I’ve had my eye on the Playstation Vita for quite some time. I was vaguely tempted to pick one up on launch last year but the high cost at the time and no really standout game in the initial lineup persuaded me to keep my money in my pocket. The first few months didn’t do much to convince me and my previous record with portable consoles also acted as a mild deterrent. I’ve owned a Game Boy Color, which I barely played, a DS which I played heavily for about a year and a half after I got it in 2005 and a PSP, which I bought very late in its lifecycle and only really used to play PSOne games. If I shelled out my hard-earned cash on a Vita, would I ever actually play the bloody thing?
Some time around last summer though, I started noticing a smattering of new titles for the handheld that were blessed with glowing review scores, namely Gravity Rush, Metal Gear Solid HD Collection and Little Big Planet Vita. Then I learned about Remote Play between the ICO/Shadow of the Colossus HD Collection and shortly after Sony added PSOne compatibility to Vita. The final nail in the coffin of resistance though, was undoubtedly the decision to extend Playstation Plus’s Instant Games Library feature (where Sony throw free console games at you each month for £40-odd a year) to Vita.
PS Vita, oh so shiny
PS+ and Purchase
Within a matter of months, by virtue of sneakily ‘buying’ but not downloading the games while browsing the PSN Store on Playstation 3 and acquiring the licenses, I amassed a collection of top quality portable titles – Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Gravity Rush, Wipeout 2048, Jet Set Radio, Lumines Electronic Symphony and so on and on) that made a Vita purchase practically inevitable. After all, what’s the point of owning all these fantastic games without the hardware to play them on?
In the end, it was the announcement that Metal Gear Sold HD Collection for Vita was coming to PS+ that tipped me over the edge and I set to finding the best Vita bundle available. Unfortunately, those available in the UK didn’t seem quite as generous as the ones around before Christmas but as luck had it, I was in Ireland and after much searching around, managed to buy a PS Vita with Little Big Planet Vita and a 8GB memory card (most bundles comes with a 4GB card) in Gamestop Dun Laoghaire for €219, which was equivalent to about £190 at the time of purchase. I also ordered a 32GB memory card and a copy of Persona 4 Golden (which I understand to be phenomenal) to arrive when I got back to Edinburgh.
I’ve only had the Vita for a couple of days at the time of writing so this is more of a first impressions/general feelings about the hardware than any semblance of a proper review. First of all, the PS Vita itself is a gorgeous, gorgeous piece of kit; it looks and feels premium quality and although it’s mainly plastic and glass it has a heft and solidity that other devices of similar construction, like Samsung Galaxy smartphones, just don’t. The metal-coloured plastic bezel does a wonderful job of preserving the beautifully curved aesthetic to give the feeling of a very slick piece of hardware.
The screen is obviously the standout feature – it’s huge considering the size of the console and looks stunning, creating clear and vibrant images. Pixel count could perhaps be a little higher but seeing as I use two Retina-display equipped devices, it’s natural that my tolerance for even the rare jagged edge will be low. Sound over the built-in speakers is reasonably good and doesn’t seem tinny to me, although using even basic headphones does readily show up its shortcoming, though these are no worse than any other handheld device’s default output.
Buttons and Memory Cards
I’ve heard a few complains about button size and analogue stick placement and size but I can’t say that I’ve noticed any problems in these areas. I do have rather small hands, though. If there’s one area I’d criticise the Vita hardware for, it’s the design of the back panel which accommodates a rear touch pad. While there are shallow groves in the rear to indicate finger placement (oooh-errr), more often than not I find that my fingers slip out and rest on the touch pad instead. This isn’t a problem in most of the games so far but in a few titles it can cause issues, like certain levels in LittleBigPlanet.
Another moan must be directed at the memory card pricing; not a console feature of course but certainly one that will dampen most buyer’s enthusiasm at least a little. I had to pay £60 for a 32GB card – the largest available – and that was via the cheapest deal I could find online, via Amazon. The RRP is significantly higher. I almost felt forced into buying the largest card, as smaller cards fill up so quickly thanks to bigger downloadable titles, like Uncharted: Golden Abyss, which weigh in at 3.5GB or so. Granted, this is about the biggest game I’ve seen in terms of filesize but it’s enough to fill the paltry 4 GB memory card that comes with most bundles.
OS and Interface
I’m avoiding talking about the games for now until I’ve had the chance to play a few more and making progress in those I’ve already started but the Vita OS itself is good to use. It has obviously been influenced by iOS in that it primarily uses the touchscreen rather than the physical controls and the icon-based GUI, complete with icons that shake when dragged around the screen and pinch-to-zoom gestures, but that’s no bad thing and I found getting my bearings and diving in very easy indeed. There’s a few nice touches, like being able to run small apps in the background alongside a game and cool swipe gestures to close the currently open application (including games), that help make it considerably more advanced than any other handheld console I’ve used.
Linking up with a PS3 is easy and while it’s a little annoying that navigation in this mode, when transferring files between the two, for example, is done via the Vita rather than on the PS3 (think connecting your iPhone to your PC and having to use iOS to navigate the full-fat iPhone to select music, movies etc), it’s not unbearable. Remote Play is a very nice touch and it’s rather cool to take control of the PS3 via a handheld, even if the selection of games and apps that work over RP is quite limited – I found only the aforementioned ICO/SotC and Tokyo Jungle in my current collection – it promises much for the announced expansion of Remote Play in the forthcoming Playstation 4.
Overall, I’m very impressed with the Vita, through a combination of the beautiful hardware and the games I’ve been playing on it (more on these soon). It feels good value for money and in a time where mobile gaming is dominated by throwaway iOS and Android titles and slimmed down, light on features, mobile versions it’s a timely reminder of the added depth that powerful dedicated hardware and well-thought out physical controls can enable. There’s just no way I could play a game like LBP on an iPhone, a fact that makes owning a Vita all the more worthwhile.
I know the Playstation Vita has been hammered in the gaming press a bit lately but I’m convinced that the tide is turning for Sony’s newest handheld. Prices are slowly coming down and gamers are waking up to what the console can offer; the fact that it may form of the PS4 experience won’t hurt either, of course. Over the last few days, I’ve seen a number of other people in my online networks buy one and I know of half a dozen people just sitting back waiting for a price cut before taking the plunge.
While a price cut will certainly help enormously, I’m more and more convinced that Playstation Plus is going to be the Trojan Horse that gets the Vita into many people’s pockets. As the months roll on, savvy gamers will be able to accumulate an enormous library of titles for the console, giving them a ready made collection to play when they do finally buy the console itself. Not having to buy any games if you don’t want to, and having such a vast selection and variety ready to go on Day One, goes a long way to easing the financial rub of paying for the hardware and even the infamous memory card. If Sony can get the Vita and a decent sized card into people’s hands for £150-170, and keep up the PS+ support, there’s every chance it could really take off as goodwill continues to build towards Sony following the Playstation 4 reveal.