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PS Vita: Relic or Revolution?

Put down your Atari Lynx a moment.

The PlayStation Vita is released in western markets in under two weeks. It seems that everyone is either excitedly awaiting a new powerful handheld gaming device or cynically declaring it an outdated failure. Is the Vita a throwback to a period of gaming history that just doesn’t exist anymore or is it a new dawn in handheld gaming?

We’ve looked closely at the PS Vita’s hardware before. We’ve talked about the potential of the device. We’ve examined the launch line up, too. We’ve even taken a good look at the load times for plenty of the first wave of games. The Japanese sales figures have been picked over and put into perspective and the premature declaration of the console’s failure has been gently rebuked. But others are taking a slightly different approach to their Vita launch coverage, one outlet declaring it “a product of a bygone era of handheld gaming that has learned little from the mistakes of its predecessors and the direction of the industry as a whole”.

Those icons are ugly. Luckily, new firmware or even new themes are an easy way to reskin them.
That’s a perfectly valid opinion, of course, the iPhone and now Android devices have changed the landscape of gaming on the move. Whether they’ve killed the handheld market which has existed since the Game & Watch is debatable but their mainstream impact is not. Regardless of that particular debate, there is a huge public perception that games on portable devices should be nice and cheap.

We’ve also voiced our concerns from time to time about the focus on those “full console experiences” which come at a full console price. Given the AppStore’s rush to base price and the subsequent change in perception that has led to for many people who are now considered handheld gamers, full retail price for Vita games might seem expensive. In many ways, then, it’s lucky that Sony has been forward-thinking enough to allow for those smaller, less expensive “iOS-style” experiences.

That’s what the naysayers, rare as they have been, are missing when they criticise the Vita, and we think it’s an important point which needs to be made: the PS Vita is about choices.

One criticism we’ve seen levelled is that the Vita tries to be everything at once. The hardware is built to provide console-quality experiences like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and WipEout 2048. There are two sticks, shoulder buttons (and the possibility for R2 and L2 mappings on the rear touch panel) and a proper d-pad. It’s a gamer’s machine. But atop that gorgeous OLED screen sits the multitouch control surface – the most responsive we’ve used aside from the iPhone 4. It has tilt controls too, exceptionally precise and spookily spatially aware. So, it’s also a device for casual games. It isn’t trying to be everything at once, it’s trying to offer the option for various things at different times.

Sony has explicitly said that it wants those smaller games to come to the Vita. PopCap will almost certainly bring much of their catalogue over, they port for everything. In addition, the prices for download-only games seem to be very reasonable – from what little we know of them. Sure, they’re not £0.69/$0.99 iOS prices but that price point is proving hard to sustain for the vast majority of iOS developers. Vita’s digital pricing seems much more balanced and viable for developers as well as consumers – providing the user base exists to sell to. That can only be a good thing for consumers as it keeps talent where they can find a viable marketplace, raising the general standard of what’s available while still not breaking the bank at point-of-purchase.

But the Vita is so expensive! Well, yeah, games consoles are. The WiFi version costs less than the mid-range (32GB) iPod Touch, though. Yes, you will need to buy memory cards for the Vita and yes, they are more expensive than we would like. Forcing another proprietary memory format into the market is something that we would prefer had been stopped at the ideas stage and buried under a mountain of cheap SD cards. However, if and when third party memory becomes available, and when Sony’s cards have caught up with demand, prices will come down.

So many control options but they don't all have to be used at once.
The modular nature of storage for the Vita means that more can be added as required. Or users can use their PC, PS3 or PSN Store download queue to keep a backup of games they’ve got and just refresh the contents of their memory card as and when they want. As with controls and games, the Vita is about offering options and flexibility. It’s about offering cellphone gamers a recognisable path into more traditional gaming at the same time as it offers traditional gamers the option to take part in more casual experiences.

It’s almost universally acknowledged that the Vita hardware is impressive. Finding anyone to say otherwise requires a lengthy trawl through some troll baiting intellectual quagmires of reporting. There are some peculiarities in the software, it’s true, but software is easy to fix in these modern times of firmware patches and feature upgrades. Think back to the PS3’s firmware when it launched, it’s almost unrecognisable in terms of functionality from today’s XMB.

Those curious little quirks in the software, things like taking a second or two to wake up from standby and several separate applications for different friends-list functions can be changed in a simple firmware update and that can be done based on user feedback. Once we get used to the way Live Areas work, and the functionality of things like Near (which I still struggle to understand), our experience of Vita will only improve. What the Vita is, is a platform. A beginning.

We think it’s one of the most exciting console launches in a very long time and although the portable gaming market has grown massively and in new directions, we think the Vita is better placed than most to take advantage of that. All it needs now is a good year of publisher support, some diverse and engaging marketing and a nice big install base. Make no mistake, there are tough times ahead for the Vita, as is the case for any device in this market. But Sony’s newest machine is certainly capable of meeting those challenges head on.

  1. aphex187
    Since: Mar 2010

    I bought many games for my iPhone and most of them i delete with in an hour of purchase due to the dreadful control system. If mobile phones are the way forward when it comes to gaming on the move then count me out as i’ll just stick to my home consoles and PC.

    Comment posted on 09/02/2012 at 20:40.
  2. djhsecondnature
    Since: Forever

    I hate the “oh but it’s really a £300 console when you add on the bits”. That’s the case for EVERYTHING. For Hi-Fi’s, a PS3, an Xbox 360, a Wii, a PC (keyboard, mouse, software). No one says, “oh you can get a 360 for £150, but it’s not really £150 after controllers, chargers, Xbox LIVE and a few games, really its a £250 console”. It provides greater freedom to buy bits separately and thus spread the cost.

