I remember being inordinately excited about the PlayStation Vita. It wasn’t the prospect of a “PSP2” that I liked – Sony’s first handheld console was generally a big disappointment for me. The PlayStation Vita brought with it a new promise, the hope that Sony would understand the failure of the PSP to live up to its potential for users like me and that they’d correct that in the new machine.
They were making all the right noises. The Vita would have a touchscreen – essential in these days when there’s so much money to be made competing with mobile platforms (especially in light of the fairly poor Xperia Play “PSP phone”). It would be stuffed with powerful components and have the second analogue stick that was so perplexingly absent from its predecessor.
The PlayStation Network Store was already a vibrant, exciting space for innovation and with Minis, PSN games and full retail games, it seemed that most of the bases were covered. PlayStation Suite, later renamed to PlayStation Mobile, would allow those independent, mobile developers to make games and apps which were analogous to the hugely successful AppStore games that provide so much choice at the lower end of the spectrum.
For me, the greatest moment of hope in the pre-release marketing drive that I saw came from a video of Little Deviants in action. Although that game ultimately ended up falling a little flat for me, the trailer showed developers using the Vita in a new way. It was innovation that could only take place on this platform. It was something new and exciting.
So I pre-ordered a Vita and had it shipped from Japan by a very kind friend-of-a-friend. It ended up costing me over £700 for the console, a few games and a memory card – something which amused me endlessly when I saw people accuse me of “wanting the Vita to fail” when we reported its uninspiring launch sales or otherwise negatively commented about it. I invested quite heavily in the belief that the PS Vita would deliver on the promise I saw in those trailers, heard from developers and Sony execs and assumed from the potential so clear in the powerful little device.
I was immediately disappointed. Uncharted: Golden Abyss was reasonably good but it looked fairly average. Ridge Racer was confusing and seemed like half a game (and difficult to follow in Japanese!). Everybody’s Golf was enjoyable but very ugly in places, thanks to the seeming inability to run software at native resolutions. It wasn’t that anything was particularly bad, it just wasn’t as good as I’d hoped.
As time went on, games like WipEout 2048 and FIFA 12 restored my faith a little bit in the “big game” side of the Vita’s software. Mutant Blobs Attack and Motorstorm RC showed that the PSN Store could deliver near-perfect experiences too. PlayStation Suite (Mobile) was still missing but the Vita had won back some of my enthusiasm by providing decent games and showing that the PSN really could fill a fantastic space in the software catalogue.
As the rest of the world seemed to start moaning that the Vita had no new games coming out, I looked forward to Resistance: Burning Skies and Gravity Rush. Again, I found myself disappointed. I really disliked Resistance in just about every way and I’m struggling a little bit with Gravity Rush too. It seems interesting but not a lot of fun – and a little bit weird.
All of this is hugely subjective, of course. I’m sure some people thought Uncharted: Golden Abyss’ jaggies were excusable, next to those lovely painted backdrops, or that Resistance: Burning Skies wasn’t a poorly executed, rough-around-the-edges FPS throwback. That’s what I find so fascinating about the Vita: it seems to perpetually provide its own counter-arguments.
The hardware has so much promise, the software line up at launch was probably the best for any console launch. And yet it didn’t sell particularly well. It still can’t seem to catch a wave of enthusiasm and really ignite the sales figures – even back home in Japan. The latest potential scare is that third party publishers might be becoming skeptical about why they should release games for it. It’s a worrying time for Sony’s handheld, with a quiet E3 and its first big holiday sales period looming large in the near future.
Perhaps strangely, I find myself feeling very optimistic for the machine again. Amidst the doubts about third party development and the lack of firm release prospects over the next six months, there are one or two beacons of optimism that I cling to.
Firstly, certain key third party publishers are about to make what could be a massive splash on the Vita. There are portable installments of two of gaming’s biggest franchises on the way: Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed. Two major publishers floating their first attempts at a Vita version of their premier franchises towards the end of this year.
Secondly, PlayStation Mobile is nearing fruition as a platform. Developers are working with it right now. While it’s taken a lot longer than I would have hoped, it’s possible that there will be results yielded from this scheme before the end of the year and once those flood gates open, there’s so much potential for a rush of innovation from the independent developers who have less to risk by taking chances.
So it hasn’t been a great opening six months for the Vita. It would be foolish to pretend otherwise. Sales are flat and there could stand to be a bit more quality in the software catalogue. But the first six months of this handheld’s life are less important than the second six months. What we’ve seen is a base being built. It’s not as big or as sturdy as we might have hoped but it might just be enough of a platform from which to launch the PlayStation Vita to the heights we all hope it can reach.