An Overdue Apology to the Outgoing PlayStation Vita

I never loved you like I should, until it was too late.

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07 September 2016, 4:05pm

'Gravity Rush' was one of the Vita's most celebrated early titles (screenshot via PlayStation.com)

I'm writing to you from New York. Just down the road from my hotel, in a couple of hours, Sony will reveal the next stage in the evolution of PlayStation. Every member of the press in the city – and around the world – is adamant that this event, this Meeting, will feature the official reveal of the PlayStation Neo, an upgraded PS4 designed to better support Sony's virtual reality plans and offer players and programmers alike increased CPU, RAM and GPU capacities. (We reported on this back in early August.)

Also expected is a spot on stage for the PS4 Slim, a new model of the PS4 that's already in the hands of the public – as we reported a few weeks ago – but a system that Sony remains officially tight-lipped on. You can bet the company will take the opportunity, too, to show off a handful of forthcoming games – all of which will be, no doubt, a whole lot prettier on the Neo.

What almost certainly won't get a mention is the PlayStation Vita, Sony's current handheld console directly competing – and losing woefully in sales terms – with Nintendo's 3DS line. The sleek, contoured portable has been on a downward slide of ostensible (at least) Sony support since 2014, when the company's Gamescom press briefing barely mentioned the system. Back then, insiders were quick to dismiss the lack of new games coming to the Vita – but a line-up of titles like Hotline Miami 2, Minecraft and Axiom Verge highlighted a distinct shortage of original, first-party, platform-exclusive projects.

At 2015's E3, the Vita wasn't mentioned once during Sony's conference, and Shuhei Yoshida, the president of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios, confirmed that no first-party studios were working on Vita games. In-house, all divisions were now committed to the PS4, leaving the handheld mostly to smaller outfits and indies who still believed in the platform. Some still do – the Curve-published puzzler Hue is coming to the Vita soon, and the giant that is Square Enix is bringing World of Final Fantasy to on-the-go play in October.

But the message is clarion: the Vita is on the way out, and no amount of independent teams bringing quirky puzzlers, platformers and role-players to the system is going to stop Sony eventually pulling the plug for good. That the Vita's firmware has finally been "hacked" this year, some five years on from its launch in 2011, could prolong its life as a specialist device for those who get a kick out of playing games not intended for the system in question while riding the Circle Line. But for the majority of Vita owners, this is the twilight, the end of the road.

Which is a real disappointment for me, as I only just bought a Vita this summer. I had some "spare" money for once, plenty of travel lined up, and my 3DS was looking under-supported (Fire Emblem Fates aside, which I really must get back to, soon). It was an easy decision, then, especially when I saw that the much-vaunted Persona 4 Golden was going for under a fiver on PSN, and that I could download a bunch of games that I already had on PS4 and PS3 for mobile play (hello, Sound Shapes, Hotline Miami and The Unfinished Swan). Also, being in this line of work does come with its occasional perks, so I was able to get a few older games, those cluttering drawers like Tearaway and Gravity Rush, sent my way from Sony themselves.

PlayStation Vita trailer from June 2011

And what a lifesaver this Vita has been, truly. I commute regularly from the south coast to London, and as anyone else who takes the route from Brighton, through Haywards Heath and Gatwick and into Victoria or London Bridge will tell you, it's a nightmare most of the time. Delayed trains at best, none at all when the proverbial shit is really hitting that equally non-existent fan. Having Persona 4 ready to go, ready to take me away from going-nowhere commuter meltdown to the murderer-stalked streets of Inaba has been such blessed relief, especially when paired with a classic M&S "green" lager (don't make like you've not been there, too).

And I could have had this so much sooner. In the games media, sometimes you get sent a "loaner" system, a new console to play around with for a while and – the senders hope, anyway – write some positive words about somewhere. Back in 2011, I got a Vita in the post, and proceeded to be largely unimpressed. Perhaps it was the software – neither Uncharted: Golden Abyss nor WipEout 2048 are (were) really the best showcases of the Vita – but whatever the reason, I came away from the few days and nights in the console's company not eager to collect the pennies and pounds to get one for myself. I just couldn't see the point of the console, then. Now, I look back and if I could meaningfully kick myself, I would.

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Sincere apologies, the Vita, for that – and for not coming around before now, when you're as good as gone, to all the great stuff you pack behind that sweet OLED touch screen (the move to LCD in the 2013 "2000" model took some of the shine off the system's razor-sharp visuals). I now know how awesome you are as a PS4 second screen, as an essential travel companion, as home to some of the more innovative first-party games Sony's put its name to over the past five years. If (many) people like me had picked up the Vita years ago, perhaps the enthusiasm from Sony's higher-ups wouldn't have dried up as quickly as it did. Given the incredible commercial momentum of the DS, it was unlikely that, whatever the games or the deals or the uniqueness, that the Vita would ever have got close to the 3DS range's sales of close to 60 million worldwide; but it could have been better than this, sales of something like 12 million and a resigned sigh of a retirement.

I've joked that, you never know, today's Big PlayStation Reveal will include a new Vita of some kind. But there will be no lifeline: as the Neo, or whatever it's ultimately named, rolls out, so Sony's interest in the handheld market will be certifiably terminated, likely forever. But with something like 80 hours left of Persona 4 Golden according to friends' reports, I'm not putting my Vita down any time soon. Last one to the party, and the last one to leave too.

@MikeDiver

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