plus membership to compensate. For $50 per year, you get free games for your Playstation 3 and Vita. The ratio is a bit PS3 heavy, but the Vita titles they throw out there are usually worth the download. It’s a far cry better than the Xbox model of charging users to play online and getting nothing for it.
By now, you have to be asking if the Vita is better than the 3DS. The answer is mixed. While the 3DS has a larger library, the Vita is a higher quality system. The games that truly use the Vita are so much better than anything I’ve seen on the 3DS. If Sony can attract the right developers, we can see some sweet content on the Vita. Keep in mind that Sony consoles are generally targeted toward older gamers. If you’re thinking about kids, the Vita’s library is a bit mature for them.
Being an owner of both a 3DS and a Vita, I strongly favor the Vita. The system is extremely innovative and has far more possibilities than Nintendo’s offering. One of Sony’s innovations is the cross-play and cross-controller. Games from your PS3 can sometimes be ported to the Vita. You can play on the go and continue your quest, season, mission, or whatever. The cross-controller uses the Vita as a second screen for games. This rocks Little Big Planet 2 by letting the Vita move obstacles for players. In some cases, the Vita gives one player a special mission while the others continue the level.
All this innovation, it’s sad to see a shortage in new games. The Vita is struggling to keep up. With its high cost, small library, and shorter battery life, the Vita is a hard sell.
With all that’s wrong with how the Vita is marketed, I still RECOMMEND the system. Once you have a Vita, it’s a solid and sweet experience. Cross-Play and Cross-Controller games make for a uniquely fun experience. To boost your library, Sony has many Cross-Buy titles, where you purchase the PS3 version and get the Vita version for free.
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