    Comment posted on 09/02/2012 at 22:03.
    • Deathbrin
      Since: Aug 2009

      Uhh, that’s exactly what people say about the 360 when they compare it with PS3 cost which used to include most of the stuff.

      Comment posted on 10/02/2012 at 04:12.
      • JesseDeya
        Since: Jan 2010

        And then the zealots would counter counter argue that those bits being extra gave you more ‘options’ and didn’t force you to buy features you didn’t need (which was what MS were hoping the consumer thought too until they realized they DID need wifi and a larger HDD and rechargeable batteries and online gaming etc).

        Either way, value is in the eye of the beholder, to me, a vita is perfectly useable out of the box with a single memory card, therefore the combined cost is the realistic entry cost for ownership. Fine with me but each to their own.

        Comment posted on 10/02/2012 at 04:47.
      • djhsecondnature
        Since: Forever

        Only for comparing spec for spec. When discussing base hardware prices you don’t.

        Comment posted on 10/02/2012 at 18:46.
    • cc_star
      Team TSA: Writer
      Since: Forever

      Most people used the opposite argument and favoured the PS3’s higher, but all-inclusive price… and now favour the opposite?

      Funny thing, favouring one manufacturer over another & changing opinion to suit.

      Comment posted on 10/02/2012 at 11:44.
      • djhsecondnature
        Since: Forever

        Firstly, there a key difference between the Vita and the 360. The Vita only has one peripheral that needs purchasing compared to at least four for the Xbox 360 (to bring it to par with a PS3’s out of the box features).

        Secondly, this is a different time and a different model being a handheld.

        Thirdly, no one “favoured” the PS3’s higher price. The argument between PS3 and Xbox 360 was also spec against spec, not comparable price.

        Comment posted on 10/02/2012 at 18:49.
  3. kjkg
    Since: Apr 2010

    I spent last weekend in hospital (I’m fine, if people care) and resorted to gaming on my android. It just isn’t, and never will be a substitute for a proper gaming session. Needless to say I’m buying a vita but it came just a couple of weeks too late for me to keep my sanity.

    Comment posted on 09/02/2012 at 22:06.
    • Deathbrin
      Since: Aug 2009


      Comment posted on 10/02/2012 at 04:13.
  4. Death_In_Flamez
    Since: Feb 2011

    Really great articles today guys! To add to the Vita price debate, it really does depend on viewpoint. Rich/poor, use of phone against use of Vita. I mean my phone cost £60 base. Nothing like an over £200 Vita.

    Comment posted on 09/02/2012 at 22:19.
  5. skibadee
    Since: Oct 2009

    great read roll on the 22nd.

    Comment posted on 10/02/2012 at 00:38.
  6. tactical20
    Since: May 2010

    It’s obviously a great bit of kit, but I think it will probably be the last serious handheld.

    I think mobile gaming will eradicate the demand for handheld gaming systems in the next couple of years.

    Similar to how nobody really has a snapshot camera, or MP3 player any more.

    Comment posted on 10/02/2012 at 01:21.
    • Gamoc
      Since: Forever

      Nobody has an MP3 player? Have you heard of the iPod ?

      Comment posted on 10/02/2012 at 10:46.
      • plutoniumdragon
        Since: Dec 2008

        tactical20 makes a good point, when was the last time you saw a tween with a separate mp3 player? Ipods may still be popular with adults, but the kids have abandoned them.
        My Android phone is a better mp3 player than my “proper” X series Walkman…

        Comment posted on 10/02/2012 at 13:27.
      • yogdog
        Since: Feb 2010

        The iphone is basically just an upgraded ipod touch, or the ipod touch is a stripped out iphone at least anyway. Personally I can’t see this being the last dedicated handheld system, difference between listening to music (which is just the same on a phone or dedicated MP3 player) and playing games, as a lot of people prefer to use buttons to a touch screen.

        Comment posted on 10/02/2012 at 13:36.
  7. KeRaSh
    Since: Nov 2009

    I think the Vita is neither a relic, nor a revolution. It’s more of a natural evolution of what we had and what we’re used to, which is not a bad thing.

    Comment posted on 10/02/2012 at 06:32.
  8. shields_t
    Since: Oct 2008

    Cracking article, and I love the photomerge on the site thumbnail, used to love my Lynx despite the vast majority of the games being shite.

    Comment posted on 10/02/2012 at 07:30.
  9. SpikeyMikey23
    Since: Jul 2009

    I’m looking forward to getting mine in a couple of weeks!

    Comment posted on 10/02/2012 at 10:23.
  10. Smallville2106
    Since: Feb 2011

    I want the Vita to do well but it just won’t be as successful as it deserves to be.

    The millions that game on their phones etc game because their phones plays games. They haven’t bought a portable gaming handheld that can be used as a phone.It was purchased etc (contract/bought outright) first and foremost as a phone.It’s a bonus that it plays games and that they are really cheap and sometimes free.I think one of the biggest hurdles with trying to get some of this market share (which is needed for a good success) is that it’s another device for people to carry.

    I have a few friends that game exclusively on their iPhones/Android phones. They have no consoles at home or iPads or anything.They do admit that the Vita looks great and so do the games but they wouldn’t carry it about. Also as horrid as it is to say the prices of the games bugs them. For a console gamer the prices are almost ok but for people that have only got into gaming because of their phone then the prices look ridiculous. We have Apple to thank for that. However it is something that cannot be gotten away from.

    Comment posted on 10/02/2012 at 10:47.

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