PS Vita: Relic or Revolution?

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It seems that everyone is either excitedly awaiting a new powerful handheld gaming device or cynically declaring it an outdated failure.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”.

[drop]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.

[drop2]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.

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47 Comments

  1. Excellent.

  2. Not sure where people get the idea that Vita is expensive. It cost around half what my phone cost, and it plays far, FAR better games, as well as providing a much better control interface.

    Phone gaming is useless, simple as that. Touchscreen alone doesn’t work for anything other than simple, tedious games.

    • That’s why we need… buttons
      http://yaybuttons.com/

    • “Not sure where people get the idea that Vita is expensive” because it is. Just like the PS3 was. The thing we find more palatable with the likes of an iPhone is that many of us are on contract so we can swallow the £30 to £40 per month that it costs. It’s how we’re paid (monthly) and it’s how we spend (monthly). Simple as that.

      • That’s then just peoples own misconceptions. It’s a far fairer comparison against the iPod Touch. It’s much closer in functionality, pricing structure and purchasing availability.

    • I agree I spent £700 on a iphone 4s 64gb now tell me the Vita is expensive now? Yes people say oh we pay contract so we can “eat” the monthly price yes but at the end of the contract you will have ended up paying £1200+ yes for a phone.

      However I will admit that Sony should have included at least a 4gb memory card as standard.

      • Why are you comparing it to a phone? Seems odd. iPod Touch is £159, Vita is about £220 + compulsory memory.

        Being expensive is down to the individual & how much money they can justify spending on gaming, people who have a mortgage to meet & family to feed and hardly any spare income may find it expensive whereas someone working but living with their parent could probably afford it with ease.

        All you can do is compare to alternative; 3DS from £125 and iPod Touch from £150 and if you feel the features of the Vita suit you better than those alternatives and that its extra cost is justified.

      • @cc_star – I think he’s comparing it to a phone as that’s the comparison bunimomike made.

    • Yes. Yes! Yes! Yes! At least one guy who thinks that.

  3. I still intend on getting one but no quite yet, cannot justify this to my bank account! :(
    Like the image of the mk 1 lynx crossed with the Vita ;)

  4. Great article! And now I might have to dig out my Lynx, while I’m waiting for the Vita to arrive :)

    • Yeah good article, I would dig out my Lynx too but never owned one :~{

  5. The Vita is an absolutely fantastic console, but the price point and marketing for it is going to be interesting to watch the reaction to it.

    I really want it to do well, but I dunno how it’s gonna fare over here so soon after Christmas

  6. Fantastically well weighted article. I’m jazzed for Vita, even though I love my ipad2 it just can’t fill the gaming void left when I travel. Here’s hoping vita gets a browser refresh akin to the ps3’s.

    • Would love it if the browsing experience could equal that of other portable devices, as it stands it seems like a tickbox on the spec list, but of little real use (according to everything I’ve read, obviously not actually used one for myself)

  7. Good article….I just pre predered this from amazon for £295(wifi version) with a 8gb memorty card, UC:GA, Rayman Origins & It will arrive on the 22nd of feb….Have to go cancel my pre order from GAME

  8. If the VITA doesnt sell well in Europe it will because of the piss poor adverts we get over here.

    • What’s an advert?

      • It’s a thing they have in America where they show you stuff you can buy.

  9. The Atari Lynx picture made me remember mine, QQ. So many hours of fun with such great games :_)

    Great article, good picture, perfection.

  10. Can’t wait.

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