So Sony have just released their newest piece of hardware into the cold, unforgiving world. Fanboys are feverishly devouring anyone who dares speak out against it, but soon find themselves to be the minority. It’s price is being criticized as is it’s somewhat lackluster launch line up and many are declaring it dead before it’s even entered the race. The year is 2006 and I’m talking about the Playstation 3.
The PS3 was, of course, alive and well and just over half a decade later is showing no signs of losing momentum. The PS Vita on the other hand has just been set loose and is coming under the same kind of fire as its big brother before it. Anyone with a clue could see the potential of the Playstation 3 and worried not for its future but the Vita is a slightly different story. In a world where the Wii outsells the collected efforts of BOTH it’s high-end, high-def competitors and a world in which people think living vicariously through various Apple devices is something to brag about, it might not be enough to simply be made of the best stuff.
For better or worse Sony have crammed so much stuff into the Vita, it’s difficult to know where to begin writing about it. The 5-inch OLED multi-touch screen is joined on board by a microphone, two analog sticks, a d-pad, face buttons, two cameras and a somewhat inexplicable rear touch panel. It’s graphics, while not quite up to PS3 standards, do a remarkable job at imitating it. Easily as good as the PSP was at imitating the PS2 and probably better.
It’s not a small device, certainly not something you could fit in any conventional pocket, but it’s not exactly large either. I’d read so much complaining about the size of the Vita in the run up to its release I was half expecting to be playing Uncharted on a modestly sized Coffee machine. It’s slightly larger all-round than the PSP3000, but doesn’t feel substantially heavier. I, like many of you I would imagine, was ready to completely ignore the launch of the PS Vita until its inevitable redesign, just as I had done with the 3DS, a strategy that had worked resoundingly in my favour if that hideous Circle-Pad thing was any indication. It only took ten minutes with the Vita to change my mind. It’s extra width makes it feel much more like a controller than any handheld before it and also renders the PSP’s dreaded fish-hook fingers a thing of the past. Make no mistake, a smaller, sleeker redesign is en route, in this case though, I’m not sure it will be for the better.
The most obvious difference between the Vita and its Sony brethren is the interface. Gone is the XMB, in its place screens of apps presented in the form of colourful, floating bubbles. The interface is much less comical in reality than it may have appeared in videos or photographs and is, for the most part, intuitive and easy to use. It’s clear that Sony are aware of the ever-present threat of Apple and Android to their ‘dedicated gaming device’ and are aiming to make the Vita as ‘Apple’ friendly as possible.
Unfortunately, the apps are the most uninteresting and at times, confusing, parts of the Vita experience. ‘Near’ works reasonably well. Using my wi-fi connection it managed to, rather spookily, pinpoint my location (thanks no doubt to assistance from Google Maps, which also has its own Vita app) and bring to my attention other PSN members in my area. From here you can see what others have played and add them as a friend. It’s a much stronger effort to make the playstation network a social hub than Home could ever have hoped to be, and has the potential to work much better. The rest of the apps don’t fare so well, however. The facebook app was so full of bugs that at time of writing it had been removed from the PS Store. ‘Party’ and ‘Group Messaging’ seem to differ from each other in title alone and the separation of ‘Friends’, and ‘Trophy’s’ into separate apps, when both are viewable in ‘Near’ is simply bewildering.
PS Vita – Golden Abyss
Despite clearly harbouring pretenses of competing with Android/Apple devices, the PS Vita is, at its heart, a games machine. And any games machine lives or dies on one thing and one thing alone; games. The Vita launch line-up might, at first glance, appear somewhat lacking, but given the chance some of these titles prove to be more than worth their price of admission. Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Wipeout 2048 are two of the finest portable games I’ve personally ever played and Everybody’s Golf has turned out to be just as fun and addictive as Lumines: Electronic Symphony. Modnation Racers: Road Trip might not be particularly well presented, but you could certainly do worse to kill a few minutes on a short commute. Little Deviants aside, the Vita has a solid line up of first and third party titles available at launch, which is more than could have been said for the PS3.
Only time will tell if the Vita will stand toe to toe with the Apple and Android devices it sees as its peers. For high-end gaming, the control options are a revelation, but the PSP as a format was mostly ignored by third-party developers and it was always going to be tough for Sony to convince people to follow them on another handheld adventure. Thankfully, the PS Vita is a fantastic, reasonably priced games machine with a selection of great games and the potential to house even greater games in the future. It’s hard to resist an argument like that.
– Words, Andrew Kavanagh
Editor-in-Chief, part-time super villain and hoarder of cats. If you can’t find me writing, I’m probably in the kitchen!