I’ve been a moderate fan of the PSP for years, which is to say I’ve liked the idea of the PSP and have liked a few PSP games quite a lot (woo, Dissidia! Prinny! Persona 3 Portable!) but on the whole haven’t played it much, so it was with some trepidation that I grabbed a PlayStation Vita on launch day. As a Game Reviewer I sort of had to, which, by the way, is a great excuse for buying all the gadgets I want but wouldn’t be able to justify getting if I couldn’t tell myself they’re job necessities.
Lots of people don’t have to get a Vita. Should they?
For media play, it does the usual array of omnigadget stuff (camera, movies and music, social-media apps, Netflix), which I will not spend a lot of time talking about because you can see the feature list in any description of any current smartphone (minus the phone, which the Vita isn’t). As a gaming device, it’s got a touchscreen on the front, a touchpad on the back, and the full array of current-gen-console controller buttons and analog sticks, save two fewer shoulder buttons, and the sticks aren’t clickable. It does backward compatibility with most PSP games in the PlayStation store, which is downloadable titles only, meaning if you own a game on UMD you’ll need to buy it again. It does not play downloadable PSOne or PS2 games, and Sony says it won’t ever support PS2, although watching Sony for years I’ve seen them repeatedly insist on one thing right up until the day they announce the opposite, so take that how you will.
Sony was very kind to send me a promotional package with copies of Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational, Little Deviants, ModNation Racers: Road Trip, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and WipEout 2048, as well as download codes for Super Stardust Delta, Hustle Kings, and Escape Plan. I haven’t tried Hot Shots Golf or Hustle Kings yet because I don’t care about golf or pool and wouldn’t be able to judge their quality anyway.
Of the games I have played, in no particular order:
Little Deviants is a collection of minigames that are more like tech demos for the various things you can do with tilt and dual touchpads than anything coherent or fun. Stay away.
ModNation Racers is a satisfying little kart-racing game with customizable levels and characters; worth it if you like kart racers and personalized content.
Escape Plan is a side-scrolling puzzle-adventure game with a neat black-and-white aesthetic.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is mediocre for a third-person adventure/shooter and quite bad for an Uncharted game; with a different creative team from the mainline Uncharted, the story isn’t captivating, the environments feel constrained and more like video-game arenas than actual places (the way Uncharted levels usually feel), the climbing gameplay is full of touch/tilt bullshit that tries to show off the Vita’s alternate control features but mostly feels tacked on, and the shooty is, if anything, looser and less satisfying than usual for Uncharted.
WipEout 2048 is WipEout; I’ve been playing variations on WipEout since 1995 (wow, 17 years; I feel old), and it’s basically always great but also never really surprising.
Super Stardust Delta is essentially the same twin-stick shooter it was on PS3.
The game I’ve played most is Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus, which I bought myself and which is the Vita port of the PS3 port of the expanded rerelease of the 2004 Xbox game. Ninja Gaiden was great seven years ago and is still good today, but it’s eight years old.
For all Vita’s media-player functions, its mission statement is that it’s less a portable console and more a home console that’s portable—dual analog sticks and graphics shiny enough to fake the appearance of a PS3 if you squint. It does not yet have games that live up to that promise: Ninja Gaiden is a port of a port of a rerelease, and Uncharted is bad. I’m looking forward to Persona 4: The Golden whenever the hell it gets announced for a North American release, but I’ve already played Persona 4, and anyway it’s a port of a PS2 game. That leaves Gravity Rush, due out in June, as the one game for the system’s first half year that might live up to its apparent point. There are, undoubtedly, other games, but since I’ve never found a place that rents out portable games and not everything in the online store has a demo, the barrier for trying a new Vita game is very high—for example, I’ve heard good things about Army Corps of Hell, but whenever I see it in the PlayStation Store, my thoughts run, “I’m in Canada, so that costs $40, and there’s no demo, and my shelves are overflowing with games I own and haven’t played enough of yet; also I have books to read and movies and TV shows to watch. Maybe next month.” In reality, I know I’ll either never buy it or buy it when it hits ten bucks in the store years from now.
The purchase of any new console is an investment, with hope for a library that will improve with time. What I hope is that in two or three years, the Vita will have a thriving landscape of midbudget titles from Japan, the stuff that used to show up on the PS2 during the last two years of its life cycle because the companies couldn’t afford to develop PS3-quality art assets. Right now, though, I recommend the Vita to people like myself who like new gadgets and have poor impulse control; for the rest of you, I’ll be reviewing new Vita games along with everything else I review, so watch this space and I’ll let you know whether the Vita library ever lives up to the console’s promise.
This review is based on a PlayStation Vita I bought myself, as well as some games either purchased personally or provided by Sony as described above.