As a successor to the PlayStation Portable, Vita makes a lot of sense. That might seem like an obvious statement to make, but when you consider the odd sidestep that was the PSP Go, Vita’s more traditional form factor, weight and build quality is comparable to the PSP 3000 more than anything else. It’s like the Go was a bad dream, and Vita’s just a natural progression from the last regular looking Sony handheld.
In your hands, Vita feels light, but evenly balanced. The analog sticks rest neatly on the thumbs and screen rivals that of the iPhone 4, although naturally a little less crisp given the larger display and relative resolution. The image is superb, regardless, colours pop vividly and the ghosting that plagued early PSP models is nowhere to be seen. Vita oozes a sense of quality, the unit robust and the moveable components reassuringly solid.
The touchscreen, too, is responsive and accurate – our hands on demo with Little Deviants proving that Vita’s front display is easily tapped, wiped and stroked with refreshingly intuitive gestures. Even the back touch pad, which at first seemed alien and slightly bizarre, soon clicked – after a few minutes with one of the mini-games in the pack I was tapping the rear of the unit without even really thinking about it, and rarely missing my target.[drop]The aspect of Little Deviants that most of us will be familiar with, using the rear touch pad to create hills that in turn roll the titular creatures towards the goal, takes a little bit of practice. It’s not that you’ll make the bumps in the wrong place (indeed, you constantly surprise yourself how well you know where your fingertips are) it’s more about making sure you’re far enough away from the deviant to allow for smooth, accurate rolling.
Of more immediacy is Ruin, the action RPG announced during Sony’s press conference. The demo wasn’t great (apart from the cloud save feature) but in your hands Ruin seems a lot more substantial and punchy, the graphics really sharp and the action familiar enough to fans of the genre. Whether or not Idle Minds can push the dungeon crawler beyond what’s already there on other mobile devices is something we’ll have to see once the game is fleshed out.
Two games that are already feeling fully featured and considerably far down the development path are Uncharted: Golden Abyss and LittleBigPlanet. The former looks stunning first hand and plays just like a regular Uncharted game, as you might have gathered from the conference – it’s a gorgeous looking title already, and although the demo section was limited to the areas we’ve already seen we got a good grasp of the various controls and game types on offer.
I’m not overly sure about the touch screen additions for Uncharted, though – ‘painting’ across jumps instead of moving your way around them with the analog stick seems a little too easy and void of any real danger, and the lean to angle your jump felt a little contrived. Still, these are optional and if nothing else show some flexibility that not even the console versions can manage.
Sackboy’s latest adventure used these features to its strengths, though – tapping the back of the Vita to nudge out sections of the game was particularly cool (and hugely tactile) and the way one of the puzzles required you to move a block with your finger reminded me of the way the very best iPhone games use the touchscreen for intuitive, immediate input rather than just a gimmick. Of course, the game looks fabulous, way beyond the already impressive PSP game.[drop2]Other favourites: ModNation Racers, which also was clearly very early code (the frame-rate wasn’t solid and the load times were lengthy), but the racing was solid enough, with the drifting more akin to the PS3 version than the daft way it was used in MNR PSP. The design your own track feature was really easy to use, more so than previous versions, and the interface seemed a natural fit to the Vita’s touchscreen. I’m a big ModNation fan, so look forward to playing more of this one down the line.
Next, Everybody’s Golf, hidden away in a corner of the Sony press room, played brilliantly and looked absolutely gorgeous. The control was set to the second style (with the shrinking target circle) rather than the three-step bar, which put me off a little, but all the other buttons worked as normal. And finally Wipeout 2048, which was demoed playing live against another player on PlayStation 3, worked a dream – the cross-platform play is really clever, and could be a big selling point.
Overall, given the relatively early state of a lot of the games, PlayStation Vita performed really well. The unit itself is lovely, feels great to hold and is easily a match for the PSP’s sleek outing. The games themselves were obvious PlayStation brand titles mostly, and familiar enough to just jump straight in, but we’re hoping for a little more variation in the coming months – Vita’s clearly capable of playing almost-PS3 level titles, but let’s see what else pops up between now and launch.