It’s good. Really good, in fact. I’d go so far as to call it the Cadillac of handhelds.
No, silly. I’m not talking about the Atari Lynx. I’m talking about the Sony PS Vita, which crept into stores silently and without preamble yesterday. At least that’s what it seemed like if you were trying to get that three for two deal at Target, where electronics department employees were blissfully unware of the launch.
I picked mine up at the local Gamestop early in the morning and there were six people also in line to get it, which kind of surprised me. One guy asked how the 3D works and if he needed to buy some special glasses. Another bought almost every launch game. Another guy bought two. I couldn’t even open mine until late in the evening, having to sit and look at the damn thing in a box all day long in my home office while I worked. I just wanted to touch the damn thing. But I had my time with it last night, and here’s my day one report.
Let’s be clear about it up front. The games the Vita can play, at least from what I have on hand, are not $40 versions of dollar App store games- Dungeon Hunter and Asphalt notwithstanding. The Vita, after day one, has me convinced that the gaming it offers can be a home console-quality experience in a portable format. Rayman: Origins and Blazblue look and act almost exactly like their PS3 counterparts. They actually look better on the five inch OLED screen than they do on my 42 inch LCD. Detail is crisp, colors rich, and framerates never falter. Controls are smaller than a Dualshock, but form factor is a mobility concern so it’s an acceptable trade-off. FIFA Soccer might be missing some of the more high end features, but the action on the pitch is just like a full FIFA console game (FIFA 11, to be precise). Shooting on the goal with the back touch panel almost makes me want to trade FIFA 12 in for the Vita edition. Hot Shots Golf is pretty much instantly addicting and the touch features are minor, but nice to have.
The downloadable titles I tried were great- Super Stardust Delta HD looks amazing and it’s perfect for the format. Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack is eight bucks so it’s not too far out of App store pricing but it looks like it’s going to be a great indie-style platformer with a cool Katamari-like devouring mechanic. Buying them was painless, the Playstation Store acts just like it does on the PS3. There are a couple of demos available, I tried Unit 13 which looked pretty good but it locked up the Vita. If you get the “flashing blue light of death”, don’t panic- hold down the power button for 30 seconds to bring up a recovery menu.
As for the non-gaming features, so what. To be frank, I care sweet F.A. about all of the widgets and pseudo-apps that the Vita ships with. I’ll likely never take a picture with it, so I can’t and probably shouldn’t comment on the cameras. I don’t care about Facebook and Twitter on it, and the odds of me watching Netflix on it rather than on the TV are pretty much zero. Near seems like a cool idea, but then again I don’t find myself sitting around wondering if somebody close by is playing a Vita game. The UI is kind of a mess, obviously aping the Apple design but far more bubbly, ugly, and menu-happy. It isn’t very intuitive. Usability is sacrificed for cuteness.
I almost wish that there was a less expensive, no bullshit version that played games and that’s it. It is an expensive product, really kind of priced out of the market. It’s easy to counter with “iPad is $700”, but iPad is also a much more versatile, useful computer that also happens to play games.
Overall, I’m very impressed with it and I don’t have that day two buyer’s remorse that I had with the 3DS. In comparison to the 3DS, I’m already more interested in the Vita and not just because of the stronger launch line-up or the far better hardware build and technical capabilities. I think there’s more potential with the Vita, and much less gimmickiness. It feels like a product intentionally designed to bridge the gap between mobile devices- including iPhones and iPads- and home-based consoles. Features like touch and gyroscope feel better implemented than in the 3DS, and everything about it makes it feel like a serious gaming device.
The question remains if there’s a market for that kind of thing. I think that there could be, if the right kinds of games are developed for it and it leverages its unique features like the cross-platform play with PS3 games and its capabilities as a auxillary display for PS3 games- beating the Wii U to the punch. Sony really needs to sell this as a game console and not as a Swiss Army knife with a bunch of silly apps and social networking gewgaws. Unfortunately, even the name of the system hints at that- “life”. Not games or play, but “life”. This is not an all-inclusive “life” product. It’s a toy with Facebook. I’m sure there’s an inclination in the marketing department to sell it along the lines of “It can do the same things your phone can”, but that’s the wrong approach. It should be “it can do the same things your PS3 can”. That’s a huge differentiator in the marketplace, and one that could make the Vita a big hit.
It comes back around to software, as well. The available games are good. Some are really good. But they are mostly ports and spin-offs, and there isn’t yet a game that defines the platform and what sets it apart. Out of the gate, the Vita desperately needs a Ghost Trick, Elite Beat Agents, The World Ends With You, or Advance Wars to define it. Maybe that game will be Gravity Rush, not releasing stateside until May. But as it stands, the software is impressive but not particularly distinctive. Another serving of Ninja Gaiden? Really? I’m also not that hot to play a portable version of widescreen, cinematic game like Uncharted. I just played Uncharted 3, thanks. I’m not really quite why a scaled down, B-team version of a AAA game is touted as the killer app.
Big question. Is it worth $250? It could be. It’d definintely be worth $150-$175, without a doubt and with the right software I think it could bury the 3DS. At a Cadillac price and without a firm direction for its development as well as the question as to whether it’s going to fall flat against the IOS onslaught, it’s still something of a question mark.
Contentious price point aside- not to mention the absolutely idiotic “piracy fighting” proprietary memory cards- I’m a happy early adopter. And since Gameshark is apparently unaware that the Vita is coming out and won’t have a section for it, all of my writing about it and its games will be here until further notice. Stay tuned for more.
Consider this a nod from an early adopter, for what that’s worth.